Doug and I have been watching the six-hour BBC production of Pride and Prejudice (courtesy of Doug’s sister) in bits and pieces during this past week. As we drove to the little coastal town of Garibaldi yesterday afternoon, Doug made the comment that watching this film has made him realize how much has been lost in terms of civility and honor in the way that we speak to one another today. While Jane Austen’s world can be easily critiqued as pretentious or insincere, Doug’s observation was that, in fact, there was actually room for disagreement and true opinions to be spoken. The difference he noted was the care taken in how speech was conducted; the intentionality of words and the clear concern for speaking “honorably” and with civility.
Bob Robinson wrote a great piece recently on his observations on how Christians are learning to conduct ourselves in dialogue with one another. He argues, persuasively, that we are more influenced by the rhetorical styles of popular polarizing media figures like Bill O’Reilly than by any sort of Biblical models or mandates regarding speech and conduct. Sadly, the church is too often seen chasing after the petticoats of culture rather than leading the culture as innovators. If Bob is correct, this is one more arena where that is true.
Another discussion caught my eye that dealt with this question of civility in discourse. There was a conversation at Scot McKnight’s blog concerning a well-known author and speaker who elicits strong reactions in the Christian community. Scot points out in his original post that, while the author is indeed a gifted and intentional “provocateur”, he is likewise “gracious and kind, disarming and quiet, and unlike most Christian leaders Iâ€™ve encountered, the sort of man that makes you feel important when he is with you.” The discussion that followed raised an important question for me: what is it that we are called to in how we conduct ourselves with one another, regardless of theological agreement? And how do we “measure” a person: is it the orthodoxy of their speech or the orthopraxy of their life that matters the most? The whole of scripture commends to us that it must be both, yet I am saddened by how often I see doctrine trump a Christ-like character.
A good friend of mine served as a youth pastor at a large, prestigious church in Texas. The senior pastor was an incredible preacher. He was largely considered the reason for the church’s growth and influence. Those who worked closely with the man, however, described him as a cruel, inaccessible dictator. While his exegesis and exposition were brilliant, his character was as far from what he preached as could be imagined. The fact that his church (and it was indeed considered HIS church) was held in such high regard is yet another demonstration of this dichotomy between what we say and who we are, and how willing we are to elevate one over another.
If I am honest, I must add that this is the struggle of my own life: the daily battle waged for my own soul. It is easy enough to walk around with a head filled with Scripture, books, sermons and seminary classes. It is quite another to have that very walk rerouted, directed, and determined by the content of those things. And while I may not struggle with wishing to emulate Bill O’Reilly, are there not enough other places where the way I speak and act are far from the heart of the one I claim to follow? Lord, show us mercy and give us flesh in place of stone.