Truth May be the Casualty

As my good friends have known for a long time and as readers of this web site are getting to know, I have a passionate commitment to facilitating respectful conversations among Christians who disagree about contentious issues. That commitment is based on my strong belief that to create a safe space for persons who disagree to talk respectfully about their disagreements is a deep expression of what it means to “love others,” to which Jesus calls all who aspire to be his followers

In light of that unyielding commitment, I am saddened by the fact that my motive for calling for conversations about some divisive issue is sometimes called into question. For example, I have recently called for respectful conversations among gay Christians (those who experience same-sex attraction), and with other Christians, about what it means for gay Christians to live “faithfully,” with views ranging from the belief that gay Christians are called to a life of celibacy (what may, for shorthand, be called the “traditional” or “settled” view of the majority of Christians) to the belief that God will bless lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships (what I will here call a “revisionist” view). The suspicion is that the very fact that I call for this conversation means that I have decided, prior to the conversation I am calling for, that the revisionist view is the “Truth” (as God fully understands it).

I believe I understand both the empirical evidence and the logic behind this suspicion. Although I have no access to hard empirical data, it is probably the case that those who call for conversations about “settled” beliefs within the church are often calling into question those settled beliefs and hoping for revision. And the logic of that view seems straightforward. Why would someone who holds to the “settled” belief want to discuss the adequacy, or not, of that belief? He or she appears to have nothing to gain from such a conversation and a lot to lose. Compare that with the likelihood that the person who holds to a “revisionist” view has a lot to gain (others starting to see things from his or her perspective) and nothing to lose (the worst that can happen is that the present “settled” view is reaffirmed).

But there is something strangely absent from that logic, the question of “Truth.” When a “settled’ belief is called into question within the Christian community, it is not my first impulse to ask what I, or the institution/organization who I work for or represent, can gain or lose from my talking respectfully with those who disagree with my particular view of that settled belief. Rather, my first impulse is to acknowledge that, as a finite, fallible human being who has only a partial glimpse of the “Truth” that God fully understands, I may be able to gain a better approximation of that “Truth” by talking respectfully with those whose partial glimpses differ from mine. I believe that when the impulse we act upon is to perform a calculus of immediate “gains and losses” for myself or my organization/institution, the casualty may be the “Truth.” I also believe that, at least in the long run, getting closer to that “Truth” is a huge gain.

In light of the above, it is completely erroneous to assume that I wouldn’t be calling for respectful conversations about a divisive issue if I didn’t think that a “settled” belief needs to change.” To be sure, I do believe that some “settled” beliefs among Christians need to change. But that is not why I call for respectful conversations. I call for respectful conversations because I have an unswerving commitment to seek the “Truth” about the matter at hand, and it is my hope and prayer that by talking respectfully with those who disagree with me, we can collectively get closer to that “Truth,” which may be that the settled belief does not need revision. As I have stated clearly on my web site, and will say over and over again until more people listen, “One cannot predict beforehand the results of a respectful conversation.”