Surely at this point, a good few weeks into yet another online outcry (need a refresher on the latest internet buzz? Here’s an article to catch you up!), his name alone conjures up many an emotion: perhaps confusion, perhaps anger, perhaps hurt, perhaps an urge to defend, perhaps frustration, and the list could go on…
All of these emotions are very evident in the fury of words that bloggers and columnists alike have written in the recent weeks. With all of these words, a seeming consensus comes out: something is very wrong! As words penned years ago under a pseudonym now emerge, this community of responders agrees that what Driscoll said is not okay. From a chorus of voices – voices who often have more to disagree about than agree as they span the “conservative-liberal” spectrum of evangelical Christianity – Driscoll’s words were…
- “…nothing short of vile. In addition to being expletive-laden, they were misogynistic and homophobic…” (Jonathan Merritt’s article. See more here)
- Driscoll “degrade[s] women, bull[ies] men, and us[es] hateful slurs to talk about LGBT people” (Rachel Held Evan’s blog. See more here)
- Driscoll’s words were seen as “ungodly and disqualifying behavior” for ministry (an excerpt from the letter to Mark from the Acts 29 leadership. See letter here).
With all of this agreement can’t we just be done with the conversation? Can’t we just say: “Look; everyone agrees! What Driscoll said and did was bad. In fact, it was wrong! His words and the manner in which he wrote them are not representative of the good news of Jesus Christ and now we all recognize it. Case closed!”
Unfortunately, I don’t think we can stop here. Though there is agreement on the surface between each of these writers, there doesn’t seem to be a unity of voice in the manner in which Driscoll is received or the tone in which their articles were written. If you read the articles cited above in their entirety, the differences become quite self-evident. Merritt begins his post affirming the wrong that has been done and ends with grace. Evans begins and ends with an affirmation of the wrong that has occurred. While both united on the fact that something is very wrong here, the ending point and tone of these writers is incredibly different…and ought not be overlooked.
This lack of unity leads me to a pressing question: is the way we respond to this situation (and countless others like it) representative of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Perhaps, in a pointed way, my question is this: what does it look like to embody the fruit of the Spirit (especially those tough ones like ‘gentleness’ and ‘kindness’) in the midst of deep, deep disagreement, sometimes horrific hurt, and things we believe are just plain wrong?
When grasping for a response to words that are hurtful, wrong, and embarrassing (as laid out by these writers and proclaimed by Driscoll) can we do so in a way that invites dialogue, forgiveness, and [hopefully] learning? Or does our language and tone further isolate the one who has hurt us? Can we acknowledge the moral failings of a person, speak the truth about ugly situations, and wholeheartedly disagree with the approach of a person in a way that embodies civility, even towards the one who has hurt us so deeply?
Even voicing these questions tells you, I’m sure, what I think about such things. I believe that it IS possible, albeit exceptionally difficult, to speak the truth into horribly wrong situations in a manner that is authentically kind, gentle, and grace-filled. A way forward, though it’s difficult, is the practice of convicted civility (note: this term comes from people much wiser than I – if you're interested, here's more of what Richard Mouw has to say on it!!).
Now that we’ve named the practice, a couple thoughts on what convicted civility is and what it is not…
Convicted civility is not:
- Just being polite
- This is not an “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all” kind of approach. It isn’t just a way to passively get out of a confrontation or to silently fume while not saying anything. I’m not just advocating for a smile plastered on your face in the midst of something grievous!
- Condoning any and all behavior
- This also isn’t just an “anything goes” approach! To speak graciously and kindly in the midst of deep disagreements need not be, by definition, an implicit approval of the other’s actions. It is not a lack of moral judgment.
- Merely an external action
- This isn’t just a front we show to the world while secretly harboring resentment or anger. Convicted civility is not about mere pleasantries!
Convicted civility is:
- Loving people in spite of their sinful ways
- This approach is about cultivating a deep care for that person that spills out into the way we think and talk about them without brushing over wrong doings.
- Genuine care for others
- It stems from a commitment to others, an understanding of our common humanity, and an undergirding conviction of the inherent created importance of each and every person. To really engage people in this way, we have to begin with a sense of care and commitment towards people – even the ones with whom we disagree the most…and who’ve hurt us the most.
- Cultivating an inner spirit of civility
- Convicted civility begins with nurturing a spirit that is growing in kindness, gentleness, patience, and peace while upholding a robust notion of truth. Engaging others civilly in practice is not enough if our heart doesn’t match the words we are saying.
With this definition, the problem then isn’t that we talk about problems, missteps, and moral blunders within the Christian community (and outside of it); the problem is how we talk about them. This takes a lot of flushing out, so if you’ve stuck with me this far, props to you!!
This situation, and others like it, is not easy. Responses in the face of these types of situations are certainly difficult. Actually, if I’m being honest, “difficult” doesn’t even begin to describe the excruciating pain caused by this particular situation or countless others where people trying to be faithful to Jesus mess up big time. But it seems to me that we owe it to one another as fellow journeyers on this crazy, confusing road of life to embrace our commonness, to embrace our humanity. To do this, though, means we also have to really engage each other…with civility. Again, this isn’t about just agreeing with one another or tolerating one another or passively letting people do whatever they want. In fact, it seems to me that it’s exactly the opposite. This approach of convicted civility requires that we speak truth, but we speak it in a new way. As we engage people, particularly those with whom we vehemently disagree, convicted civility calls us to nurture a spirit of truth alongside these virtues of kindness and gentleness (and, of course, the rest of the fruit of the Spirit!).
To my fellow journeyers on this path seeking truth and striving towards civility: may we grow in grace for this journey!