Monday, February 6, 2017

How do we speak in this tumultuous time?

These early days of a polarizing presidential administration bring great opportunity but also great risk for the blood-bought community.

What we say is especially important, but so is how we say it. In fact, whether or when we speak also is a vital consideration for followers of Jesus.

The week after the inauguration of President Trump appeared to act like a release valve for some Americans, including some Christians. Pent-up anger that had mounted during the previous administration poured forth on social media. While much of that seems to have subsided, the spate of presidential executive orders -- especially the one halting temporarily the refugee resettlement program -- and the Supreme Court nomination have managed to keep things stirred up.

In this cultural moment, we need to be sensitive to the communication and reception of the church's testimony regarding our Lord and Savior. We can speak and write in a way that strongly affirms God's holiness while tenderly expressing His mercy. That would hopefully -- thought not assuredly -- prove attractive to others, including those who oppose us. Or we can speak and write in a way that powerfully proclaims our convictions but seems to offer no compassion for other sinners. That would prove self-defeating for the church and our gospel message.

After all, we are people of the Book, and that Book tells us:
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (Col. 4:5-6).

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ (Eph. 4:14-15).

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Prov. 15:1).
So how should we as Jesus' disciples navigate the choppy waters in the early days of the Trump administration and the societal dispute that has greeted it? Here are a few suggestions for myself and my brothers and sisters in the faith:

1. Clarify your allegiance. All our interactions should make clear our loyalty is first and always to the Lord Jesus and His kingdom, not to any public official and any government. No Christian should be a shill for the president or another office holder. No Christian should be blindly loyal to the president or another office holder. The faithfulness and effectiveness of our public witness depends on this.

2. Commend the good and oppose the bad. As Christians, we should be grateful for and applaud government actions that affirm such biblically based tenets as the dignity of human life, the exclusivity of male-female marriage and the free exercise of religion. We have already had opportunities to do this in the Trump administration. He signed an executive order Jan. 23 reinstating a ban on federal funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas. For that we should express our gratitude. Yet, the White House announced Jan. 31 Trump would continue to enforce President Obama's executive order designed to protect LGBTQ employees from discrimination by federal contractors without religious liberty protections for those employers. For that we should call for a change in the policy.

3. Communicate with compassion. When declaring our viewpoint on social media and in other venues, we should do it in such a way as to demonstrate a desire to understand others involved in the conversation and to leave space for a continuation of our interaction. Some people may oppose us. Some may be uncertain regarding what they believe. All should encounter Christians who are willing to be criticized and questioned without responding in anger or defensiveness. Those who oppose us are image bearers of God like us. Those who oppose us may be our brothers and sisters in Christ one day.