Dr. David Wright, the president of Indiana Wesleyan University, has authored what I think is a brilliant reflection on how Christians should respond to Christians who have been called into public service with whom we disagree. I hope you’ll take a few moments to consider his thoughts.
Reg Finger, MD, MPH, who has been a dear friend and prayer partner for many years. is now on the faculty of Indiana Wesleyan University. On my last visit with Reg we were able to spend some time with the university president, Dr. David Wright. It was a delightful visit. I found Dr. Wright to be deeply rooted in his Christian faith and hope you’ll enjoy his encouraging words (which I have condensed and slightly edited for a non-academic audience):
Disagreeing with Christians in Public Service
These days Christians whose work calls them to engage in the public arena face conflict and potential penalty, not only from non-Christians but from our own brothers and sisters in Christ. Engagement in the public square can be a dangerous proposition.
And yet, (Christians should be) dedicated to the mission of making the world a better place by engaging the world as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
We refuse to withdraw. We refuse to accommodate our witness to the winds of cultural change that do not accord with God’s Word.
Instead, we prepare ourselves to engage faithfully, irenically, graciously, with a heart to serve the greater good.
This commitment raises questions that we need to consider:
- What does faithful engagement in the public square entail? What does it feel like to do this?
- How do we engage faithfully when our culture no longer values our witness?
How do we decide what constitutes faithful action when Christians do not agree with each other?
How should we treat those with whom we sincerely disagree? I am intent on creating a culture at IWU that is both faithful to Biblical truth, and gracious with all who make up our community. Listening carefully and respectfully is one of our strongest expressions of these commitments.
(There are many) women and men (who) are living their Christian lives in public. Their work requires them to take positions and make decisions that bring intense scrutiny and criticism. In our current polarized social and political climate, it can be hard to know how to relate to people whose decisions we view as wrongheaded and even harmful.
Is it possible to stay in relationship with them even if they are fellow believers?
Is civil discourse itself a form of compromise?
Here are four principles that I believe should guide the relationships (the Christian) community takes with fellow Christians who are seeking to engage in faithful action in the world.
First, as a Christ-centered … community, rooted and grounded in God’s Word, faithful to our own identity in Christ, we offer Godly hospitality to people who hold positions and beliefs different from our own.
Second, within our own … community and across the body of Christ, we recognize that faithful Christians hold genuinely different convictions and positions on many of the political questions of the day. … As a Christ-centered … community, we listen to each other’s opinions, evaluate our own positions critically, and offer our thoughts to each other honestly and charitably. In the end, we submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word.
Third, as a learning community we remain open to learn from our brothers and sisters who are living their faith as servants of the public good, even though we may disagree with them on particular issues.
Fourth, in all these matters we hold ourselves accountable to act in ways that make Christ-centered civil discourse not only possible, but enjoyable and beneficial. We do not use our convictions to bully, jeer, or berate those who differ from us. Instead, we pray for Divine wisdom and the grace of God’s Spirit to help us win the hearts and minds of those we believe are in the wrong. Our goal is not to rid ourselves of enemies. Our goal is to gain brothers and sisters.
Serving in the public arena is difficult work. Engaging requires us to make decisions and take positions that open us to criticism and attack by both the world and the church. There are times when particular conversations, or conversation partners, may be difficult and even hurtful for us. It is never our goal to create hurt or offense. But it is our goal to learn and grow.
This is what we are called to do … we are all learning each day how better to follow Christ, to understand truth, and to prepare ourselves to help make the world a better place.