Colossian Blog
September 20, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen

Reforming Political Discourse: A Respectful Conversation

The political climate surrounding both the Obama and Trump presidencies is marked by hyper-partisan attitudes. Much of the rhetoric centers around “we’ll do this without you” from the majority party and “if you’re for it, we’re against it” from the minority party.

Every available political tool is wielded to defeat what the other side wants to do. The news from the right and left often seems to be covering different planets. Many people appear to be listening only to an echo of themselves. Policy discussion is marked by talking points that inflame one side and caricature the other.

This melee teaches us how not to communicate with each other. Families and communities are so divided that political discussion and life together becomes uncomfortable and sometimes impossible. Do Christians have resources for working together across political differences?

Can we offer an alternative to the current appalling state of political discourse?

We think so.

Our senior fellow at TCF, Harold Heie, is hosting a new digital conversation on Reforming our Political Discourse on his website, Respectful Conversation.

This digital conversation will feature:

  • Proposing a Christian perspective on political discourse
  • Discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed Christian perspective
  • Modeling the proposed Christian perspective by discussing the nature of politics and selected contentious public policy issues
  • Discussing a possible way forward for Christians

Each topic in this 10-month dialog features two conversation partners with significant disagreements in the subject matter. The hope for this project is to show how people on opposite sides of conflict demonstrate respect for one another and discover common ground that fosters ongoing conversation.

We hope you’ll join us for this enlightening and thought-provoking conversation!

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Not long ago, my 13-year-old son Sam and I were attending our little Mennonite house church that we love so dearly. It wasn’t an easy Sunday. Nearly all of us, for a variety of reasons, were hurting pretty deeply—family struggles, concern for the gravely ill, loved ones who, for one reason or another, are no longer a part of us. People shared their pain so openly that Sam wondered aloud to me about it. He identified both with the struggles of others and his struggling teenage self, saying, “Why is everyone struggling so much? Why do we all go to church if it just means suffering?” While that is not the line of logic my years of theological conditioning provide me, on the surface it’s a pretty valid conclusion. Why do we bind ourselves to broken and suffering people? On our drive home, we were surrounded by billboards depicting happy, healthy, sexy people. Why not identify with them—the winners? Their super white smiles sure seem more convincing than our tears. Why can’t the faith be more obviously right? More visibly true? Why doesn’t God prove his Godhood to the world? I don’t have adequate answers to satisfy a teenage boy who is suffering from the terrors of adolescence. All I’ve got is Advent, and a God who didn’t come down in an undeniable blaze of glory but as a baby born amid scandal, political intrigue, suffering, and the slaughter of the innocents. The eternal Word of God, Logos of Creation, Wisdom of the Ages came enfleshed as an infant Jew, freely identifying himself with a broken, corrupt, suffering people. As with any word, this Word incarnate is eminently deniable, vulnerably open to multiple interpretations—not to mention murder. What are we to make of this? In his brilliant work on Dostoyevsky, Rowan Williams reflects on the theological nature of language and how Dostoyevsky “sees language itself as the indisputable marker of freedom: confronted with what seeks to close down exchange or conflict, we discover we can always say more.” Part of the freedom of being able to “say more” when we are confronted with Jesus—the Word of God—is that we can say more and deny its validity. Christ comes to us vulnerable, “unable to compel [us] since compulsion would make it impossible for the creator to appear as the creator of freedom.” This means that the “credibility of faith is in its freedom to let itself be judged and to grow. In the nature of the case, there will be no unanswerable demonstrations … apart from Christ.” Are there no unanswerable demonstrations apart from Christ? Because that’s exactly what I want most! I long for something provable, repeatable, tangible, undeniable. I want to be able to point to “something” and compel others to accept without having to embody it myself. I want to indisputably possess “something” without having to become like Jesus. But what we get is Christ’s hard-to-believe faith in the goodness of the Father. All done in the face of his betrayal and death—in the goodness and freedom of creation, just as that same freedom would be used to crush the one through whom it was made (John 1:3). Of course, living on the other side of Easter, we see that Jesus’ faith is vindicated in his resurrection and the lifting up of his name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). Sam’s very correct intuition reveals this: our death is still before us, even if our resurrection is assured. I desperately want God to speak a word that would spare me from the vulnerability of death and the nearly unbearable freedom to live life in light of our certain death. Sam’s desire is my own—to avoid the suffering that comes to us because of the freedom we’ve been given and often misused. We’d rather buy into another false promise of billboard happiness with shiny, white-toothed smiles. We believe these false words—the false certainties that cause us to forfeit our birthright as children and heirs of the King and the freedom that comes with it—all for a cup of soup. It’s the cause of our suffering in the first place. It seems that only a few saints have not sold their birthright (said an isolated and depressed Elijah before God revealed that there were 7,000 such saints). But in our little house church, as in so many small and humble Christian fellowships across the ages, the birthright of the Kingdom has not been sold. Believers join their Savior in suffering the hurts of the world, in ways small and large. They do not shy away. They suffer the uncertainty of freedom. They participate in the passion of Christ, holding on to a sure knowledge of God’s goodness while uncertain about almost everything else. They aren’t sexy. They aren’t likely to be on billboards. When the Lamb who opens the scroll reveals what has mattered in the history of humanity, their names will be called out. And as John Howard Yoder, another incredibly broken believer, once said, history isn’t moved forward by cause and effect, manipulated by the powerful, but by the cross and resurrection of Christ and those who bear it. A deniable thesis to be sure, uttered by an eminently deniable human being. Quite frankly, there’s no place I’d rather be. No other people I’d rather be with, than with Christ and his broken, struggling body.
#GivingTuesday Success -- Thank You!
November 29, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
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In the midst of all the noise this holiday season, we want to thank you for your ongoing investment in The Colossian Forum’s transformational mission. You understand both the challenge and the promise of Colossians 1:17 that “all things hold together in Christ”—even Christ’s body, the church. You faithfully pray, volunteer, provide expertise, and give, and we are deeply grateful! Yesterday, we participated in #GivingTuesday, an annual day of charitable giving that piggybacks on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. We deeply appreciate the many prayers, gifts, and investment in us over the past year. We know that it’s hard to be hopeful during times of deepening cultural division when conflict threatens to fracture our closest relationships. Our mission is to equip the church with resources and practices to bridge the divides that polarize and paralyze us. We believe these wrenching conflicts provide an opportunity for the hope and healing we long for. Thanks for being part of the journey. May our unity in the midst of difference be a testimony to the wholeness and holiness of our Triune God.