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Polarizing Issues and the Departure of Nuance

11.23.17 | Culture, Church | by Matt Shantz

    I have a Twitter account that I post to on occasion. A goofy picture of my boys, the occasional inspirational quote or a repost of something going on at Central, the church I pastor. I’m an oddity I suppose. In my thirties and no Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat account. It’s a minor miracle that I still have friends and actually converse with anybody without them.

    I’m not here to rag on social media. It’s incredible how it can connect people. The reality is it is also radically dividing people who are sharing their opinions on matters en masse. Our technological age is putting the voices of the masses out in the open for all to see and that can bring positive change. It’s also partially responsible for the departure of nuance in dialogue today, making nearly all issues polarizing ones. Panels on “the news” get a share of the blame here too, right? 

    Here is something I’m acutely aware of as a pastor, many people in the church I pastor are wondering how to navigate the issues of our time, asking, “help me think about this” or even “tell me what to think about this”. In this article, I will suggest some general principles to keep in mind regarding any and every contentious issue. 

    Jesus is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). When you read the gospels you discover a trend in the ministry of Jesus. When speaking to the religious, you could say that Jesus led with Truth. When speaking with “sinners” such as prostitutes, tax collectors, and the sick, you could say that Jesus led with grace. To the insider, Jesus was clear and straight up and yet full of truth and grace. To the outsider, Jesus was compelling and gracious and yet ultimately full of grace and truth. People would have radical encounters with Jesus and as the last word, it seemed, Jesus would say, “now go and sin no more” (John 5:14; 8:11; et al.).

    In the court of public opinion, conservative Christians lead with their truth without any semblance of grace to be found. Take the new SOGI curriculum as a hot-button example. Many conservative Christians are messaging that they reject it wholesale. What that says to the broader society is that we don’t care about the safety of marginalized children. We are becoming known for standing in opposition to something that is actually the opposite of what Christianity has always stood for: care for the widow, orphan, sojourner, and marginalized. Where Christians are called to be the best neighbours we are coming off as the worst neighbours and that should give us pause.

    Here are 3 general principles I would encourage you to keep in mind regarding any and every contentious public issue:

    1. INFORMED: If you are going to speak to an issue publicly, educate yourself on the issue as thoroughly as you can before you say a word. This includes your social media posts or the reposting of other’s statements on issues you haven’t familiarized yourself with.
      Are you opposed to every lesson plan within the SOGI curriculum resources? One lesson plan for K-12’s is to teach, Why “That’s so Gay” is not okay. Are you actually opposed to education combating hurtful speech like that? I should hope not! When it comes to gender dysphoria the issue itself is not black and white. It requires incredible wisdom and each scenario should be approached as the unique case that it is.
      I am not advocating for the curriculum or a one-size-fits-all action plan on gender dysphoria, I’m making a comment about our public discourse and lack of nuance. What is it exactly that you are opposing? Do you know? If not, please sit down and close your mouth. Blanket and/or uninformed statements can really hurt people and damage our Christian witness.


    1. GRACE-FILLED: Lead with grace in the public square. Truth without grace is fundamentalism in the worst sense of the word and there is nothing compelling and beautiful about it. It seems that while Jesus led with grace towards the sinner and truth towards the religious (an oversimplification I realize), we have flipped the two: Hard line truth towards the culture and a pleasant graciousness towards one another.
      The Apostle Paul says, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6). Paul is making a case for attractive, compelling testimony to unbelievers here. Much like Jesus calling us to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13), the words in their context refer to wise communication that commends the gospel to people.
      Again, I’m not talking about the complex issues being “dialogued” about in the public square here — about acceptance or rejection of them — I’m talking about posture, approach, and ultimately our witness (a good witness or a bad witness). 


    1. CONVICTION: Don’t capitulate to the culture either.
      You’re being told otherwise, but to be gracious and loving does not mean that we must abandon what we believe to be true. There is a lack of nuance in public dialogue on all fronts and while truth without grace is fundamentalism, grace without truth is mere sentimentality. I do not believe that what the Christian church has historically believed about particular issues must be renounced for the sake of love. There is a third way. A well-informed, thoughtfully engaged, humble participation in public discourse can go a long way.

    It seems we think otherwise, but we are not owed Christian values in the public sphere. Where they exist it is an enormous blessing and we believe that it leads to the greatest flourishing of all. While we are not owed Christian values in our society we are called to love God, love neighbour, and live in such a way that causes the watching world to say, “I want that”. And in this cultural moment, that appears lost in translation.

    Oh Lord, help us recover a prophetic voice and compelling witness.

    (photo: Jessica Peters/ The Progress)