In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells us to “love our enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:27-36). In these days beyond crusades and duels, our conflicts are primarily ideological: schoolyard arguments, coffee-table disputes, shouting pundits and unanswered questions in Sunday School. So how do we love our enemies on an ideological level?
We could start, of course, with respect and giving the other dignity in conversation. But that’s only window dressing. In religious discussion (like politics), the goal of conversation so often is to persuade others to your viewpoint, or put up the best spirited defense of your viewpoint against imagined opponents. Indeed, that’s the assumed basis for evangelism after all: to persuade others of the truth of Jesus Christ.
But we are called to love our enemies, and persuasion may or may not be the right kind of love. Indeed, that’s what Peter Rollins gets to in his book (not)Speak of God. Evangelism relies on what Rollins calls power discourses that rely on word and wonder:
Power discourses…convince the other that Christianity is compelling and must be accepted by any rational person, and miracles prove that a person ought to believe.P. Rollins, (not) Speak of God, pg. 37
Rejection thus becomes irrational. Calling our enemies irrational may be tough love, but it is also a claim to a position of superior power. Rollins calls the church to turn away and not rely on power discourses but to instead create sacred space where questions can be wrestled with. A sacred space with a sacred level of hospitality that goes beyond merely listening to the other. What could that look like?
Here’s one idea: What if our goal in conversation is not to polish our own worldview in full view of others, but to build up the other’s worldview to its best possible form?
That’s what political commentator Julian Sanchez is making in a recent blog post (via Andrew Sullivan):
Consider the way our views normally evolve. We sort of hunker down in our ideological bunkers trying to fend off various attacks and challenges. Sometimes an especially forceful argument will require a modification in the fortifications—and on rare occasions, we’ll even be forced to abandon a position. Which is to say, we learn from other perspectives largely in a defensive mode, through a kind of Darwinian selection of arguments. But what if instead we tried to use the insights available from our own perspectives, not to defeat or convert the other guy, but to give his argument its best form?
What? In short, Sanchez is claiming that we learn about the other from an entrenched position (perhaps in our echo chambers) and we are not really engaging or honoring the other. But still…we are supposed to help them with their arguments??
…This might sound like giving aid and comfort to the enemy, but even in terms of the Darwinian struggle, there’s value to being able to show how your view trumps even the optimal form of the competition. Think of chess: You can’t see your own best move unless you have some sense of what your opponent’s best response would be. But the more intriguing possibility is that a smart progressive’s good-faith reformulation of libertarianism might be something that the libertarian, too, could recognize as an improvement—and vice versa.
In the Scripture, Jesus says to love our enemies. Even when we think we are right, and we know they are wrong. Perhaps the form of radical hospitality in ideological conflict, when we invite the other into conversation, is to take a cue from the Girl Scouts: leave them with their arguments better than they came with. To build up their arguments, to help the other better understand their own.
Then, perhaps, we can let the questions that follow from the Other either reinforce their belief or cause them to wonder why you would want to know about them. Who knows…they may ask about yours, or what another ideology or theology might say.
Thoughts? In these days of theological and ideological echo chambers and town hall shouting matches, the mere coaxing out of thought and argument is becoming more and more rare. So what if the radical hospitality that Christ calls us to exhibit…what if it can extend to thought as well as deed?
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