Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Debt Ceiling Food Fight and the Loss of Community

Otto von Bismarck called politics "the art of the possible." There was a time when politics brought people together to discuss their competing ideas, priorities, and agendas and find a middle ground that would serve all of their constituencies.

Oh, there was name-calling back then, too. But campaigns were largely confined to election years; with election night behind them, the victors got down to governing. Today we have the perpetual campaign, and governing has been replaced by "posturing."

By the same token, Baptists used to discuss our differences with mutual respect. We had differences in our understanding and interpretation of Scripture, as well as differences in the Scripture passages that we emphasized.

Granted, there were a few doctrines on which we believed agreement was essential. But we also agreed that the Baptist principles of soul freedom, priesthood of the believer, and local church autonomy were all derived from Scripture and that these Baptist distinctives demanded that we respect each other's right to relate to the Lord and Scripture as led by the Holy Spirit.

Our faith built community, bringing us together to worship Christ and study the Bible together, and to "do missions" together - whether those missions involved direct evangelism or humanitarian initiatives. We were united in Christ and united by our Baptist freedom.

But compromise became a dirty word in religious faith as it has in politics. Not only among Baptists but others as well.


Well, it seems to me that, in both of these arenas, many of us have decided that we have a monopoly on truth and our understanding of truth is inviolable.

In the political arena, one side insists that no new taxes be imposed, and the other side insists that there be no cuts in spending for favored programs. In the end, a deal was cut and there was compromise - but almost exclusively on one side and only because of the fear of the worldwide economic calamity that would follow a default in our nation's debt payments.

Baptists play out a similar scenario these days. One side is certain that its views are "the truth," so it digs its heels in and cries "heresy" when its claim on the truth is challenged. There is no room for compromise.

Then there's "the other side" - we who are called "Moderate Baptists" or, as one commentator put it recently, "Cooperative Baptists." We freely admit that "now we see through a glass, darkly." (the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13:12)

We state our opinions forcefully but quickly acknowledge that we don't know the mind of God perfectly. So we're willing to listen to the opinions of others. We're a community of faith, and we must depend on others in that community. One of the ways that God shapes our faith and our relationship with Him is through other Christians, but only if we stay open to new understandings.

What have largely been lost today - both in our civic life and our religious life - are humility and community, the sense that none of us has the whole truth so we must work together, listen to each other, and at times compromise for the sake of the community . . . that we're all in this together and should be cooperating for the good of the community, not just individual "constituencies."

Compromise doesn't have to mean abandoning one's principles. It might mean simply recognizing that we aren't perfect and neither are our opinions. It might mean acknowledging that sometimes what we call our "principles" are actually just our own self-interest.

Finally, it might mean - both in our civic community and our Baptist community - adding one more principle at the top of our list: respect for others who share in that community.

1 comment:

  1. Zack and Nancy PannellAugust 4, 2011 at 12:15 AM

    Well said. This perfectly reflects our perspective. We're saddened by this loss of respect which has led to such divisiveness, within our Baptist community and within our nation. Zack and Nancy Pannell