Author Topic: An Essay Worth Reading "Christian Civility: The Test of Intra-Faith Relations"  (Read 1303 times)

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Offline podkarpatska

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This essay by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, the Religion Editor at the Huffington Post  which was first written as a forward for a book, should be mandatory reading for all posters on this Orthodox Catholic thread and elsewhere.  (Raushenbush is an ordained, seminary-trained American Baptist minister.)

It really reflects much of what I have been thinking about as to how we all conduct our 'discussions' here and elsewhere with our fellow Christians.   I find it harder and harder to participate without despair in a forum dominated by harsh ideologues from both the Orthodox and non-Orthodox world.

I realize that this may violate the general rule regarding excerpting lengthy articles, but I did check with several mods prior to posting this but I think that the Pastor's message should resonate among us - especially as we all near the beginning of the Triodon.


"Recently, I read an article featuring a pastor with whom I had strong disagreements. The more I read, the less I liked -- and it was a long article. That pastor made statements about the nature of the Gospel and society to which I took personal offense. Unfortunately, this happened right before I went to bed and I spent an hour or so awake and fuming, wondering how this person could read the same scriptures and see such a different Jesus than the one I call Lord. The more I thought, the more I began to view a fellow Christian, whom I had never met and to whose beliefs I had been introduced third hand, as "the enemy." Like cement carelessly poured on a sidewalk, my thoughts hardened my heart into a stumbling block for my faith. Of course, my reaction isn't particularly unique or even surprising.

Religion evokes intense responses because it plays an essential role in our lives. Our beliefs reflect who we are, what we care about, our purpose -- what Tillich would call our "ultimate concerns." I serve as the Associate Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel at Princeton University. Much of my work involves encouraging interfaith dialogue between students of different religious traditions, including a group of 30 students called the Religious Life Council who have committed themselves to being part of a community of diverse faith traditions and beliefs (including atheists and agnostics) that acknowledges difference while maintaining respect and friendship. This stretches the students as Muslims and Jews, Hindus and Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists articulate their disagreements on questions of the existence of God, how society should be structured, the relation between religion and international politics and the nature of salvation. When speaking to someone from a different faith, we start out with the basic understanding that we will and should disagree, but we can sit down and have some tea and talk together.

Inter-faith dialogue is hard, but intra-faith can be harder. Every Christian claims Jesus, so essential questions of how we understand Jesus, his earthly ministry, the meaning of the crucifixion, the nature of his call upon our lives (questions to which a non-Christian is largely indifferent) become the grounds of our essential debate and, literally, a matter of life and death. When we encounter a Christian who thinks and believes differently, we experience that difference as an attack on the principles upon which we have built our lives and as a betrayal to the faith. This feeling only increases when you add in politics. In recent elections, both sides of the political aisle found inspiration and legitimization from Christian constituencies. Political debates often adopted theological rhetoric, and religious leaders adopted political strategies. The result has been a "winner take all" attitude with Christian groups being particularly brutal toward one another.

These battles are not new. I remember being disheartened in seminary by the contentious nature of our debates over Christian traditions and their social implications. A fellow student reminded me that, as evidenced in Paul's letters, Christians have been disagreeing since the early church. The comment was meant to be comforting, and it is good to consider that our internal conflicts are not the result of any unique sinfulness of our time. But if we look at the history of our faith, we cannot gloss over the horrible violence committed by Christians, not only against people of other religions, but between ourselves. Thousands, maybe millions of people have died as the result of theological, social or ecclesial differences. Thank God we do not appear to be anywhere near that point today, but our history looms as a warning. Civility, and more specifically Christian Civility, serves as a safeguard against any threat of further violence or brutality. But more than utilitarian, Christian Civility should be adopted by every follower of Jesus as an important part of the spiritual discipline of our faith: not merely as one tool in our spiritual toolbox but as an integral part of what it means to be a Christian.

The word civility shares the same root as citizen. Citizens of a common nation survive because they enter into the basic contract that they need one another, and that all individual citizens have a role to play so that they might be collectively enriched. Laws are created that grant citizens individual rights balanced by mutual responsibilities to one another. The locus of civility within the Christian life is the kingdom of God to which we are all granted citizenship through our faith. In God's kingdom, we are bound by the covenant of the two great commandments: that we love God and love our neighbor -- even those whom we imagine to be our enemies -- as ourselves. Civility in the kingdom of God demands a commitment to reconciliation that goes to the heart of the Gospel.

The importance of reconciliation is stressed by Jesus in Matthew 5:23-24, when he instructs his followers not to come to the altar if we are in a dispute with one of our sisters or brothers. In this age of the Internet, in which anonymous vitriol and cruelty is as easy as a click of the keyboard, Jesus' specific demand that we approach the one with whom we have a disagreement face-to-face offers a profound correction. Just like the interfaith engagement of my students at Princeton, personal interaction forces us to recognize the humanity in the person whom otherwise we might easily demonize or dismiss. The more we know about a person, the more we appreciate their vulnerabilities, their aspirations and the reasons for their convictions. Hopefully we might ultimately acknowledge that God is working in her or his life as well as in our own.

The advantage of being authentically engaged with people whose beliefs differ from our own is that it serves as a safeguard against idolizing our own ideology. If we are around only people who nod affirmatively we risk the casual merging our own truth with the Gospel truth and subsuming the Way of Jesus to our own way. When we become adherents of our own certitude, our faith can calcify and stagnate. Christian Civility requires humility, a somewhat under-emphasized virtue among Christian leaders. Yet our commitment to "walk humbly with our God," as Micah requires, gives space for us to learn and grow from God and from our Christian brothers

Christian Civility does not mean that we won't disagree. There is a difference between incivility and disagreement. Incivility breaks down communication and ruptures God's kingdom, but disagreement between Christians is inevitable -- and even productive. One example is the disagreement between Christian leaders around the Civil Rights Movement in America. Many Christians were encouraging Martin Luther King, Jr. to temper his demands, to slow down his movement and to not create so much tension or disagreement. MLK responded in his now famous Letter from Birmingham City Jail: "But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word 'tension.' I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth." Like MLK Jr., all of us benefit from clarity about where we stand. A call for civility is not a call for lack of conviction, rather it is about remaining engaged with those with whom we disagree in the hopes that we might somehow continue to move forward together forging new consensus as we go. The Civil Rights Movement is one example of civil tension that led Christians to a more authentic faith.

We will continue to have tension among Christians until we all agree on everything or Jesus comes again -- and I am betting on Jesus. Therefore the call for civility begins today and with each one of us. Christian Civility doesn't work if it is reduced to me pointing the finger at someone else and telling him or her to be more civil. While I still disagree with the pastor of my earlier confession, instead of only pointing out the speck in his eye, I should start by paying more attention to the log in my own. Perhaps then, when we can see each other more clearly, we will be granted the vision to build bridges into the future."

This article was first published as the forward to the book 'Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility In An Uncivilized World.'

« Last Edit: January 25, 2011, 01:53:08 PM by Fr. George »

Offline ozgeorge

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If you're living a happy life as a Christian, you're doing something wrong.

Offline elijahmaria

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Here is a Catholic text on civility and a response to it, with some Scripture quotes to give us food for thought.  Notice that no one is cursed in the quotes from Scripture no matter how tart the tongue.  Cursing is something quite set apart from the topic of civility.

I think we all should know if cursing someone's application of belief is acceptable on this Fourm:

   1. Jesus said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?” (Matthew 12:34).

   2. And Jesus turned on them and said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. “Woe to you, blind guides!…..You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. ….You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean….And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matt 23 varia).

   3. Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me….You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire…..He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:42-47)

   4. Jesus said, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Mark 7:6)
   5. And Jesus  answered them, O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long must I tolerate you!?  (Mark 9:19)

   6. Jesus said to the disciples, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11)
   7. Jesus said to the crowd, “I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. (Jn 5:41-42)

   8. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables (John 2:15)

   9. Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70)

  10. Paul: O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth,….As for those circumcisers , I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 3, 5)

  11. Paul against the false apostles: And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Cor 11:11-14)

  12. Paul on the Cretans: Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith (Titus 1:12-13)

  13. [Peter Against Dissenters:] Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings….these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish…..They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done….They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood!….Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2, varia)

  14. [Jude against dissenters] These dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings….these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain;….These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever…..These men are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (Jude 1:varia)

Offline PoorFoolNicholas

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As well!