The second section in the Conclusion in Making the Best of It is called “Behaving in Public.”
Grounds for Hope
John Stackhouse acknowledges the fears of many that Western Civilization is drifting away from Christianity. In truth, we are moving away from some Christian values and towards others. History doesn’t move in a straight line. Drawing on Philip Jenkins, he notes that 1798 has to be a low ebb in the influence of the church … with the persecution of the Catholics, and skeptical deists and Unitarians in ascendency around the Atlantic. (I also remember that only 17% of Americans belonged to a church during the Revolution.) Jenkins writes that, “Resurrection is not just a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, it is a historical model that explains the religion’s structure and development.” (322) In short, we should not despair about long-term outcomes because of short-term trends (and by short I’m not necessarily suggesting less than a lifetime.) Secularization and de-Christianization is not irreversible and we should not panic.
Some want to fight tooth and nail to keep certain values intact through government force. Stackhouse writes:
When it comes to living with plurality within a democracy:
I loved this quote from Franklin Little from fifty years ago:
Ouch! I don’t think things have changed a great deal. Maybe they are now … maybe not. Like any human grouping our natural tendency is toward maximal conformity instead of maximal creativity. But Stackhouse argues that we have to be intentional about creating places where different people can grow together. Diversity is essential to thriving communities. Pathologies develop from too little diversity. Can we partner with, and affirm, people who are of Christian traditions different from than our own? That is one place to start.
That said, Stackhouse acknowledges that “excessive diversity” can be destructive. Churches have a long tradition of having a “rule of faith” that folks adhere to. So a big challenge is discerning how a rule of faith should function and how church discipline should be exercised.
The issue of practicing pluralism with those outside the church is also important. Stackhouse decries the way “tolerance” is equated with affirming what everyone else does. There are things in others and in ourselves of which we do not approve. Tolerance is a willingness to put up with that difference … not affirm it. Stackhouse writes:
True pluralism is about tolerance and not these “adolescent attitudes.”
So what should we “say” into public life? Stackhouse hits ten things over ten pages, which I will not dwell on at any length.
- “First, we ought to teach and maintain the values intrinsic to modern public life: democracy, the rule of law, human rights, self-worth, the worth of others, cooperation and competition, freedom and responsibility and so on. These are values that are consonant with Christianity and with other world views …” (330)
- “Second, we need to teach that not everyone “wins” in democracy.” (331) But it is the best way to handle the need of society to govern by majority consent and still protect minority dissent.
- “Third, Christians can speak up to teach the public what Christians actually believe and do, rather than what various members of the public might think we believe and do. …” (332)
- “Fourth, we can resist any form of sectarianism, any ideological bullying, any teaching or (what is more common) assumption of any single religion or worldview as if it alone is entirely true and all other viewpoints are entirely false. …” (332)
- “Fifth Christians can be in the vanguard of cultural change, instead of fighting rearguard battles to maintain out diminishing cultural privileges, in regard to any religious events and symbols in schools, legislatures, courts, and other public institutions. …” (335)
- “Sixth, and related to this point, is the responsibility to practice proper silence. …” (335) He is referring here to unwelcomed evangelism and exposure of our faith to others in settings such as the workplace.
- “Seventh, Christians can watch our language in public. …” (335) In short, lose the Christianese … at least in public. Learn to be persuasive and compelling in the language and symbols of those who are not in the church.
- “Eighth, our Christian theology can help us help society think through difficult questions and solve difficult problems by keeping together a combination of virtues and actions that, if isolated, result in vengeance or sentimentality. … (339) Here Stackhouse suggests some difficult issues where justice and forgiveness need to be held together for healing and for change to occur. (No forgiveness leads to vengeance and no justice leads to sentimentality.)
- “Ninth, part of good telling is good listening. … (339) Conversation, not argument, should be our primary mode of communication.
- Finally, therefore, the image of conversation reminds us of the apostolic injunction to speak the truth in love. ... (Eph. 4:15). … (340)
We will continue this lengthy section on “Grounds for Hope” tomorrow.