Fighting Words and the Bane of “civil discourse”

I was reading an article at the Christianity Today web site recently on self identified “gay” students in, and alumni of, Christian colleges; the article includes elements that have become fairly typical of what’s called “civil discourse” between orthodoxy and theological heresy.  I was wondering what the apostles and the early Church would make of these civil conversations.

I wonder if there’s anything orthodox most Christians are still willing to fight over?

I’m a peace lover by nature and find more often than not that I’m glad I’ve held my tongue when anger inspired words came quickly to mind.  It’s not so much that elements of these articles make me angry (some do) that disturbs me, it’s the uncomfortable nudge in my own conscience wondering how we came to these sickeningly “civil” conversations about practices and theologies condemned in the New Testament by a truth loving God.

For instance, “Hope for the Gay Undergrad”, by Allison J. Althoff (12/27/2012) includes the following from her interviews with Cedarville College administrators and a homosexual alumni group, CedarvilleOut:

Cedarville’s vice president of student life Carl Ruby said the institution maintains a healthy dialogue with CedarvilleOut. “I was assigned to be Dave Olsen’s mentor back when we were students together at Cedarville in the early 1980s,” Ruby said. “We have major differences of opinion about what we believe the Bible says about this topic, but I consider him a friend. We have tried to model what civil conversation looks like.”

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/january-february/hope-for-gay-undergrad.html?paging=off

I understand being civil; who likes rude people?  But Mr. Ruby is talking about a person, his friend, who believes and teaches others to believe that a sin typical of those who don’t inherit God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21) is acceptable within the teaching of the Scriptures.   If Mr. Olsen attended a biblically informed Church that Church would be constrained to confront him over his immorality and heresy, and remove him from fellowship short of his repentance.  Such confrontation need not be uncivil, but I don’t think civility would be the overriding concern in such an instance.  Confronting immorality and sin in the context of Christ’s call to holiness as a new, unleavened loaf would be the primary concern.

When do we drop the gloves of civility and don the sword of the Spirit as Jesus and Paul did?

Paul could be accused of being less than an example of civil conversation when he skewered both the Galatian Christians and those distorting the gospel in the Galatian churches:

O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?  3:1

I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves. 5:12

Paul pronounced judgment on an immoral man in the Corinthian church, commanded the Church to kick him out, and delivered him up to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:3-5) in hope of restoration.  Paul also called his adversaries in the Corinthian Church false apostles, deceitful workers and servants of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

That kind of clear calling to account language is absent in much of what is being called civil discourse today.

Now I know Paul calls us to gentleness:

2 Timothy 2:24-26          And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

But I also know we risk losing the deposit of faith entrusted us if we partake too deeply of the babble that passes for civil discourse.

1 Timothy 6:20-21 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

I know I’m not Jesus, able to express anger at the right thing, for the right reason, to the right degree, so I try to reign in my anger lest that anger run out of control in vain speech.

And I know I’m not the apostle Paul, filled with the Spirit so fully that he could speak without regard for civility, as God Himself does, having the mind of Christ.

But with those caveats, if the destructive lies being promulgated by those self-identifying by a sin condemned in the Scriptures aren’t fighting words, what are?

I don’t like fights, but some things are worth fighting for.  Indeed, not to fight in the name of civility is often moral cowardice under another name.

I fear our civility will prove the death of us.

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About Mike Halpin

Mike Halpin is an elder at Lion and Lamb Church in Topeka, KS (www.lionandlambchurch.com). He is spoiled by his delightful wife Cathie and blessed by his children, sons-in-law, and grandchildren.
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