Mark Eckel is a longtime friend of ESN and has contributed to the blog many times, including writing a series on suffering and another on movies, as well as one of our most popular Scholar’s Compass pieces on how housekeeping develops many of the same virtues in us as studying the liberal arts. You can find all of his previous work for the blog here. We welcome him for a new series. In today’s post, he shares from his experience of discussion as a radio host for Warp and Woof, president of the Comenius Institute.
I think the first prerequisite to civilization is an ability to make polite conversation. — W. H. Auden
Speaking with Christian brothers in a recent on air radio interview, I made the suggestion,
Nine out of ten times we will agree.
It was a group of men whose political, cultural views were widely varied.
As we discussed issues, it was clear that we all adhered to the same principles, we all held the same philosophical perspectives, we all agreed that certain things were right or wrong.
The conclusion seemed obvious: our differences revolved around approach. We left our differences alone so that we could focus on our agreements as Christian brothers.
Our approach to issues has to do with how we
- Treat others with whom we converse
- Use language which invites not alienates
- Speak publicly about those with whom we may disagree
- Support another’s right to speak even if we disagree
- Listen to those whose voice, culture, or background is different from our own
In my work to facilitate conversations about Christianity and culture, I often find myself thinking of ways to approach the following issues and conversations.
Identity. People base their self-identity on many things, from their worldview to their experience of sexuality and gender to their academic achievements. My agreement or disagreement with where someone finds their sense of self means little if I do not accept people as fellow human beings. Worth, value, and dignity are based on our being made in God’s image according to God’s creational law (Genesis 1:26-27). If I approach individuals as people rather than categories, reception may be reciprocal.
Government. There are those who vilify anyone with whom they disagree. Responses to the president, congress, judges, or law enforcement crosses the line of visceral hatred for some. I may be willing to listen to reasoned responses to people or policy but I will not abide disrespect of anyone. The biblical vantage point begins with the admonition to honor those in authority (1 Peter 2:13-17). If I approach authorities with a spirit of generosity—no matter their belief or behavior—my approach may bring with it an opportunity for collaboration and conciliation.
Media. If we are only given to one perspective on any given issue we will never be able to live with each other in cooperation. Those on the so-called “left” tend to read Slate, Salon, Huffington Post, The New York Times, NPR, or The Washington Post. Those on the so-called “right” tend to read The Drudge Report, The Weekly Standard, National Review, The Washington Times, City Journal, or First Things. Scripture clearly teaches that one should consider the second point of view after the first (Proverbs 18:17). If I approach other perspectives with an attitude of respect—without giving up my perspective—it could lead to everyone being heard.
Two weeks ago we celebrated our 100th show on our Warp & Woof Radio at the state capital building in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thanks to Chaplains Matt Barnes and Tim Overton, my producer HB Bell and I were able to interview a wide cross section of senators and representatives as they began their 2018 legislative session. What struck me then and what continues to reverberate in my thinking now is how much each elected official cared for their constituency. Each person brought forward what they wanted the general assembly to consider. What was true of each governmental official was their generous approach toward everyone, even those “across the aisle.” I pray that this approach would be reflected in all levels of our government, in particular by followers of Christ, across our nation in this new year.
The university can be a place of division or diversity. We can raise posters of protest or get together for honest, forthright conversation. We can misrepresent others by not asking for their agreement with how we heard them. We could, instead, properly represent others and their viewpoints with careful language and caring attitude. Perhaps if we set the example in our classrooms, offices, and quads the attraction of the gospel will win the day (Titus 2:10).
Nine times out of ten we will agree with basic beliefs: justice, creation-care, epistemological humility, and human dignity to name a few. It is often our approach to problems which divides us. May we first seek to find God-given, creational principles to live this life. Then may we discover the communication which will attract others to listen, to consider, and to respect approaches different than their own.
- It is important to begin conversations by admitting our presuppositions or prejudices about the given topic of discussion. Agree or disagree? Why or why not?
- With whom could I begin a possible dialogue in my department or another department?
- How do I prepare my mindset, disposition, attitude, or affections prior to a conversation with someone I disagree with?
- What are my responsibilities as a Christian in conversation with a non-Christian?
Lord, Let my speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that I may know how I ought to answer each person. Amen. (Colossians 4:6)
 W. H. Auden, The Art of Poetry No. 17, Interviewed by Michael Newman Issue 57, Spring, 1974. https://www.scribd.com/document/337385440/DocumenttoGunn