Moving Our Conversations Beyond Just Talk: Affirming Practices in Others

My last post about Jim Wallis’ new blog has generated an important discussion that’s got me thinking not only about the leaders we support but also what things about those leaders we support and where we draw the line (this post may not make a lot of sense unless you’ve at least looked those comments over).

Love as Affirming  and Denouncing

It’s really easy for me to be cynical over just about anything, maybe it’s a gift, but I highly doubt it.  So for me it’s much harder to affirm than it is to critique.  But aren’t we called to love one another?  And by love I mean that we are to both affirm and denounce others in ways that encourage and build up, in ways that show we are really for the one another?

For people like Wallis, those who are in the spotlight, those who share the name of people we associate with, we need to be listening, ready to affirm and denounce.  It’s not simply enough to say, “he isn’t nearly as bad as…??? as my colleague from Scribe, Jason,rightly pointed out.  Neither is it enough to say “he’s all rubbish??? either (though this wasn’t explicitly said). 

There are things about Jim Wallis that we should not affirm, many of those things were already pointed out, and those parts should be called out so that they might be changed.  And after all isn’t this part of love?  To call out for change, not that we want others to change for us but that they may become more whole?  More like the Light?

Supporting Some Practices and Denouncing Others

It’s really easy to get hung up on trying to get each other to accept  our basic assumptions on what we believe.  But what’s at least as equally important (though I would say much more), is what is being acted out.  What I mean is that it’s far better to say, “look at this good practice so and so is doing, I can really get behind that!??? Than it is to pinpoint beliefs systems and find people you match up with on every issue, is this even possible? 

That’s how we can (and should) be glad that people like Wallis (among many many others) are acting out certain things, while not being happy about their whole program.  We don’t have to agree on the “why’s???, the “what’s??? are ultimately what matter at the end of the day.

This is how we then separate the issues as well.  There are actions, or practices, that some of these leaders are doing that we cannot agree with, that do not point to truth, and there are some things they are doing that point in that direction.

And so Jason speaks for many of us when he say’s “I want so much more!???  He is looking for a broad range of people who are pushing the conversation forward.

He says, “I want a Buddhist debating Ralph Reed! I want a Hindu, a Reconstructionist Jew, a Native American, a Quaker, a Unitarian-Universalist, and yes, I want a Pagan debating Ralph Reed. I want the terms of the coalition and the debate to move beyond two flavors of evangelical.???

And I agree with him.  But even more than taking a conversation of ideas in one direction or another we need people who focus on doing something that transforms societies and people’s lives.  Conversations can only go so far, and they rarely move people from one ideological position to another.  What really changes people is encounters with real people, real stories, and an encounter with God. 

Practices That Fit With Jesus as Truth
And so my friend Marshall who I’ve met via QuakerQuaker brings up one final and extremely important point when he asks,

“But why do you feel you need a human head? The alternative position is the one that says: no mere human is good enough to be trusted with that sort of headship; we will therefore follow no leader but Christ.???

And though I feel as though this question deserves it’s own post, I must leave it to say for Christians, Jesus is the ultimate leader and that everyone else only does well when they act out the kinds of things that Jesus did.  When our actions, both individually and communally, point toward Jesus, they point toward Truth.

As Jaques Ellul says,

“…The truth is not a collection of dogmas or conciliar or papal decision. It is not doctrine.  It is not even the bible considered as a book.  The truth is a person.  It is not a question, then, of adhering to Christian doctrine.  It is a question of trusting in a person who speaks to us (26).???

So we don’t look to affirm anything but Christ alone, and the Light of Christ that shines through fallible people.  Those parts of truth we must always affirm in anyone and everyone, no matter what they believe and who they are for.  Those parts of people that do not reflect the Light of Christ must be denounced (in love), questioned, and ultimately forgiven.

This is the only way in which we will be able to move forward and get anything done. 

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

5 thoughts on “Moving Our Conversations Beyond Just Talk: Affirming Practices in Others”

  1. When I read the various comments about Jim Wallis (and now your post as a reflection to those replies) I think of the story where some of Jesus’ disciples tell him of others healing and casting out demons (or something along those lines). Jesus’ response was, in effect, to say, “Hey, if they’re working for the same thing, don’t knock it.”

    Some of the concerns expressed by those who commented are well taken. OTH, Wallis and his organization are trying to do something that is, overall, positive.

    As a gay man, I know that a number of these leaders think that homosexuality (as far as being expressed through behavior) is contrary to being a Christian. Yet, they also are trying to move the national debate and focus of the church (particularly the more evangelical and even fundamentalist parts) away from vilifying folks like me. Hey, a few of them will even listen to what someone like me has to say.

    Does it seem like that’s not very much? Yeah, it does. OTH, it’s step, and I think a big step, in the direction we all hope and want to see our country go in.

    PTL! :))

  2. @Joe – thanks a lot for your comment. I think your perspective brings a lot to the table.

    @DRM – I checked out your site – I like what you’ve got going on over there. Dylan and Barth! I can’t argue with that.

  3. Thanks, man.

    Here’s some more Ellul right back at ya:

    “This, then, is the revolutionary situation: to be revolutionary is to judge the world by its present state, by actual facts, in the name of a truth which does not yet exist (but which is coming)-and it is to do so because we believe this truth to be more genuine and more real than the reality which surrounds us. Consequently it means bringing the future into the present as an explosive force . . . .

    Henceforth the revolutionary act forms part of history: it is going to create history, by inflecting it toward this future.”

    –Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom

  4. Boss Tweed said “I don’t care who does the electing so long as I do the nominating.” I think that is what disturbs people about Wallis; it looks a little as though the debate is being manipulated to allow us to choose which flavor of evangelical we prefer (referencing your quote of Jason). But if there is another debate, one that includes more than just evangelicals, Wallis might be an evangelical who would be willing to participate. So far though he doesn’t seem to be participating in an existing debate, but rather offering his blog as an alternative to the existing debate. Time will tell whether he is trying to add his perspective, or limit the debate by selecting the candidates for us to choose from.

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