My Search for Truth

My desire to understand the truth about all aspects of our world is insatiable. After 40 years of serving as a teacher and academic administrator at four Christian liberal arts colleges, I formulated a description of higher education at its best in just three words: “Conversations Seeking Truth.”

But the goal of uncovering the truth about any given contentious issue has fallen on hard times because of a strong tendency to gravitate toward one of two unacceptable extremes: relativism and tribalism.

The relativist will say “you have your beliefs, I have mine; end of conversation.” There is nothing for us to talk about since there is no way to adjudicate our differing beliefs.

At the other end of the spectrum, the tribalist will say “I and ‘my people’ (e.g., my church, my church’s denomination, my political party, my circle of friends) have captured all of the truth about the issue at hand; while you and ‘your people’ have captured none of that truth.” While the relativist is willing to remain silent, the tribalist often demeans and demonizes the person who disagrees; not only are you “completely wrong” (while I am “completely right”), but you are evil.

The problem that is common to both of these extreme camps is a failure to recognize that all humans are finite and fallible. At best, each human being has captured only a portion of the “whole truth” about the issue being considered, with that “partial glimpse” of the “full truth” reflecting “who he/she is,” by which I mean his/her lifetime of experiences; his/her “life story.” My life-story may help me to see aspects of the whole truth that the other has missed; and his/her life-story may reveal aspects of the whole truth that I have missed. So, what, the should we do? We should “compare notes” (so to speak)

And the way that we can best compare notes is to engage each other in respectful conversation that doesn’t start with demeaning or demonizing the other, but starts with an attempt to adequately understand the position the other person is taking and the reasons the other person has for holding to that position (which will be deeply informed by his/her life-story).

The above narrative has deeply informed the Respectful Conversation project that I have focused on for the past 12+ years, both on my website,, and by hosting some local small-group face-to-face conversations among persons who have strong disagreements about some contentious issues (e.g., same-sex marriage and political affiliation/involvement).

It is my hope and prayer that those readers who check out my website will discover, and implement in their respective spheres of influence, a “better way” to navigate disagreements than either relativism or tribalism. My summary description of this ‘better way” is that it creates a “safe and welcoming space” for those who have strong disagreements to respectfully talk about those disagreements toward the goal of uncovering some “common ground,” which I believe is a deep expression of “loving” the person who disagrees with me, to which Jesus, who I aspire to follow, calls me.

That surely sounds like a great deal of “wishful thinking.” Rather, I view it as planting “tiny seeds of redemption,” and I claim the promise of Jesus in his “Parable of the Mustard Seed” (recorded in Matthew 13: 31-32) that if I (and you) are faithful in planting such tiny mustard seeds, we can entrust a fruitful redemptive harvest to God.

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