In his May 7 column, “Towards a More Perfect Union,” David Hegg makes a commendable plea for respectful civil discourse. We need more words like his that call people from every political viewpoint to treat each other with respect and honor.
Unfortunately, after a strong start, Pastor Hegg’s appeal to decency flounders because he complains that not everyone wants to follow his rules for civic discourse. Here’s the crux of his argument: 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.
I can only assume that Pastor Hegg is, in a coded way, noting that lots of people who do not share what he calls his “biblical worldview” have in recent years demanded affirmations of their worth. These demands seem to break the rules of civility for Pastor Hegg. He says: “Love listens while hate screams.”
Hmmm. Sentiments like this sound high-minded. But I think they point to a hidden dynamic. It is easy to say that love listens when one is used to being listed to. Pastor Hegg has the social infrastructure in place – like his weekly column in the newspaper – to make his voice heard. For marginalized people, who have no such mouthpieces, shouting often becomes the only option. Think of the trans kid whose parents kicked her out of the house. Think of the asylum seeker who speaks no English. Think of the man in his 50s who has lost job after job because of the changing economy. Often it is not hate that screams, it’s desperation.
It seems to me that Pastor Hegg misses the mark because he wants to deny his interlocutors the same comforts that he enjoys. Marginalized people have indeed demanded affirmation and applause in the recent past. They have done so largely because they have seen how powerful those dynamics have been for culturally powerful institutions like large evangelical congregations.
I hope that I am wrong. I hope that Pastor Hegg’s call for civil discourse is not a coded attempt to show that his side has engaged in loving listening while those who do not share his worldview have embraced hate-filled screaming.
There’s only one way to find out. I would like to extend an invitation to Pastor Hegg. Let’s talk!
What would it look like for a pastor like yourself who espouses a strongly conservative Christian ethic to chat with a pastor like me who comes from a more moderate tradition? I serve at the Church of Hope in Canyon Country. Our two communities could not be more different. Yours massive, influential and steeped in traditions of evangelical traditionalism. Mine, tiny and informed by moderating academic traditions of Lutheranism. Our two churches are likely a study in opposites. But they both make up the fabric of Santa Clarita, our complex and diverse community.
I would like to talk because my ethically informed worldview directs me to believe that we should affirm and celebrate even those with whom we disagree. Even those lives and choices do not make sense to us. I think there are folks in our community whose lives could be changed for the better if they were not just tolerated or accepted but affirmed by a powerful voice like yours. The people in this amazing community are, in your own words, all “created in the image of God Himself.” Santa Clarita deserves examples of civil public discourse between folks who do not see eye to eye. So let’s talk. I’ll buy the coffee and the muffins.
Pastor, The Church of Hope