I’ve started attending a weekly lecture series at Biblical Seminary entitled Breakfast with Biblical. If you’re interested and local to the area, it’s every Thursday morning from 6:30 until 7:30 through November 15th. Come on out for some fellowship and a good time of teaching.
This morning’s talk was given by Biblical’s Special Council to the President, Dr. Samuel Logan, and covered the topic of “Christian Civility in Public Discourse”. Rather ironically, this talk was scheduled, inadvertently, for the day after the first presidential debate of 2012.
The basic premise of Dr. Logan’s talk comes from a recent New York Times Op-Ed describing politicians’ rather lax relationship with truth. You can read it here.
There was a lot that was discussed this morning but it really comes down to this: Christian civility depends on not breaking the 9th commandment (“Don’t bear false witness”) in that, while it does speak to telling truth and not falsehoods about each other, it expands it to being a false testimony which can include half truths and incomplete truths.
There are four suggestions that were given today on this topic to improve Christian civility today.
First, tell the truth. No one will deny that Christians have a responsibility to speak truth to the world. To sit back and do nothing is not an option. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil” says Dietrich Bonhoeffer. So we must speak. We have a duty to speak truth. I don’t think anyone will argue with this. Silence is not an option in the face of evil, but we must take care in our speaking. It is a great responsibility to speak truth, one that has a lot riding on it.
Secondly, tell nothing but the truth. There are times when we make statements that, while true for some people, are not true for all. In our political discourse I frequently hear statements like “Democrats are all…” or “All Republicans are…” or “Muslims all believe…” These blanket statements misrepresent the fullness of the people involved. They build up the divisions by categorically placing people into tightly walled circles and then attacking those circles with no regard to the people who don’t feel comfortable within those circles. Make sure that any facts or statements you make are actually true and not miscategorizations. They are God’s creatures, too.
Next, tell the whole truth. This is probably the easiest one to hide behind. It is so easy to take statistics and facts and arrange them in such a way as to prove your own point. Mark Twain used to say, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics”. In the proper context, or with the proper selective ommissions, you can set things up to prove any point. Politicians are good at this “spin” job. And, unfortunately, we Christians have learned from the best. And we forward the picture, or send along the e-mail, or repost that article that doesn’t tell the whole picture. And when we are found out in our half-truth, all our credibility is lost and our point is no longer valid, good as it may have been.
Finally, we need to keep in mind what our ultimate goal is in telling the truth. It is not to support a politician, a country, a policy, or a particular candidate or party. At all times, our truth telling should be done in order to bring glory and honor to our Lord, which is actually the goal of everything we do as believers. And more importantly, when it comes to being bold as Christians, as Dr. Logan quoted from Jonathan Edwards, “[Christian fortitude and boldness] much more appears an resisting the enemies that are within us [versus the ones without us]; because they are our worst and strongest enemies, and have the greatest advantage against us.”
From this last point, Dr. Logan makes a few very important assertions. Let me quote Dr. Logan here:
Suppose we are confronted by evil – cultural or political evil. Suppose we confront that evil and, in confronting it, use what the Westminster Larger Catechism calls “doubtful and equivocal expressions.” Suppose we “misconstrue intentions.” Suppose we “neglect such things as are of good report” about the person or persons against whom we are speaking? If we do this as we oppose that evil, we are increasing, not decreasing that evil.
But if I don’t tell all those suspected bad things about candidate x, he might get elected (or re-elected) and that would be terrible! Our country might go right down the tubes.
Well, yes, that might happen.
But that is not the worst thing that could happen. Even worse than the total disappearance of my country would be any diminution of the honor given to the Lord when His word is fully obeyed. My understanding might suggest to me that, if I don’t get others to vote the way I think they should, the cause of the Kingdom will be lost. But – praise the Lord! – the cause of the Kingdom does not ultimately rest in my hands. My Lord asks me to act according to His word and to leave the ultimate results to Him. That “leaving” is precisely where “trust in the Lord” happens.
Essentially, we need to follow the indications of James 2 and 3 where we are called to act according to our faith, to even speak responsibly and in a responsible way. When we do so, then the BEST thing WILL happen, that God’s will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven, right here and right now.