This is the third in a series of blogs building on a couple of insights from Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. If you’ve been with me thus far, you may be asking, “What do we do with this? How is this actually helpful to us, especially in light of how polarized we are when it comes to social issues in general and about LGBTQ inclusion in The United Methodist Church, in particular?”
Here are some implications I would like to put forth:
- We can and should continue to look for common ground with those with whom we disagree. After exploring why we are so divided, I found Haidt’s advice particularly interesting, “Don’t bring up morality until you’ve found a few points of commonality or in some other way established a bit of trust. And when you do bring up issues of morality, try to start with some praise, or with a sincere expression of interest” (371). Said differently, we might reach different conclusions, but we all want candy (see the first blog in the series). Despite our disagreements in the church, we have common ground on which we build. We come together recognizing that we are all made in the image of God. We believe our convictions are founded on the revelation of God’s Word, and none of us comprehends that perfectly (see the second blog for a refresher, if needed). We also believe we are called to invite people to experience holistic salvation in Christ. We might have different visions of what that should look like, but if we’ll focus on common points of agreement and note that our intent is to advocate for our neighbors in the light of God’s love, perhaps the conversations will become more fruitful.
Don’t bring up morality until you’ve found a few points of commonality or in some other way established a bit of trust. And when you do bring up issues of morality, try to start with some praise, or with a sincere expression of interest”
- Relationships + Time = Deeper Learning. We are made in the image of God and are, by nature, relational creatures. When we combine this with the fact that our reasoning is marred, however much restored by grace, we need the perspective of others in the community of faith. Due to how our brains work, one-time conversations are not likely to persuade anyone. It will take sustained conversations with people we trust (which takes time to foster) for us to do the work of examining our assumptions so that we may grow in our perspectives (whether that’s deeper into our previously held convictions or toward a different perspective or even something that’s a combination).
- We should hold our judgments and opinions with more caution and humility. By golly, we could be wrong. No matter how strong our convictions, our certainty rests on faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Our assurance of salvation is a gift of a relationship with Christ, not in our infallible interpretation of Scripture. If we take the doctrine of sin seriously, one result should be that we are humble in our convictions. Where we think we are definitively discerning a number or letter, perhaps that’s the time to ask if there is an ambiguous 13/B?
- We shouldn’t demonize or look down on those who reach different conclusions than we do. Note the way we often try to persuade others: we appeal to reason, which, as we’ve noted, shockingly, probably won’t work (since we’re not primarily rational). We quickly jump to the conclusion, that since they don’t agree with our reasons (which we assume are convincing), that others are without reason — crazy, without recognizing our own craziness (far from perfect desires). By the way, as Jonathan Haidt points out, this is also why appeals to science don’t work out; they are easy enough to dismiss, especially in the age of Google. We can always find other justifications and rationales to maintain our previously held beliefs.
- We should shift the way we have our conversations. If our conclusions rest more on subconscious desires than on Scriptural and experiential evidence, those conclusions can’t be the trump card, since we should recognize that our use of them might be clouded by our subconscious desires. I am not advocating against using Scripture as our primary source of revelation, just that we have be more aware how much our interpretations, while convincing for us, may not be so for others.
- We should be advocates for life. None of these points should excuse us from the responsibility of loving our neighbor as ourselves. We can still be ardent advocates, even as we are humble.