Christians & Charitable Discussion

There was once a man named Philipp Jakob Spener. He was a pietist and he had a few wishes. These wishes were found in the preface to a collection of sermons by another cool guy. One of Spener’s wishes was that we would employ both restraint and charity in controversy. Spener lived in a time when head knowledge was highly respected and most pastors were preaching above the level of layperson understanding. Debate was popular and it often became unChristian. Spener, in response, communicated this wish.

I blog a lot and like many of you I interact with folks in (usually theological) debate/discussion. A large amount of those discussions are with people I disagree with. With the internet and similar venues that create impersonal communication it is easy to disregard restraint and charity for it is easy to disregard the humanity of the person we are dialoguing with. Most recently I have seen Spener’s wish tossed aside in discussions regarding Rob Bell’s latest book Love Wins. Say what you want about Bell’s position but one thing is certain, the discussion that has come about in reaction to the book, in a lot of circles, is proving love to be losing in among Christians. Sadly, there are many other topics that prove this lacking of love.

Sojourners (like them or not) has a code of conduct for online interactions on their website which I’ve hijacked and altered for myself. I’ve even shared this before on this blog. Here is a portion of that commitment to civil conduct.

1. I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of this online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree—even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)
2. I will express my disagreements with other community members’ ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22, Romans 1:28-32)
3. I will not exaggerate others’ beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I love that last line about giving the benefit of the doubt to others. Our goal is to show the love of Christ and reconcile all to God. That is hard to do when we don’t see the good/God in others or don’t treat others as though they are worthy of that respect and charity. I believe a part of Christian harmony and living peacefully with each other involves disagreeing well and submitting to selfless love just as Jesus Christ did. We value knowledge a great deal but I wonder how often we value it more than love and peaceful unity. How often are we trying to be right and how often are we trying to love, unite, or reconcile? We don’t always have to choose between the two but sometimes we do. My wish is that we wouldn’t toss restraint and charity aside. For me that often means shutting up instead of continuing to be verbal in disagreement.

Christians, I urge you to be civil at all times. We have motivation in Christ Jesus to interact lovingly with those around us. The will of God compels us to love neighbors and enemies at all times, blessing them and speaking life to them. Commit yourselves to loving language and interactions. Communicate with others in a way that respects, encourages, and uplifts them. Even in disagreement show love because being right will not bring about reconciliation like love will. Being right or making someone look stupid is not going to serve the purposes of the Gospel. Name calling, exaggerating or misrepresenting the other person’s position, personalizing an issue and attacking a person instead of their position are not actions of charity. Can we learn to practice calm discussion? Can we learn to be self examined? Can we learn to stop ourselves and notice when we aren’t being loving and then change gears so that we begin to turn our discussions towards love? If we can not then we are no longer concerned with loving as Christ loved for we have dismissed the gospel teaching of treating others as better than ourselves. Therefore, let us restrain ourselves in controversy and let us be charitable to others so that love may abound!

Do you have a commitment to civil conduct? Do you believe we have need for Spener’s wish today? What else would you add to this commitment? Does it apply to non-text-based interactions as well?