By David Hegg
Every American should be both aware of, and conversant with, the preamble to our Constitution. It reads, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Here, I am most interested in the goal of “insuring domestic tranquility.” Look around. Increasingly, we are watching the peace and tranquility of civil discourse, and respectful relationships with fellow humans, dissolve into radical labeling and demands that all who oppose are worthy of destruction.
I’ll use myself as an example. If you’ve read this column for any time at all you know that I am a Christ-follower. I hold to a biblical world-view that begins with belief in the existence of one true God who is eternal, sovereign over all things, and in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World. In today’s world, those who hold this view are sometimes applauded, other times mocked, and now in some circles, labeled as posing an imminent danger to democracy and life in general.
So, continuing the illustration, let me just say that none of the atrocities that can be attributed to religion, and specifically to Christianity – even if true! – are happening today at Grace Baptist Church where I am the senior pastor. We are not militantly hunting down heretics, or any of those who disagree with our views on morality. We do not have a storehouse of weapons behind the baptistry, and neither are we attempting to banish the free speech of other religious adherents, or atheists, or agnostics, or even those who see us as the enemy.
In fact, all those just described are welcome to attend our services and they will be accepted as human beings, created in the image of God Himself, and deserving of life, honor and respect.
And here’s where the example gives way to the proposition. Domestic tranquility begins with acceptance of our fellow travelers on the road of life. But sadly, tranquility too often ends when acceptance is not enough, and affirmation and applause are demanded. For too many, being accepted and honored as human beings must include affirmation of their ideas, choices and opinions. And, when that doesn’t happen, they forsake relationship for fiery speech, pejorative insults and accusations, and calls for their opponents to be destroyed. And frankly, this happens on both sides of the current ideological wars.
And that’s the reason civil discourse, point and counterpoint, collaboration between opponents, and most of all, working together to solve problems have almost entirely left the building in our day!
Let’s say you have chosen a viewpoint with which I disagree. My ethical system says I still view you as a fellow human, and grant you the respect you deserve. And, as long as you reciprocate, we can differ differently from the current social norm, and dialogue. We can listen and hear what one another really thinks and feels, and perhaps learn something beyond the biases of our own personal echo chamber.
But, dealing with our differences with civility and honor will demand we be people of great character, self-control, and most of all, basic mutual human love. And perhaps that’s the greater problem. Love listens while hate screams. Love sacrifices while hate demands.
In the final analysis, it may also be that those who live to denigrate and destroy their opponents are actually resorting to these tactics because they just don’t have cogent, persuasive arguments to buttress their views. Every litigator knows to raise his or her voice and look extra confident when presenting the weakest argument before the jury. So too, history has proven that those whose arguments are built on quicksand shout the loudest, trust in ad hominem statements, and angrily demand the win before calling for the destruction of the unconvinced.
I say let’s get back to acceptance without the need for affirmation. As a Christ-follower, I don’t expect anyone to affirm my views until they are convinced of their verity. But, as a human being, I do expect that all will recognize my right to life, to hold an opinion civilly, and to be part of the great experiment we call the United States of America.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.