Raise the Level of Discourse

by on February 2nd, 2012

During the 2000 presidential election race between Al Gore and George W. Bush, I was in the post office one morning. A woman at the counter was begging the postal clerk to not vote for Bush. In tears and obvious emotional distress she cried out, “He wants to kill women!” Extreme emotional claims such as this brought that election down to hand counting votes in Florida and a court ruling on the count but had little to do with the facts of the candidate’s positions.

On Monday, January 23, I was watching the Neil Cavuto Show on the FOX Business channel. He had billionaire, Leon Cooperman on the show to discuss his Open Letter to President Obama. The letter is interesting and even though he is very wealthy, the letter was not pro or con on the question of raising taxes. When questioned he wasn’t opposed to raising taxes on the very wealthy but reiterated that the purpose of his writing was to “raise the level of discourse.” In part his letter to President Obama reads:

But what I can justifiably hold you accountable for is your and your minions’ role in setting the tenor of the rancorous debate now roiling us that smacks of what so many have characterized as “class warfare”. Whether this reflects your principled belief that the eternal divide between the haves and have-nots is at the root of all the evils that afflict our society or just a cynical, populist appeal to his base by a president struggling in the polls is of little importance. What does matter is that the divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a widening gulf, at this point as much visceral as philosophical, between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them. It is a gulf that is at once counterproductive and freighted with dangerous historical precedents. And it is an approach to governing that owes more to desperate demagoguery than your Administration should feel comfortable with.

Cooperman writes with a refreshing clarity. Focus on the issues, abandon personal and class attacks. Make a case for your position as compared with the actual position of the other side instead of demonizing those who hold views contrary to yours. There is wisdom here. This would change the face of political discussion away from negative campaigning and false claims. The result would be to raise the level of discourse.

This is not only true in the area of politics but religion as well. For example, in 1993 Joy and I were at the Parliament of the World’s Religions which was held in Chicago. We, along with about 10 others, had the opportunity to talk with many about their beliefs and compare and contrast them with biblical Christianity and its claims. I made several observations there which have greatly influenced how MCOI operates as a mission and ministry. The conference attendees were greeted outside by hecklers with bull horns and ridicule of their beliefs. Sometimes the claims were true but delivered in a demeaning way and other times the accusations were false. In both cases they went largely disregarded by those attending. Those of us inside had opportunities to ask questions, make our case and compare and contrast the issues of truth claims about things eternal. We had the opportunity to interview and talk with Lady Olivia Robertson, founder of the Wiccan group, The Fellowship of Isis and at one point several of us had Donald Frew, a PR person for the The Covenant of the Goddess in our suite to find out first hand what they believed. Donald was very open and oddly surprised. His view of Christians and Christianity had been formed by coming into contact with protesters like those outside the event and Mike Warnke,author of Satan Seller whom Frew viewed as an abject liar. In fact, Frew was correct as the expose Selling Satan: The Evangelical Media and the Mike Warnke Scandal demonstrates. At the end of our conversation Donald Frew made a very interesting comment. He said that if Christianity was what was seeing and hearing in us, he would become a Christian in a minute. He rejected Christianity because he thought we were an anomaly and Warnke and the protestors outside the event who were misrepresenting what he believed, were more representative of Christianity.

I have no doubt that the protesters were well intentioned but not well trained. Unfortunately, many non-Christians view Evangelicals and Fundamentalists more like the protesters. We have an opportunity to make a difference in reaching this next generation with the gospel. God spoke to Israel through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 1:18:

“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.

God is not opposed to reason and making the case in a gentle manner. Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:15 to give an account “with gentleness and reverence.” It is true that no matter how we present and defend our beliefs, some will still be offended. We have no control over that but we can still raise the level of discourse. Lee Strobel says in the interview Lee Strobel: We’re on Cusp of Golden Era of Apologetics:

A recent magazine featured this headline: “Apologetics Makes a Comeback Among Youth.” As David Kinnaman wrote in his book You Lost Me, which is based on interviews with thousands of young people: “This generation wants and needs truth, not spiritual soft-serve. This is a generation hungry for substantive answers to life’s biggest questions.”

He also mentions that at least one organization is working to put 500 apologists on college campuses in the next 5 years. To that end Lee, Mark Mittelberg started “The Institute at Cherry Hills, an apologetics and evangelism ministry at Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo.” Lee points out:

First, we’re seeing more and more formal debates between Christians and skeptics on topics like the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, science and faith, Islam versus Christianity, and so forth. The foremost Christian debater, William Lane Craig, said that this “allows both sides to be heard on a level playing field and for the audience to make up their own minds about where they think the truth lies.”

These debates have shown than Christians have an unfair advantage in the marketplace of ideas: we have truth on our side. When Craig debated Christopher Hitchens, one of the leading evangelists for atheism until his recent death, an atheist website evaluated the results by saying, “Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.” Again, that was the atheist commentator’s opinion!

This sort of ministry does not have to reside in one mega church in Colorado. Lee may be right. Training believers to take the gospel outside the church into culture does take particular training and practice. This can be done locally by having 10, 15 or 20 churches ban together to support a local “Institute” to give on going training and support across denominational boundaries. Giving sound, honest, reasonable answers in the market place of ideas will do far more to bring the gospel to those outside the church than all of the protests and bull horns we can muster. However, it will take prayer and financial commitment on the part of churches to intentionally raise the level of discourse.

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