What do you do to kick off your new year? Do you make resolutions? Start an exercise plan? Make out a new budget? Those are all good things to do, but I usually think about the year that is just past and consider what I long to see happen in the new year.
This year I find myself thinking about the ways our society has polarized and how our social dialogue is so often an adversarial conversation where everyone talks and no one listens. This is painfully true as our culture embraces policies and practices never before considered acceptable and those who question such changes are often simply dismissed as bigots, racists and “hate-speech mongers.” It doesn’t help that often the self-appointed spokespersons of any viewpoint are not well-informed, choose their words carelessly, and even draw conclusions unique to themselves.
I was really surprised recently that a secular political activist organization appointed themselves as the voice to articulate what “most Christians” believe. As a Christian, I was both surprised and appalled at their claim; I would not claim this article is speaking for all Christians, though I hope Christians share my concerns about the past and join in my prayers for a better future for all people. And I am saddened by the failure of our public conversations to permit real discussion of our genuine differences of values.
It seems we are no longer capable of permitting dissent from whatever “politically correct” position currently reigns in the media. I think that is a serious loss to the health and life of our culture. Our society accepts and even endorses many behaviors that I find it impossible to give my approval too, yet to voice my values publicly is to incur the dreaded label of being intolerant – even though I have not advocated compulsory compliance with my values, nor have I ever suggested that any person should be treated with contempt or denied justice.
One of the things making the discussion so difficult is the way in which our values are derived; Christians derive their values from a source that we believe is divine, God-given words preserved in the Bible, and though we often disagree with each other on how to live those values out, we usually agree on what God has said through scripture.
This means there are values which are not the result of our own experiences or philosophy and these things include some of the difficult social issues of today. Such values are not amenable to the idea that truth is relative or that each person is the highest authority for themselves on all questions of good or bad. Yet at the same time, we believe as Christians that no one is perfect, that all fall short of the perfect goodness of God, and that consequently we have no claim to being in ourselves the authority on all moral values.
Rather, we are seeking to learn and to live out the values we learn from God through his word and through our experience of God’s grace to us. And that is what I pray to see in this new year; God’s grace being extended to others, to all others around us even while we remain true to our consciences so that we are not hypocritical in our conversation, but with such respect for the image of God found in all human beings that even those with whom we disagree may recognize the deep respect and value we hold for them.
There is already enough thoughtless conformity to keep the world a mess; wouldn’t it be better to have real dialogue and real respect for each other that encourages us to treat each other better?
Bruce Thweatt pastors at Enumclaw Community Church and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.