Increasingly Christian leaders are faced with the need to deal with cultural issues of our day. That we need to engage is not the issue but how we engage is a critical issue.
Many Christian leaders are quickly reactive to issues of concern to them and in doing so have spoken to these issues without the benefit of careful thought. This was true on issues of gay marriage, the recent World Vision decision and retraction of that decision, and reactions to court decisions that seem to erode morality or religious freedom. Reactive statements are rarely wise responses and rarely help produce productive dialogue.
Some suggestions to help us move from a reactive to a proactive stance in controversial issues.
First, reactive statements are rarely helpful. We need to think before we talk or write. I am always circumspect in my first thoughts on controversial issues.
Second, think about how what you say will be perceived both by your constituency which will probably agree with you and by those on the other side who will not agree. If those on the other side perceive your words as ungracious, insensitive or an attack on them it is not helpful. Never mind others don't always play fair, as Jesus' disciples we need to play fair and be gracious in our truth.
Third, civil discourse beats uncivil discourse every time. Civil discourse invites dialogue and understanding while fighting statements do not. For instance, the Duck Dynasty controversy could have been avoided if Phil Robertson had thought about his audience and how he said what he said. One may defend his right to free speech but wisdom could have avoided the noise around what he said. Christians are often seen for what they are against - mainly because of how we say what we say. What are we for? And are we gracious in our communication?
Fourth, we need to consider our audience. For instance, is what one says to their church or constituency the same as one says to the public? I suspect not. The public will often not understand the reasons that believers take certain positions. To them it sounds restrictive and narrow. Again, this was the issue with Phil Robertson. When he quoted Paul from Romans, he missed the fact that Paul was not communicating to a pagan audience but to the church itself. Taking into account the audience on controversial issues is critical.
All of this takes wisdom and thought. Waiting on our response until we can speak with wisdom and care saves us a lot of controversy and may also help us develop productive dialogue with the other side of the issue.
(Posted from Oakdale, MN)