Learning to talk to each other

by Bene Diction on July 22, 2007

A while ago Richard reposted “Can I have my word back please?” The word he was referring to was evangelical.

Words bleed and blend and spill into all sections of our lives, evangelical has been used by media (particularly - but not limited to the US) to identify and group people that are often concerned with what are called ‘wedge issues’; social and religious concerns that have been framed and co-opted for political gain.

The term religious right also causes great confusion especially since it has been identified and exploited in a political movement (and in a US political party) for over a generation.

Anyone who hangs around and belongs to religious communities knows the religious right is not a monolithic block, most of us can distinguish between what is known as hard or soft positions in our own countries and in others. If we aren’t clear, there is information available for study at our fingertips.
While people may believe they are being insulted when they hear the term such as religious right (often because they hold to orthodoxy in their faith and their denomination) the label may not have the meaning they ‘hear’ the user as giving it.

Someone from the southern US may hear such a label as a derogatory slur or a badge of honour for different reasons that someone in Canada might. Someone from Pennsylvania may perceive it as a slight coming from someone from Europe.
That someone will ‘hear’ or someone will ‘use’ many labels differently is a given.

Because politicians, media and the rest of us have used the term religious right for so long offense is often taken where no offense is intended, on sides of any issue that is under discussion. Letha Dawson Scanzoni:

…many people now associate the term (evangelical) with wealth, political power, militarism, judgmentalism, intolerance, and an arrogance that is totally contrary to the spirit of the gospel (and contrary to those who retain the original meaning of “evangelical”)

Baby steps. We can take back words one by one. And that means being clear, as Richard was in his post.
Many books from various disciplines have been written on the subject of the religious right and while groups and individuals find themselves frustrated in attempts to dialogue, there are some ways we can begin to move past wedges into thoughtful, meaningful and honest discussion.

While evangelicals can comprise sections of the religious right, so can many others, some who have little or nothing to do with faith or Christianity at all. Rather than attempt to break down the wide spectrum of religious right here, a basic look at group dynamics helps. Letha Dawson Scanzoni:

1) Aggressive combatants. These are the leaders who mobilize their followers to go to battle against whatever they consider to be the current threat

2) Loyal followers, who consider the Combatants to be their religious authorities, buying their books, tuning in to their broadcasts, accepting their interpretations of the Bible, and responding to their fundraising pleas

3) Thoughtful Questioners, who were drawn to the movement by its emphasis on a personal relationship with God and the importance of the Bible in their lives but are not convinced that all issues are settled or that all the answers are already in;

4) Hurting Strugglers, sincere believers who earnestly practiced their faith and followed the rules they had been taught, yet were faced with some circumstance that turned their well-ordered world upside down — a divorce, a gay child, a pregnant teenager, domestic violence, mental illness, job loss, bankruptcy, a suicide in the family.

Scanzoni is referring to a wedge issue that is playing out in US politics.
Leaders need wedges, they need to be able to frame debate, move public opinion, grow their power and achieve their agendas around hot button issues of the day.
What is important to acknowledge is that while leaders may be impervious to dialogue, questioners and strugglers are coming from a completely different place. And it is important that we approach people in our conversation with an openness and awareness where we can work to find common ground.
That is more probable on a local level, but since we have the internet and we bridge countries with a click, we are continuously learning to dialogue with people from cultures and experiences very different than our own, often stumbling when we seek commonality over even basic words and their meanings.

It does no good to dismiss everyone we think are coming from rigidity as impervious, and it does no good to assume sincere people of faith are ignorant bible thumpers. Nor does it do any good to give ground to leaders and loyal followers that wish to dismiss people that parrot with unquestioning obedience well used terms such as ” the bible is inerrant” the bible says X is wrong, ” the bible says…” Insert your own phrase of choice here.

If we fall into that trap of keeping the conversation around the wedge and not the individual, it is easier for leaders to continue the frames they want. Religious right leaders need to keep the mimes going that evangelicals, liberals and progressives who do not major on their minors are tossing out God, the bible, faith, the proverbial babies with the bath water. Likewise it is useful for those on the political left to reverse the wedges, labels and the accusations.

For those of us who have seen our words and our faith co-opted and have stood feeling helpless, frustrated and angry when bumping into ideas of various religious right groups, there are things we can do.

1. Homework. If we do not understand who we are talking to, where they are coming from and why this person believes what they do, we’re going to be left sputtering and silent. Distinguish. Listen. Learn.

Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates and many others in the US have spend many years learning about religious and political divides. He helps teach people how to distinguish the language, people and politics of faith and has studied US religious right groups for many years.

Leaders are often “professional” right-wingers. They’ve made a career of promoting a rightist agenda and attacking progressives and progressive issues. Followers, on the other hand, may not be well-informed. They are often mobilized by fears about family and future based on information that, if true, would indeed be frightening. This so-called “education” is often skillful, deceitful, and convincing. These followers may take positions that are more extreme than those of the leaders, but on the other hand, they may not know exactly what they are supporting by attending a certain organization’s rally or conference.

He’s right. To assume followers have full information is to do individuals a great disservice. To assume everyone who believes or repeats certain frames has the same level of commitment and loyalty is unjust.

Listening to each others concerns and grievances and being respectful sounds so simple. I can attest that it is not, there are times it is not possible to move through or past ethnocentricity in discussion with individuals. But I also affirm it is vital to keep trying, not only for continued heath of the political and social structures in our lives, our physical and virtual communities, but also for our faith and our well-being. From one of my readers at BDBO who is so willing and so able to look past labels and misunderstandings:

…we are here to reconcile the reality of the world with the reality of God.

We are not here to judge. We are here to save souls.

PSALM 46:10 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Mark Byron 07.23.07 at 5:18 am

The four-fold Dawson Scanzoni framework is interesting. The last bucket of Hurting Strugglers are folks who will be shunned by Word of Faith folks who think anything can be solved by enough faith and enough prayer and by legalistic folks that think that a good Christian shouldn’t be going through [fill in your domestic crisis]. We had to keep our distance from charismatic/Pentecostal churches as of late for that reason.

Since moving to Lexington, we’ve stumbled into a good pastor who realizes that good, godly people can be having bad times. He’s a Southern Baptist, but not the kind you like to roast slowly over a mesquite flame.

There are a lot of those Hurting Strugglers that need nurturing and not bombast from the pulpit. You can provide that nurture and still be a conservative on the moral issues of the day; however, such merger of truth and grace is rarely done, especially on the US political level.

2

BD 07.23.07 at 7:18 am

Quelle surprise!
I don’t believe most SBC pastors deserve roasting slowly over a mesquite flame, not even some actually, just a few.;^)

Maybe I haven’t conveyed this previously - I think there are thousands of mature SBC’ers out there, not involved in what the more vocal leadership is up to or in hyperdrive working for the Republican Party; quiet faithful believers going about the business of the kingdom.
God bless them for not bombasting.

It is so good to hear you’ve found a nurturing, balanced church.

3

Kim 07.23.07 at 8:44 am

Excellent post, BD - measured, discriminating, irenic - and “liberal” in the best sense of the word! A worthy addition to Connexions.

Thanks - and peace,
Kim

4

BD 07.23.07 at 9:02 am

I had to go look up the word irenic.;^)

5

Kim 07.23.07 at 9:10 am

BD, you’re the third person to tell me that in recent weeks! It’s a great word, not least because it comes from the Greek - including the NT Greek - for “peace”.

Shalom - and salaam!

6

BD 07.23.07 at 9:29 am

A rich, full word. Thank you, merci!

Greek eirÄ“nikos, from eirÄ“nÄ“, peace. Irenical “peaceful”
Is an adjective, adverb.

conducive to peace; “irenic without being namby-pamby”; “an irenic attitude toward former antagonists”

Promoting peace; conciliatory.

Salaam:
Muslim greeting, 1613, from Arabic salam (also in Urdu, Persian), lit. “peace” (cf. Heb. shalom); in full, (as)salam ‘alaikum “peace be upon you,” from base of salima “he was safe” (cf. Islam, Muslim).

7

ee 07.23.07 at 9:53 am

Really good post, thanks BD. The four different groups idea you mention is useful for promoting dialogue (and knowing when you’re wasting your breath…)

8

dh 07.23.07 at 4:19 pm

BD, when are we going to stop the overgenerlazations and realize that we should try to change people who truly have Faith in God? It seems you are dismissing people who truly understand the Truth of God’s Word. It really has nothing to do with leaders and such but what people after reading the bible for what it says coming to their own conclusions from the Holy Spirit. For me, the views I have are my own with Faith in God not nobody elses. Some might happen to believe like I do but that is a coincidence. It would be nice if you could look at the Religious Right or whoever that has a strong Faith in God with a little more respect.

9

dh 07.23.07 at 4:21 pm

“should” I meant to say “shouldn’t”.

10

Kim 07.23.07 at 4:40 pm

I think, DH, with bull’s-eye accuracy, you have missed the point, or points, one of which, surely, is that we should avoid over-generalisation.

11

dh 07.23.07 at 6:24 pm

Well Kim are you saying that the premise of the four dynamics that BD mentions is an overgeneralization toward the Religious Right? I wouldn’t label myself in anyone of the four categories as to why I agree with the Religious right yet the premise of the four dynamics is that I am associated with one. Kim, could you help explain to me the points BD is trying to make with this post? I still see the primse of the post from BD as being overgeneralistic but maybe you could help point out to me how it isn’t.

12

Chris Stacey 07.23.07 at 6:58 pm

Absolutely fantastic post BD. A good challenge to appreciate the diversity of a group that I am far too tempted to write off as alien to my understanding of life and faith.

13

Wood 07.23.07 at 7:44 pm

I wouldn’t label myself in anyone of the four categories as to why I agree with the Religious right yet the premise of the four dynamics is that I am associated with one.

Dude, you’re so obviously a Loyal Follower, it’s painful to point it out.

14

dh 07.23.07 at 9:32 pm

Wood, I’m not a “loyal follower” except by way of my Faith in God through Jesus Christ. So My views that I believe I determined by my own Faith in God not by anyone else. Do I buy certain leaders books? yes but my rejection or acceptance is my own doing. For example, my view on innerancy was determined not by others but by myself reading Scripture and seeing how Scripture is so consistent with itself and the confirmation of that thereof. I have read the Bible from front to back over three times and have even memorized Scriptures to the point that I see how wonderful the consistency is with itself. To imply, by reference of the post, that I’m not “well-informed” is in fact just not true. I have done my own independent readin and have come to my own views independent of anyone else except by God.

I just really have a problem with attacking or marginalizing the Religious Right. I know there are many who give the group a bad name and can be very much off but to right off the entire group is just like what Paul says with regard to the parts of the body “Does the hand say to the eye “I have no need of you or the eye say to the hand “I have no need of you”? I see a lot of that going on with regard to those who happen to be Religious Right.

My only “Loyal Following” is to Jesus Christ not to any particular man, thing or organization. I may agree with certain people but that is not based on any preconceived attitude but my own determination in light of what God’s Word says directly. I never came into this understanding by way of fear or educated as to the like like the post referred to.

I also take issue with this when I HAVE read Scripture and came to my views alone: “He’s right. To assume followers have full information is to do individuals a great disservice. To assume everyone who believes or repeats certain frames has the same level of commitment and loyalty is unjust.”

In conclusion: I just can’t sit back a let people overgeneralize myself and others who happen to have a particular view or understanding. We really shouldn’t be labeled in one broad brush like it is done so many times. The Religious Right really needs to be looked at as a group with the respect they deserve. Some of them when their views become over the top and become ultra fundamentalist don’t deserve respect and in the past I have spoken where I disagree with those who happen to be fellow people within the Religious Right. However, the entire group shouldn’t be thrown out like babies with the bathwater.

I wish the respect with myself toward Kim and Richard would be better than the likes of this post which really overgeneralizes an entire group in such a wrong manner. The post to me seems to insult my intelligence which no one should do to anyone. At least I don’t try to do that to others nor should anyone to myself.

15

Wood 07.24.07 at 4:06 pm

The only things I can think to say now are so withering and flat-out insulting that it’s frankly best to hold my peace.

16

dh 07.24.07 at 4:24 pm

Well I appreciate Wood for you not being insulting to me. I guess I don’t understand the need to have an insulting attitude in the first place. At least I know at times I have had that and I’m working on it. Feeling insulted and being insulting are two different things.

17

Wood 07.24.07 at 4:33 pm

DH, I suppose my hostility towards you stems from the attitude of absolute blind insensitivity you displayed in posts here after Mike died. I’ve never quite been able to forgive you for that.

Frankly, I would rather not continue in my hostility. Being hostile to people on the internet is as easy as it is pointless.

FWIW, Bene’s post was, for my money, the opposite of an over-generalisation, revealing a generosity of spirit and a degree of insight that I have rarely managed to achieve myself. I find it bizarre that you could be so offended.

18

dh 07.24.07 at 5:17 pm

Wood, I’m sorry you haven’t been able to forgive me on the Mike thing. I appreciate that you mentioned where you haven’t been able to forgive me. If I remember I have been apologetic about that. I pray we can “move away from that” and we can have a “better spirit” between us. At least I’m trying to do that.

I surprised that you are surprised that I was offended. I took offense at the concept that my Beliefs are not my own and that they are based on what people have said. My Belief are what I have found by the holy Spirit that has lead me to a personal relationship with God. To label a whole group of people into four group dynamics as opposed to how individuals come to their particualr understanding independent of other people or at least without predispositions is where I took issue.

However, on a humorous note and in a celebration of our differences I’ll reiterate in a humorous way what I said earlier. “I will take it as a compliment that I’m a “loyal follower” a “Loyal Follower” of Jesus” If I’m going to be “loyal Follower” I would rather be known as a “loyal Follower of Jesus”. At least I can celebrate being a “loyal follower”, a “loyal follower of Jesus”. :)

19

Wood 07.24.07 at 5:19 pm

If I remember I have been apologetic about that.

Had you been apologetic, I wouldn’t have been so hostile.

20

dh 07.24.07 at 5:22 pm

Wood, I think we are making strides and if we continue working on this I get the impression that we can have a greater respect for each other. Well get there. :)

P.S. Being labeled a “loyal follower” without the “of Jesus part” is where I took issue. That’s all.

21

dh 07.24.07 at 5:36 pm

Well Wood, it might have been overlooked. I did write on one of my posts an apology but it was within a response on something else and that was a couple of times. However, that is still no excuse on my part. All things being equal, at least I’m apologetic for that now. One of my replies asked this question so I’ll repeat it here since I wasn’t able to make it clear earlier which was my fault. I several months ago have already asked Jesus for forgiveness when I wrote the apology. However, I will ask it here. Wood, will you forgive me?

22

SteveR 07.24.07 at 7:56 pm

Wood,

I empathize with your frustration regarding a certain frequent, verbose, always predictable post-er, whose comments I typically scroll on past. Yet I do have a measure of empathy and hope…

Years ago, shortly after its publication in 1969, I read The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion by Peter L. Berger and promptly wrote to the author a scathing letter detailing his error, setting him straight on the issues (I was a college sophomore at the time). He wrote back and without mincing words identified my immaturity of thought and suggested I get my head out of my butt. Over time I think I have (?).

I dearly wish I had kept both letters!! A periodic rereading would be good therapy for those times when I forget how far Grace has lead.

23

James 07.24.07 at 11:00 pm

But there can be no reconciliation. The liberals and right wingers are opposites who bully each other and have some really wacky and stupid ideas.

The right strike me as being like the pharisees. Trying to follow what God wants to the T yet sneaking their own agenda in as well (capitalism? what the hell are they thinking?) I often think they miss the point of things and can be a bit hypocritcal.

The Liberals are only interested in pleasing the public. They will even twist the Bible to do so. While this might please atheists and ‘churchy’ types it makes God look docile and, when you take a step back they look quite hypocritical also.

I can’t stand either of them to be honest.

24

dh 07.24.07 at 11:02 pm

Well, I personally don’t believe it is a problem to be predictable or frequent. I try not to be difficult. I just like to share with people what I believe and like to here what people believe as well. Hopefully when there is disagreement we can find out in more detail where we disagree and where we agree. I personally believe all disagreements are not 180 degree opposite. There always seems to be on 99.9% of things some level of agreement however small it may be. Sometimes after further clarification people might change and while it may not be 100% agreement it can be a 75% agreement or even as low as a 25% agreement but an agreement nonetheless.

Where there appears to be a debate I really am stating what I say with an unspoken understood “have you considered these facts?” or “have you considered this particular line of reasoning?”. I know when I don’t present my statements in that sort of way it can give people another impression that i’m trying not to give but just happens to come across that way. Steve, if that “other impression” is what you see I apologize. That is not the intent. At the worst case, if the above goal cannot be reached, one can at least see the plausible rationale. While 100% agreement on that particular item is impossible at least a respect as to how one comes to that conclusion in light of “all” information can promote greater understanding without any predisposition, overgeneralization, etc. that makes the discussion “ambiguous”. I hope this reply eases your frustration and at least gives some insight as to “why” and “how” I state things and give you better understanding as to how I’m trying to change as well as advise as to how others can change so that those who are “Religious Right” or “Religious Left” can achieve 3 conclusions after the discussion on particular topics: 1) meet in the middle where both change 2) on side after the discussion changes and agrees with the other person 3) both sides disagree but see the plausibility and/or rationale for the others viewpoint (which I personally believe requires some level of change by both and/or either party). At least I’m trying an honest attempt at this however unsuccessful I may be.

I think the issue is more one of personality. I tend to learn more from a lecture standpoint others learn from a “question and answer” standpoint. When one side is one and the other is the opposite apparent poloarization can be magnified. When one understand the others personality in a discussion the divide can be “smoothed” and greater respect can be achieved worst case and in the best case agreement. God is working with me on these things and at least I’m recognizing what I need to work on. I also hope this helps others who typically disagree with me on how they can work on these things as well. Steve, we typically disagree but I really respect you and enjoy our discussions no matter how much we disagree.

I hope this helps to ease your frustration. I’ll start working at asking more questions as opposed to lecture to gauge if further agreement can be achieved. gauge to what extent there is a disagreement, etc. We can work this “frustration” to be more “peaceful”. At least I will work hard at it. Will I succeed? Who knows but it won’t be because I didn’t try. :)

25

dh 07.24.07 at 11:07 pm

James I hope this repsonse helps you in the discussion. (You say Capitalism? Well I don’t agree with pure capitalism but when I read the parable of the talents where they all invested. To me the fact that Jesus uses “investing” in the parable suggests that Jesus approved of investing, which when one really looks at what investing is it is a form of Capitalism. Are there group dynamics which can at times be against Capitalism? Yes when Capitalism is in the ultraextreme. Therefore Capitalism is not bad except in the extreme and no country is not operating under pure Capitalism.)

26

Steve 07.25.07 at 12:12 am

DH,

Jesus also uses a manager who cheats his master out of a large sum of money and then cheats him again by cutting deals with his master’s debtors. Does that mean he approves of stealing and dishonest dealings as well?

Of course not.

In each case, the stories are illustrative of a spiritual point. In fact, very similar spiritual points - that we are to use the things we have been given in this world for the sake of the kingdom of God, rather than for our own selfish purposes.

If you are looking to find support for any political or economic system in the Bible, then you are simply barking up the wrong tree.

27

Wood 07.25.07 at 9:14 am

DH: I forgive you.

Partly, because I am sick of hostility. Partly because arguing on the internet is a pointless pursuit.

Mostly to annoy previous commenter James.

28

Sherm 07.25.07 at 1:37 pm

dh:

This was an interesting discussion until you went on the defensive.

For some reason, no matter what the article or writer or blog is it’s “all about you”.

Egocentric would be the word I would come up with. Why are you so threatened by other points of view?

Perhaps some travel and time spent in other cultures would help you feel less insecure, or a few years with a good therapist.

No one is out to get you. Really.

29

PamBG 07.25.07 at 2:20 pm

I can’t stand either of them to be honest.

Well, good job there are irenic people on earth who know how to bring peace and reconciliation into difficult situations.

Richard, where is the eye-roll icon?

30

dh 07.25.07 at 2:40 pm

What dishonest dealings are you talking about? In fact that particular master was rebuked. So as you see it wasn’t a condoning. So the particular passage just doesn’t work. I still believe the parable of the talents shows that God supports some level of form of Capitalism. I also believe that some level of community aspect is also shown in Acts. However, like I stated before, either one in the extreme (because it is to the detrimate of God’s standard, is where the problem arises. I personally believe God wants it to be fair and Capitalism and Communism in the extreme God would not condone. However, I see community aspect in economics and lower level of Capitalism as well.

Sherm, I don’t want people to feel frustrated in a discussion. Sherm, I also am not threatened by other points of view I just strongly disagree with certain views. I also have went for several weeks to over a dozen nations overseas and experienced and learned from other cultures. I’m also very secure in my beliefs and my attitude toward other cultures. I also respect other cultures. However, when a viewpoint happens to go against Scripture I will point it out. It isn’t about me but what God’s Word says. At the saem time, I did apologize because there were times I went overboard. That isn’t being defensive but a sincere apology. The apology was an acknowledgement from myself on how I’m working on not being the way you describe. Thanks for the concern, Sherm. I still believe the Religious Right gets a “bad wrap” and was really trying to point out how that was the case. If you call that defensive I’m sorry. I was really trying to give a rationale as to how they get a “bad wrap”.

31

ee 07.25.07 at 3:17 pm

Pam - amen. None of us are above the fray…

dh - I disagree with most of the views you express on this site, and I’d read your views more if you wrote a quarter of what you do, but I must say you deal with what gets thrown at you with far more grace than it deserves. You have my respect for that at least.

32

dh 07.25.07 at 4:12 pm

EE, I will follow your advise on the amount of writing I do. I wrote long on this thread more to address Wood’s concerns and to offer my sincere applogy for an event and/or events in the past. Hense the length.

Thanks for the compliment. EE, I totally appreciate you. I think we disagree alot but I still feel most of that can be the semantics. Will see in future discussions. Peace to you, :) DH

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