Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Disagreement and "Closed-Mindedness"

Don't ask me why, but I found myself reading the Huffington Post website today. I don't mean that as a particularly political statement - I don't read the Drudge Report any more often than I read HuffPost, so I am an equal opportunity ignorer of the partisan political bloggers, most of the time. That is OK - I doubt many of them read my blog either!

Anyway, I was reading the latest from Adam McKay. He - the writer of "Talladega Nights" and "Anchorman" with three years writing for Saturday Night Live - has some strong political opinions. In the midst of his rant, the basis of which is to claim that the American press fails to attack Republicans because it is in the pocket of conservative corporations (I promise, that's his point!), he makes this statement:
I'm not even getting into the fact that the religious right teaches closed-mindedness, so it's almost impossible to gain new voters from their pool because people who disagree with them are agents of the devil.

I do not consider myself to be a member of the "religious right", but Adam McKay probably would consider me to be. I am, after all, a Baptist. I am moderately pro-life. ("Moderately" means that until I am certain about when life begins, I give the benefit of the doubt in favor of life, but I am not out bombing clinics.) I find holes in classical evolution as an explanation for ordinary adaptation. All other things being equal, I prefer smaller government to bigger government. And so on.

I am not, however, a disciple of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. I never sent a penny to the Moral Majority. I am as offended by extremist conservative views as I am by extremist liberal ones, and I think that the church is not the place for political discourse. Christians should certainly participate in government, and our religion can and must inform and influence our political choices and actions; but what we do in church and as church is so important as to make the civic pale in comparison.

OK, enough for the disclaimer. The purpose for this blog is two-fold.
(1) Whether or not we consider ourselves members of the so-called "religious right," we Christians have to be concerned if our testimony and our influence are considered to be "closed-mindedness." I remember in college hearing the phrase, "It is ok to be closed-minded if you are right." Well, no it isn't. Just because you have reached a conclusion should not mean that you have not considered or will not continue to consider alternative positions, and failing to ask the hard questions is fatal. I hope we are all open-minded enough to ask questions and to let our faith and our positions be challenged - rest assured that they will be challenged sooner or later anyway, whether we want them to be or not, so why not get some practice? More importantly, I believe that we Christians are not doing a good job of communicating the fact that we can accept a challenge to our faith, that we can consider and attempt to answer questions, that we recognize that thinking people may have different positions. That does not mean that we become universalist. It does not mean that any sincerely held position is acceptable. It does not mean that we have to change any of our views, necessarily. It does not mean that we have to decide that there are "many ways to God" or that fundamental questions have myriad answers.

But it does mean that we have to show respect to those who disagree. We have to let them say their piece, and we have to be listening when they say it. Why otherwise should they listen to us? Whether we are personally responsible for the stereotype or not, the fact that "religious" people are associated with closed-mindedness has to be at the forefront of our thoughts, and we have to fight that sterotype.

We are not closed-minded - we have carefully considered questions and been led by the Spirit of God to certain conclusions. And sometimes the Spirit has been silent and we have come to conclusions on our own. And many of us disagree with each other. All of that is fine.

(2) We absolutely must dispel the idea that we believe that those who disagree with us are "of the devil." This seemingly silly attack hits closer to home than many of us would like to admit. I have heard too many fellow believers dismiss dissent as some sort of spiritual foul - we want to blow a whistle and throw a flag rather than deal with the disagreement - and this happens in church, much less in the civil arena! How we can forget that the world will know us by our love and that we must be kind is beyond me, but we do. We label and we sneer and we treat those who disagree as though they were Satanic.

And the world notices. It is no wonder that the Adam McKays of the world are sardonic in their description of the "religious". Many of the "religious" deserve it... I don't mean to throw stones - I deserve it. Too often I am too quick to look for some underlying motive behind a position that differs from my own.

I hold strong political and religious views, and in the right setting, I am happy to express them and debate with those who differ. But when the "religious" are characterized as closed-minded folks who think opponents are of the devil, we Christians have to wonder if we have been debating and expressing as disciples of Christ or whether we left our Christianity at the churchhouse steps when we entered the political fray.

Nothing I say here is meant to lessen any Christian's zeal for his or her deeply held political positions, and I am certainly not trying to sway anyone's vote. My concern is with process: how we say things, not with what we say. I don't want my political voice to be irrelevant because of the actions of other Christians who are careless, and I don't want to silence their effectiveness because of what appears to others to be my closed-mindedness.

And one other point - it is no excuse to say that people who differ from us, the "irreligious left" if you will, are equally closed-minded and snide. So what? Since when do we gauge our behavior by the behavior of the world?

Disagreement is healthy in a church, in a marriage, in a country. But in all three cases, disagreement can be destructive - I firmly believe the potential problem is not the substance of the disagreement (Yes, some positions are out of bounds in each of the three examples, but those exceptions are rare.) but rather in how it is voiced.

Let's be careful.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Talkin' 'bout My Generation

Birthdays have almost never bothered me. I turned 30 with no angst and survived my 40th (black balloons from my wife and all black outfits worn by my kids notwithstanding!) just fine, thank you very much. In fact, the only birthday that has really given me pause was my 33rd, when my friend Jeff remarked, "33?! That's how old Jesus was when he died!" Kind of makes you wonder about how much you have really accomplished!

But suddenly, I am having some different thoughts about my age, and they are not caused by a birthday. Instead, these thoughts spring from the presidential campaign. On one hand is Barack Obama, who is three and a half years older than I am and has kids in the same age bracket as my two younger children. On the other side is Sarah Palin, who is less than a year older than I am.

Again, I am struck by wondering how much I have really accomplished.

Somehow, the presidency has always been for people at least a couple of generations ahead of me. Now, it is not anymore. Or at least it does not have to be.

My new boss is my age, more or less. And his new boss is my age, more or less. My church is searching for a pastor, and I face the very real possibility that my new pastor may turn out to be younger than I am.

I am not having a crisis about this. I am generally satisfied with where I am in life and what I still have left to do. But I am noticing.

The beard is coming in a little whiter than last fall. The knees creak a little bit more. Starting to work out again after taking some months off is a little harder this time than it was the last time. My high school class had its 25th reunion and my youth group had a reunion this spring (see my May 30 post), and I discovered that at least two of my contemporaries are grandparents.

Many of my favorite songs from high school now routinely play on the oldies station.

Again, no crisis... but I am noticing.

This is the best part of life, so far. My kids are growing and learning and becoming more and more fun, albeit more and more of a challenge. My abilities are solidifying into a set of strengths that I can use in a number of ways. My marriage is secure. My work is fulfilling. My service is varied.

But for the first time, I am starting to notice those numbers, and those aches, and those fleeting days.