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The forgotten art of listening

As I write, the signs look ominous for much of our world.

Letter from America Josh Moody
Figure Image
photo: iStock

I’ve just come from a search of a recent news story seeing college students holding up placards saying ‘This is WAR’. As many will know, America has been embroiled in a low-simmering ‘culture war’ for many decades now, one that could boil over – the tensions seem to be escalating and the troubles mounting.

On the one side of the fence are right to life (anti-abortion)/capitalistic/small govern-ment/morally conservative/many evangelical Christians – though not all, despite what the news media suggest.

On the other side of the fence are pro-choice (pro-abortion, even partial birth it now often seems)/a more moderated capitalistic enterprise/big government/morally ‘progressive’ aka pro-homosexual, etc./ restrictions on pro-life evangelical institutions which sometimes in fact become restrictions on religious freedom/the ‘nones’, religiously mainline, or non-institutional ‘spiritual’ and atheistic or agnostic.

The war of words has been going on for ages; there are now decades-old books describing the roots of these two ways of looking at the world and the various alliances that have formed the two groups. What seems ‘new’ is the level of acrimony.

From words to fists?

Without pointing fingers at any political figures, the verbiage that is being used to describe various opinions is becoming so extreme that you wonder how long people can go on talking about each other like this without actually getting into a fist fight. It’s like watching a married couple having increasingly regular marital spats, with demeaning comments, and you know (as a pastor) that unless there is a change of direction, or some intervention, or a change of heart in some regard or other, then it will not be long before plates are thrown – or divorce proceedings begin.

Is there a path through?

What is the way to stop this conflict becoming violent? The trouble is that the issues are far from minor. To hear someone espousing partial birth abortion leaves a person, like myself, who is committed to protecting the rights of the least among us, with a palpable sense of revulsion. It is hard to downplay that feeling, it seeps out. On the other hand, it is also true, as many African American friends have clearly told me, that discrimination on the basis of race is no media-invented phenomenon. And that too makes you sick to your stomach. ‘Something must be done’ is the rallying cry, for both sides, and yet exactly how to ‘do something’ without alienating the other group appears to be a lost (or at least dying) art.

Before my very brief, for the sake of this column, suggestion of a path forward, we must at least bullet point the problem. No solution can be effective without the right diagnosis. Fundamentally, Western Society has been engaging with an extraordinary social science experiment of attempting to build a new society divorced from its Christian roots.

I remember Sir Fred Catherwood describing that to me as the basic problem years ago, and I think his diagnosis rings more and more true. Tolerance, in the Christian sense, is built upon Christian values, love for your neighbour. There are also technological components. Technology does change things, or at least allows for avenues for such changes to move down. The printing press did not cause the Reformation, but it made its rapid dissemination possible. The Internet is not causing hatred and vitriol, but the inherent war for clicks and ‘likes’, which tends to magnify short unfounded opinions and cause more and more outrageous statements, does not aid civil discourse.

The solution?

I suppose there is only one solution, namely revival. The proclamation of the gospel. Prayer. Christ intervening on behalf of his people. And in the meantime, when we debate and engage with others, let us follow Paul’s advice: ‘Let your gentleness (reasonableness) be evident to all’ (Philippians 4.5).

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.