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A call for civil discourse (making room for the other)…

October 30, 2008

I received a telephone call this morning while working in the church office at Sunnyside Mennonite Church.  The caller indicated that he was concerned about the possible outcome of the upcoming presidential election.  He stated that he was calling local pastors to encourage them to listen to what James Dobson has to say tonight on WDAC.

I asked the caller if he could give me his name.  That I preferred interacting with others by name and not as anonymous voices.  He stammered around a bit and reiterated some of the issues that were important to him in the coming election–abortion, gay marriage.  He did not give his name.

I asked if he is a Christian.  He said that he is and that he is praying for pastors in the area with the impending election.  He sounded apprehensive…fearful.  I again tried to express that I preferred to engage him as a person with a name.  I gave my name.  As I was trying to engage with his perspectives and concerns–bringing my voice into the phone call–he hung up.

I placed the phone back on the receiver and contemplated what had just transpired.  I don’t doubt the sincerity of this man’s motives.  However, I cannot help but recognize the one-sided nature of the phone call.  He was not interested in a give and take conversation.  He was not willing to step out of anonymity and allow his voice and concerns to be put with a name.  Humans have names.  In that sense, the conversation was de-humanizing.  Why the reluctance to be known?  Why this need to hide?

Why the unwillingness to let the conversation go two ways?  He was not willing to give his name, nor was he willing to listen to my voice.  He controlled the conversation–by choosing that his voice would be heard in anonymity and by not allowing me to ask questions or really speak at all.   I was made to be a passive receiver of the message he felt compelled to deliver.  My voice was not valued.  My voice was excluded.  This does not seem to reflect the way of Jesus.

Conversation is a communal practice which not only means I get to speak at people, but I’m willing to listen.  Even if we discover that there are differences between us, I make room for the voice of the other.  I do not exclude the voice of the other, because that voice in some way threatens my sense of self.

I don’t begrudge this brother (in Christ) his views.  I am merely pondering the power he gave himself to control the conversation and to exclude my voice.  I see this pattern expressed repeatedly as we move into the final stretch toward the election of our next president on November 4.  The forums in which this pattern is expressed vary, but the underlying dynamics are the same.  Individuals projecting their voice and views onto another/others without really wanting to hear a response.  Individuals many times just forwarding the words of someone else which they have not critically tested against the measurement of a broader jury.

In this sense, these kinds of communication are not truly communal or humanizing.  Rather, they express the tyranny of individual voice.  These patterns do not reflect a humility that is willing to submit to communal conversation–making room for the other.

Perhaps we need to step back and take a deep breath.  Can all those who claim Christian faith and biblical values agree that the kingdom of God is not on the ballot this Tuesday?  Can we affirm that the victory of Jesus is revealed through a cross and empty tomb, not through a particular political outcome?  Can we seek not only to speak but also to listen as we attempt to express biblical values and the way of Jesus in the political arena?  Perhaps the way we bring our voice (and ears) into the political fray will lend more weight to our witness than what we have to say.

For the Future of the Human Race

O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth:  Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Jon permalink
    October 30, 2008 4:43 pm

    One of the best post on politics/religion that I’ve read this election cycle. Thanks.

  2. October 30, 2008 7:26 pm

    Did you see Jim Wallis’ comments about Dobson?

    James Dobson’s ‘Letter From 2012 in Obama’s America’
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/james-dobsons-letter-from_b_139253.html

    Excerpt: “Dr. Dobson, you of course have the same right as every Christian and every American to vote your own convictions on the issues you most care about, but you have chosen to insult the convictions of millions of other Christians, whose own deeply held faith convictions might motivate them to vote differently than you. This epistle of fear is perhaps the dying gasp of a discredited heterodoxy of conservative religion and conservative politics. But out of that death, a resurrection of biblical politics more faithful to the whole gospel–one that is truly good news–might indeed be coming to life.”

  3. Suzanne permalink
    October 30, 2008 8:27 pm

    Interesting. Thanks for taking the time to share this reflection. Admittedly, I feel “addicted” to election news right now. While not religious, I appreciated this positive approach to election coverage http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/10/30/greene-if-you-can%E2%80%99t-or-can-say-anything-nice/#more-27291.

  4. November 1, 2008 10:51 am

    Sounds like the guy is attempting to turn the gospel into an ideology.

  5. November 2, 2008 8:13 pm

    @ Chris: Didn’t read either Wallace or Dobson, but I would agree with Dobson’s scathing criticism of the fictional letter. It represents to me what has been devisive of the Christian faith.

    – Can all those who claim Christian faith and biblical values agree that the kingdom of God is not on the ballot this Tuesday?
    Great thought. Kingdom values are represented…on both sides…in very imperfect form. We ought to realize there is no side that encapsulates what the Kingdom of God altogether stands for, and therefore we must give our allegiance first to God’s Kingdom, and our ‘vote’ to whomever on Tuesday. Thanks for the post. Good thoughts.

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