Somehow, God only knows, I was selected to participate in a phone based Town Hall meeting with Texas Senator John Cornyn. The way it works is that a staff person previews your question and theoretically it is then put in the queue to be answered by the Senator.
My question was clearly one that would not be considered a “sugar stick.” There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. The staff person finally responded that he would pass my thoughts on to the Senator. I stayed on the line for the duration of the Town Hall and not surprisingly, I was never called upon.
No one would have been more surprised than myself had I been given the opportunity to express myself on the air. While many folks speak about their willingness to hear opinions contrary to their own, those willing to do so are few and far between.
We know as Christians we are called to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15.) It would be my contention that we are also called to hear others as they seek to speak the truth as they understand it. Liberation theologians have a concept called the “hermeneutical circle” that addresses the concept of how groups of people come to know what they know. Simply put, everyone has a voice and everyone gets to speak their truth, then together in mutual conversation, we discern the greater truth.
In recent years’ my concern has grown as conservative speakers have been hindered from speaking at UC Berkeley and other progressive venues. As I write this article a controversy is brewing around a certain groups’ desire to have booths at our coming UCC Synod in Milwaukee. Not every congregation in the UCC sees diversity or biblical interpretation in the same light. In a denomination grounded in congregational autonomy what are the limits imposed on free speech?
My personal conviction is that we have nothing to fear and much to gain from the practice of free expression. The drift among progressives towards limiting oppositional voices is a huge mistake. When combined with a belief that those who disagree with our convictions are morally inferior or impaired in some manner, I am left with a question. Given the power would we become tyrants in our own right?
If Senator Cornyn’s staff believes, as I do, in the sacred marketplace of ideas, then they should have taken my question. In like manner, we who claim the title of “progressive Christians” should be willing to hear the thoughts, concerns, and ideas of those with whom we disagree. Others will hear us only if we are willing to hear them as well.
Authentic dialogue is frequently painful as others question our perspectives, values and even our selfhood. I am not suggesting convictional ambiguity, and ultimately, real communication is risky in that our deepest beliefs are on display and in theory open to the possibility of change. But the risk is necessary as we seek to live out our calling to make disciples in the image of Jesus Christ.
Here I speak of the Jesus who touched the leper, embraced the Centurion and ordained the tax collector. Yes, there is a risk in real dialogue but there is also the probability of reward. If the arc of the moral universe is to bend towards justice, it will be because we have listened and then spoken in love.
Peace and Light,