Thursday, February 5, 2009

Convicted and Civil

Civility: the act of showing regard for others; formal politeness and courtesy in behavior and speech

A couple years ago, Richard Mouw, President of the Fuller Theological Seminary, called for more convicted civility in our interfaith dialogue. It was a challenge to be true to our own faith and convictions, not compromising our doctrine or way of life, while at the same time striving to better understand and respect our neighbors of other religious persuasions. So on the whole, how do you think we're doing?

I've enjoyed my short experience and have been amazed at all that I've learned, both in my own faith, and from others. We can gain a lot by learning the lessons that Robert L. Millet and Pastor Greg Johnson have demonstrated here in this YouTube video on Convicted Civility. Greg Johnson summarizes what's different about the "Faith Dialogue" he wants to foster here, and here's a link to a similarly applicable and interesting article by Robert Millet.

In addition to deepening my own religious understanding, I've learned from recent conversations not to jump to conclusions, to give the benefit of the doubt, to not be quick to take offense but to seek understanding, patience, how I come across to others and how I am perceived, to think things through more deeply, and that we can still be civil while sharing (as well as solidifying) our convictions. "Aquinas", a Latter-day Saint I have much respect for, explains why he enjoys this approach here on his blog, Summa Theologica. I was also quite inspired by Richard Bushman and the way he conversed with the national media and answered their probing questions at this Pew Forum's faith conference.

Ultimately I've learned that I'm much more into building bridges of understanding than I am into trying to convert people. We can still be respectful and neighborly while discussing our surprising similarities and our unique and striking differences. Stephen E. Robinson and Craig L. Blomberg modeled this and also created a masterpiece in writing "How Wide the Divide?".

President Hinckley once said that "the true gospel of Jesus Christ never led to bigotry. It never led to self-righteousness. It never led to arrogance. The true gospel of Jesus Christ leads to brotherhood, to friendship, to appreciation of others, to respect and kindness and love."("The BYU Experience"). As we strive to portray each other more accurately and more fairly, ultimately we ought to be motivated by the pure love of Christ, which "suffers long, and is kind" (1 Corinthians 13:4)--even when we disagree.


aquinas said...

I suppose everyone has to answer this question from a personal level. In my experience, I'm very positive about interreligious dialogue. I definitely feel there are more individuals out there who are interested in fostering mutual understanding and awareness of various aspects of one another's faith perspectives. I've also enjoyed being put into contact with others who also share these same views about dialogue. There will always be challenges. One of the challenges is being clear on the goals and methods of engaging in those with different faith perspectives. There are some individuals who are engaging others but they simply have different goals and methods than I do. They might be civil and convicted. But one thing I personally would add is charitable. By this I mean it is important to give another person's doctrines a charitable reading. What do I mean by that? I mean that we need to seek to portray the understanding of others in the best possible light. This is extremely challenging. In fact, this is the challenge. If one can describe the faith of another, in a way it actually sounds reasonable, articulate, intelligent and appealing, then I believe true and genuine understanding is being advanced. In fact, this is near impossible without engaging in extensive dialogue and pushing oneself to creatively empathize with the other party.

Of course, this is where many people will part with me because it violates their mission to try to describe another faith in ways that seem appealing. I understand those concerns but I believe it is still in the best interest of all involved to do this.

Even from a purely apologetic point of view, imagine how much more effective apologetics would be if those involved actually could describe each other's views in such ways? There would be a lot less criticism that the apologist just doesn't get it.

While that isn't necessarily my goal, I believe it is a win for all involved. Much of this thinking is essentially the position of "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." As I've stated elsewhere, there are challenges, but the goal isn't to eliminate the challenges. The challenges are there to teach us and help us and the goal is to be actively seeking the best ways to handle the challenges. Sometimes we have to put some challenges on the shelf and wait awhile before we go back to them. Sometimes its during those times I will make another contact and meet another person who will open up new ideas and possibilities.

Clean Cut said...

Thank you Aquinas. Well said. It's truly the most rewarding, as well as the Christ-like, thing to do when you step back and try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. That's when the real breakthrough occurs.