Untruth Cannot Withstand Respectful Conversation

A foundational basis for my eCircle on human sexuality and my previous eCircles is a particular expression of “love” for others.

There is no disputing that Jesus calls those who claim to be his followers to love others (Mark 12:31). But there is a particular expression of such love that is all too rare.

I believe it is a deep of love for another when you create a safe and welcoming space for the other person to express her disagreements with you on any given issue; when you listen empathetically to her perspective in order to adequately understand the reasons she has for her position; and when you then engage in respectful conversation about your differing perspectives for the purpose of seeking common ground and illuminating remaining disagreements in a manner that will facilitate ongoing conversation.

In my estimation, this expression of love is an “intrinsic” Christian value. It is the right loving way to engage another human being independent of whether it bears positive results, such as the uncovering of significant common understanding of the “truth” about the issue at hand.

But there is marvelous potential by-product of expressing this intrinsic Christian value; the possibility that the conversation will indeed help both of you to gain a better grasp of the “truth” as God fully understands it.

I had an “aha” moment about the nature of this “instrumental” value of respectful conversation a few weeks ago when reading the book Lincoln on Leadership for Today by Donald T. Phillips. 

Phillips recounts how in 1859, Abraham Lincoln gave more than a dozen talks across six Midwestern states, including my current home state of Iowa, in which he “continued to hammer away at the slavery issue, because he still wanted it openly discussed across the land.” Why did Lincoln call for such ongoing conversation regarding slavery? Because Lincoln believed, as he said in Columbus, Ohio, that “Evil can’t stand discussion” (p. 82). 

Reading those four words constituted my “eureka” moment. All of a sudden, I found just a few words, a variation on Lincoln’s words, that captured concisely my second rationale for my respectful conversation projects: “Untruth cannot withstand respectful conversation.”

Of course, what happened in the 1860s is that Americans chose war instead of the ongoing discussion that had the potential to uncover the evil of slavery.

And my mantra that “untruth cannot withstand respectful conversation” could suffer the same fate in our time. It appears to me that relative to LGBT issues, most Christians have chosen combat over conversation. Not combat with guns and bullets, but verbal combat wherein those who disagree with you are demonized or the sincerity of their Christian commitment is called into question. So, we may never know if untruth about LGBT issues can withstand respectful conversation because we refuse to engage in such conversation.

But, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that more Christians choose to engage in such respectful conversations about LGBT issues. Will such conversations help us to distinguish between truths and untruths? I don’t know, because as I am fond of saying “you cannot predict beforehand the results of a respectful conversation.”

So, here is my hope and prayer: that by means of ongoing respectful conversations (for which my eCircle on human sexuality is just the beginning and not the end), the truth regarding LGBT issues will gradually emerge (because untruth cannot withstand respectful conversation). How audacious is that?

You see, it is only through the eyes of faith that I can envision the possibility of ongoing respectful conversations about human sexuality helping Christians to come to a better understanding of the “truth” about human sexuality. 

As far-fetched and utopian as that possibility may seem in the contemporary Christian Church, it is my embracing of that possibility that is foundational to my sense of calling that I should devote significant time and energy to orchestrating respectful conversations about human sexuality (and other contemporary issues that are dividing the church).