Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Christians Speaking About God and Muslims: Language and Culture

Rick Warren/ Bing Images

What did Pastor Rick Warren say about God and Muslims?

An article in Christianity Today illustrates several points worthy of consideration when people wish to challenge (or twist) the words of others. We know there are sharp divisions amongst people of diverse religious and political views. People come to blows. Reputations can be decimated. And some even die for the words they speak.

Four Ways to Reduce Divisions Based on Communication

1. Get the original words right.

Sometimes we can be in trouble for the words we actually say or post. In retrospect, we can admit there were better ways to say things--especially when a kind friend brings a nuanced interpretation to our consideration--one we did not intend.

Being misquoted is even worse than using our own words against us. Let us be careful to get the words right.

2. Be generous with context.

Many pastors and other leaders respond to questions. This is a setup for trouble when people wish to use words to destroy speakers or to advance their own agenda. It is as true of ancient writings like the words in the Bible as it is true of contemporary speakers. We may never know the full context of a communication so at least we ought to refer readers to full texts of speeches and documents and show humility when interpreting remarks based on what we think is the context.

A problem with mass media can be the lack of context in short posts and attention to headlines instead of stories. Tweets can defeat.

3. Clarify what the speaker means.

On important issues, go back to the source and get clarification. That's what Ed Stetzer did when reading something about Rick Warren that seemed amiss. Fortunately, Rev. Warren responded to Ed with some details clarifying his view of God and his interaction with Muslims.

4. Demonstrate love.

Throughout history, some folks have had a knack for attacking perceived heresies. Some Christians lie in wait to catch others in statements that will undermine their leadership. This is no surprise of course because Jesus himself was the victim of religious people using his words against him.

Sometimes leaders misspeak. Sometimes they could have said something a better way. Sometimes their remarks are misinterpreted. At a minimum, we are called to love our neighbor, which surely means giving people the benefit of explaining themselves when some comments appear troublesome.

Warren uses a phrase in response to a misrepresented challenge that I think could be useful elsewhere.

"It's the lie that won't die." 

It is a sad commentary on humanity that lies and falsehoods persist. Many people wish to believe bad things about others despite all the good they may have done. May we persist in telling the truth and giving love a chance.

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I write about the diversity of views within Christian Cultures in A House Divided. My hope is that understanding others' views can lead to respect even when there is disagreement.

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