MUSINGS

As I listen to or view news reports and read newspaper articles, essays and books, I can often distinguish between those who are committed to respectful conversation from those with whom they disagree and those who will have none of that. From time to time, I will share some thoughts on what I hear and read. I welcome your comments on my musings.



PIVOTING FROM RESPECTFUL ELECTRONIC CONVERSATIONS (eCIRCLES) TO FACE-TO-FACE CONVERSATIONS: A BIG NEW CHALLENGE

As reported on this website most of my attempts over the past seven years to orchestrate respectful conversations among Christians who have strong disagreements regarding some contentious issues have been done electronically (through my eCircles), with follow-up books that seek to capture the highlights of these eCircles. 

While I am thinking about a possible theme for a new circle, I am now focusing my activities on orchestrating face-to-face conversations in my local community. This presents a whole new challenge. 

In this musing, I will report on one local attempt that was a dismal failure and a second attempt that worked well until it didn’t. My next musing will report on a third initiative that is just beginning. I am hoping that these three reports will be helpful to those readers who want to take the bold and very challenging step of initiating such face-to-face conversations in their local communities.

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THE NATURE OF RESPECTFUL CONVERSATIONS

Although a focus on orchestrating “respectful conversations” has permeated my website since its inception, my understanding of the nature of such conversations has evolved in the process of my hosting multiple eCircles and writing books intended to capture the highlights of these eCircles. What follows is my summary, as of early November 2018, of the essential elements of “respectful conversations” among those who have strong disagreements. 

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THE FUTURE OF THE LGBT CONTROVERSY WILL DEPEND ON WHO IS GIVEN A VOICE

In the concluding chapter of my recent book Respectful LGBT Conversations that emerged from my eCircle on human sexuality, I propose some concrete steps for a “Way Forward” for Christians, churches, Christian colleges and denominations currently struggling with issues related to human sexuality. A common element for many of my proposed “next steps” is the need for ongoing respectful conversations among those Christians who have strong disagreements about these contentious issues. 

This leaves unanswered the crucial question as to the results that may emerge from such ongoing conversations. Ignoring the suggestion of a number of my conversation partners for this eCircle that it is folly to attempt to predict this future, and tempering my own favorite adage that “you cannot predict beforehand the results of a respectful conversation,” some of my experiences since the publication of my book embolden me to peer a bit into that future.

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HOW CAN THOSE WHO ADVOCATE FOR INCLUSION OF LGBTQ PERSONS IN FAITH COMMUNITIES BE “WRONG” WHEN SO MANY LGBTQ INDIVIDUALS ARE SUFFERING FROM THEIR EXCLUSION?

A friend posed this question to me at a recent meeting. I gave a very inadequate response. I am typically not very good at thinking quickly on-my-feet in responding to unexpected questions. I need a lot of time to think about appropriate responses. So, I hope this written response will prove to be better.

The context for this question was a presentation I made at this meeting in which I proposed that since Christians do not have a “God’s-eye view of the “truth” on human sexuality issues, those holding to a “traditional” view of marriage (reserved for a man and woman) as well as those holding to a “non-traditional” view of marriage (God will bless a monogamous, life-long marriage commitment of same-sex partners) need to be open to the possibility that they are “wrong” at the same time that they present their respective positions with clarity and deep conviction.

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A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO TRIBALISM

The following is an edited version of a talk I gave at the Townsquare Coffee Shop in Orange City, Iowa on October 19, 2018

In his posting titled “The Spirit of the Parties” for my eCircle on “Reforming Political Discourse,” Kevin den Dulk, a political science professor at Calvin College, proposed that the major pathology in public discourse these days, especially on any issue that is political in nature, is “tribalism.” In my own words, here is the scourge of tribalism.

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FRIENDSHIP TRUMPS TRIBALISM

Even the seating arrangement pointed to tribalism; with Republicans sitting at one end of the dais and Democrats seated at the other end as the U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee debated the results of the preceding day’s interviews of Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

The tribalistic us-versus-them mentality that is the scourge of contemporary politics became painfully obvious as Democrats and Republicans threw verbal grenades at one another.

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ESTABLISHING DIVERSE RELATIONSHIPS THROUGH STORY

The following musing was published on August 7, 2018 on the “In All Things” blog, a publication of the Andreas Center of Dordt College in Iowa.

 Listening to a story radically changed my perspective about my immigrant neighbors. A Latino mom told about how her daughter would cry before going to school each morning because she was afraid that when she came home, her mommy would not be there; she would have been taken away for deportation.

 That story broke my heart. Until I heard it, my immigrant neighbors were faceless statistics to me. Suddenly they became flesh-and-blood human beings who, like me, wanted their families to flourish. 

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A BOTH/AND APPROACH TO IMMIGRATION REFORM

The following reflections were prepared in preparation for my participation in a June 6, 2018 panel presentation in Storm Lake, Iowa on the topic “Leading the Way: A Living Room Conversation on a New Approach to American Immigration” that was sponsored by the “Bibles, Badges and Business” network that is a project of the National Immigration Forum

The two prompts for my initial comments tonight are lifted from two announcements that I received for this important event. One announcement suggests that “we” need to “explore a new, reasonable approach to immigration.” A second announcement asks “how we can move forward together.”

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IN SUPPORT OF SHERIFF DAN 

 The following opinion piece was published on April 13, 2017 as a Letter to the Editor of the Sioux County (Iowa) Capital Democrat, signed by 18 members and friends of CASA of Sioux County. The Center for Service, Assistance and Advocacy is a non-profit organization, for which I serve as co-director, that envisions transformed Northwest Iowa communities that welcome, empower and celebrate people from all cultures. 

The Sheriff of Sioux County, Dan Altena, has recently come under criticism for abiding by the County policy of not honoring Detainer requests from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) unless a judge has approved such detention with a probable cause warrant. 

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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.

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LEARNING FROM SOMEONE WHO DISAGREES WITH YOU: IMMIGRATION REFORM AND BEYOND

It is a challenge for those who hold to their beliefs with deep conviction to acknowledge that they may be wrong about some things and could learn from someone who disagrees with them about the issue at hand.

The root problem is all-or-nothing thinking: I have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and everything the other person believes about the issue is false.

As recorded in Acts 15, the early Christian church modeled a way to get beyond such all-or-nothing thinking by means of conversation. Some Christian Jews believed that Gentiles who wished to embrace the Christian faith needed to be circumcised and keep all other aspects of the “law of Moses” (v. 5). But at the Jerusalem Conference, “all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done though them among the Gentiles” (v. 12). 

 

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SEEKING THE GOOD OF YOUR CITY: AN EXPANSIVE VIEW OF GOD'S REDEMPTIVE PURPOSES

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7)

 

In the pietistic Lutheran Church in which I was nurtured as a teenager in Brooklyn, New York, we were called to evangelism: sharing the good news that people can be redeemed from the tyranny of selfish will and be restored to a proper relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That was good, as far as it went, because Christians are called to be agents for fostering redemption between persons and God.

 

But when I was exposed to the Reformed Christian tradition, first as a faculty member at Gordon College in Massachusetts, and then, in no uncertain terms, when I moved to northwest Iowa in 1980, I came to the conclusion that that my earlier view of God’s redemptive purposes was severely truncated: In addition to, not in place of, the “saving of individual persons,” God intends for all of the Created order to be redeemed through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1: 15-20). As beautifully expressed by Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch on the whole plain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord of all, does not proclaim ‘This is mine!’”

 

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MODELING HUMILITY AND LOVE IN PUBLIC DISCOURSE

When is the last time you heard someone say the following about a controversial issue: “This is what I believe, but I may be wrong?

We are often quick to say “this is what I believe.” But the qualification “I may be wrong” is a rarity. Why is that? Rather than dealing in abstractions, I will set the stage for my answer by considering a concrete example with which I have had some direct experience.

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DISAGREEMENTS AS A PATHWAY TOWARD COMMON GROUND IN POLITICS

Considering the goal of politics to be the search for common ground that promotes the common good, there are enormous disagreements as to the substance of that common ground. That is to be expected. But what is alarming is the inability of most politicians to respectfully engage each other about those disagreements. More often than not, politicians resort to shouting at rather than talking with those who whom they disagree.

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ROOT CAUSES OF POLITICAL RANCOR

It was like watching a food fight among 6th graders at my former public school in Brooklyn, P. S. 105. But I was actually watching the Republican debate among presidential candidates in South Carolina on February 13.

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