Why Can’t I Have Conversations With The Religious Right?

There are many who would agree with me when I say I don’t talk right. No, nothing as trivial as grammar or syntax, I’m talking the language of the theological (which is often accompanied by the political) right. I find it difficult—sometimes impossible—to engage in conversation with those whose faith perspectives are so vastly different from my own as to appear poles apart. It is not dissimilar from times I’ve tried to converse with someone who doesn’t speak English (the only language in which I can claim any level of competent communicative skill whatsoever). I know a few phrases of conservative evangelical-speak, enough to get me into trouble, really. Kind of like being at a church in Mexico and asking someone in Spanish where the bathroom was. I got an answer, in Spanish, and though I tried to follow the directions given, I really had no idea where the bathroom actually was. I think I ended up peeing in a closet.

I’d like to be able to have a conversation with my right-leaning brothers and sisters. I really would. Well, I think I really would. But there are, I believe, some significant reasons why I’m not optimistic about doing so.

First, in order to have a conversation, there has to be authentic listening. I’ve snarkily quipped on more than one occasion that when you’re right, you don’t have to listen to anyone else. Both right and left are guilty of this; at least I think I am. And I know many on the right are. No listening, no conversation, no understanding; just opposition, ridicule, and self-righteousness. And that’s a poor expression of our unity in Christ. The world notices.

Second, we refuse to understand the perspective of the other. I think that to do so, we’d have to admit that the other side might have some valid points. I know that Jesus agrees with me, and that’s as far as I need to go, right? I’ve got proof-texts. I’ve got lots of like-minded people who affirm that for me because Jesus agrees with my friends too. So we avoid the difficult conversations with those others, choosing instead to remain with our own kind. It’s safe here with Jesus.

Third, we are often starting in different places. What each of us assumes to be foundational may not actually be the case for the other. We all talk about the Trinity, about the cross and resurrection, about mission and ministry, even about the Bible, but sometimes have vastly different understandings about what these things and their purposes are.

This was driven home to me recently in some blog discussions about spirituality. I’ve taken for granted that spirituality is lived communally, in the world, as an expression of the compassion and service to which we are called in baptism. Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet in John’s version of the Last Supper is the height of spirituality for me and many on the left. That simply doesn’t register in conversations with the right. Rather, they seem to mean by spirituality one’s relationship with God on an individual level, including personal prayer practices, meditative Bible reading/memorization, retreats, and being in love with Jesus (I hope that doesn’t come across as snarky). To me, that’s more personal piety and less spirituality, and runs the danger of turning in on one’s self at the expense of “true” spirituality—serving the poor and oppressed (OK, that was snarky). See why I find the conversation difficult?

Learning to converse together in the throes of disagreements, yet still united as the body of Christ, will make us more open to conversing with brothers and sisters beyond Christianity. The art and skill of listening, of understanding, of learning from each other make us better Christians. That, it seems to me, is something Jesus would want us to do.

But then again, that’s probably a left-leaning value that I’m imposing on the right. And they’ll likely take offense. Then become even more judgmental. See? There’s just no talking with those conservative, narrow minded, self-righteous . . .

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Categories: american christianity, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Why Can’t I Have Conversations With The Religious Right?

  1. Rob, you liberal, narrow minded, self-righteous . . . oh never mind.

    As long as we’re stuck in our liberal silo and they’re stuck in their conservative silo, there isn’t much hope. But not all of us are, and not all of them are. I just got back from D.C. where I was meeting with 700 Evangelicals, led by Gabe Lyons and Q. We heard presentations about the concerns of Palestinian Christians (and the lunacy of Zionism), climate change and the need for creation care, NPR and its commitment to be accurate and fair, President Obama’s Christian faith and desire to grow spiritually, the need for our government to be bold and proactive in fighting hunger around the world, and how important it is that here in the U.S. we develop structures to support the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. I saw more signs among them that they were serious about restoring and renewing society than I tend to see within my own tradition.

    The Christian right, thankfully, is more than what we see on T.V. or in Colorado Springs.

    They are planning a one-day gathering in Denver on September 28. I think some of us should plan to attend. (It would be nice to have a Q gathering where there are more participants with ELCA credentials than me and David Beckmann.)

    Good blog post, brother. Thanks for stirring some reflecting thoughts for me.

    Riz

    • Thanks, Riz, this actually was the type of response I was hoping would get posted! The God who raised Jesus from the dead just might be able to get left and right to realize our unity and act accordingly. Hopeful signs in, of all places, D.C.!
      The gathering in Denver on 9/28 sounds promising. Do you plan to get some information out and available?

  2. Pingback: Why I Need to Have Conversations With the Religious Right « Neighborhood Church

  3. This conversation is such an important one. I heard Jim Wallis from Sojourners speak last week and he talked about recovering common commitments (like responsibility), a commitment to civility, and reclaiming a commitment to the common good. These should be neither left or right leaning places to begin. I do think there is some hope for that from some people in the church on both ends of the spectrum. I also think there is something about being in the public light that seemingly requires everyone to differentiate themselves and get noticed that discourages it from being a part of our political life right now. For reasons of justice, inclusion, mercy, servanthood, care of creation and others – I do lean left and see that as likely to continue. But I also find lucid points from some on the right who remind me of my blind spots and encourage me to stay open to solutions I might not see. There are, unfortunately, too few of those folks for me – too many loud and angry voices over there drowning them out to easily make out the helpful ones. But they exist and part of the responsibility I and others on the left have, is to open our ears amidst the roar and listen for them when they speak. They may be part of our path out of this hole we have dug. Thanks for posting a good conversation starter, Rob!

    • Thanks, Dave, for the encouraging word regarding the need and hopefulness of conversation. I, too, have found there are not enough differing voices who are willing to speak as well as listen. But those few that do are valuable indeed. My prayer is that I can become a better listener rather than merely a left-screamer. I appreciate your good response!

    • Dave: I hear Jim say just about the same thing last week. We weren’t in the same room, were we?

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