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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Define Your Terms

I live in two worlds. One is the spiritual or theological, and the other is political. I've always been political as far back as I remember. As you know, I'm pretty opinionated. I also think "extreme" and "extremist" are words people use when they don't like someone, and want to shut them up. Or you could use an adjective like 'far' with a spectrum descriptor like 'Right' or 'Left'. We all do it at times, and depending on the situation, it can be accurate or even welcome. But no one likes to be shamed and silenced.

My pet peeve is when people use 'Right,' 'Left,' and 'Center' in theology, as though there is a spectrum, and as though the science of theology is bargained, or even worse, a matter of perspective. Political power often is wielded by majoritarian consensus, or at least acceptance. But things of God don't work this way, and they shouldn't.

We may find that we have different truths as a discrete matter, and even different ways of determining it, but we aim for God, who is Truth. Your humble author may fail in the task of listening in that theological endeavor, and for that, I plead mercy and patience. I digress.

But I absolutely demand that we define terms. I also demand that we use terms appropriate to what we are discussing. And to sharpen the point, just because you are the president of a large, prominent ecumenical organization (for instance) and are known for speaking in humble tones doesn't mean either that you're a good listener, or that you know what you're talking about, especially when you cross into politics. And you can be guilty of trying to silence people, even if you speak in holy words. Because it is the height of arrogance to judge the hearts of those with whom you disagree, and to presume that you occupy some magical 'Center' that you hope other benighted partisans will one day occupy. Maybe making subjective judgments about hearts is a bad idea in the first place. For all you know, Servetus is a fun guy to have a beer with. Maybe Dobson isn't. But he could still be right.

Dobson's probably a bad example of keeping these worlds separate, and respecting the goals of each. But I trust the point is made. Politics is politics, and theology is theology. Ignore the legitimate boundaries of each at your peril. And you could still be an aggressor that detracts from the overall goal in both sciences: human flourishing. Not that I'm naming names today. I won't promise never to do it, though.

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