Today I attended a seminar put on by Grand Rapids Theological Seminary called Talking Points. Basically, a current issue/topic is chosen and a few speakers from those fields are invited to come and share whatever wisdom/knowledge they might have on the subject. This year’s Talking Points topic was Christian civic engagement, and I think it’s obvious why such a topic is important. If it is not obvious to you, watch either of these videos, the first is of Vice President Biden in the recent debate and the second of Bill O’Reilly interviewing President Obama.
Vice President Biden: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw2lfHWM9EE
Bill O’Reilly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDdM1q6qOfU
One also commonly sees incivility in statements such as “God hates ____!” and also “____ is what’s wrong with America”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEQuW2v6U2o
Is this a problem? Yes, a big one. Especially for Christians!
Today there were three speakers: Dr. Amy Black, Dr. Timothy Gombis, and Dr. George Marsden. President Dr. Joseph Stowell of Cornerstone University moderated the event.
Dr. Amy Black spoke first under the heading ‘From Diatribe to Dialogue: Honoring God in Politics.’ She started by asking the question, ‘Why aren’t we supposed to talk about religion and politics in polite company? It is because we see these things as too important for us to remain civil, thus, to be polite- we don’t. This is not how it should be.’
She offered that Christians should read Galatians 5 with politics in mind, understand the importance of humility, civility, and respect. A few more highlights from Dr. Black:
When we talk about ‘issues’ there are those that are ‘easy’ and those that are ‘hard’- ‘easy’ issues have a simple means to a difficult end (ex. abortion, gay marriage), with the ‘hard’ issues the means is difficult and the end is simple (ex. world peace, poverty).
On the ‘easy’ issues (ex. abortion, gay marriage) it is important to understand the importance of compromise and bargaining as a natural part of democracy. These two things make the process less easy, but it also creates movement toward the goal. Hopefully, open minded discussion is also a side-effect.
People are already more willing to openly discuss the ‘hard’ issues (ex. world peace, poverty, creating jobs). Because of this, the process is already a mess! People are tossing out ideas left and right and, although we can all agree on the goal, how to get there is almost impossible. In this process, negativity is naturally abused to elevate one idea above the others and then the mud-slinging begins. Dr. Black’s thought here is one must begin to seek areas of agreement between the various ideas, simplifying the process, and working together based on what can be agreed upon by all.
Some powerful quotes:
“Apply the Golden Rule to your political engagement.”
“Politics is a powerful form of Christian witness, but there are not many role-models.”
“It’s fine that we get a voice (referring to freedom of speech), but let’s use our lives!”
Dr. Black directed to a website were such solutions are being pursued by herself and many others: www.respectfulconversation.net