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But what I really meant was…

September 28, 2011

Well, we here in North Carolina are about to enter a grand debate. With the proposed amendment to the state constitution to include a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman the two sides on this issue are gearing up to present their cases. We here at Trinity will be having a discussion on this on Sunday October 9th and it should be interesting. I urge all to attend.

To say that this debate over the next several months will be emotion-charged is an understatement. Because we, as believers, want to take a stand for Biblical marriage and, at the same time, keep open to opportunities to present loving witness to those who disagree with us, we are faced with a dilemma. How can we do both? How can we enter a contentious debate and, at the same time, be gracious in our speech?

It is pretty easy to do one or the other, not so easy to do both. We’ve already seen public displays of the “just do one” theory. I’ve seen sincere Christians on TV calling gay marriage an “abomination.” Whatever we might think, I am sure we’d all agree that such a declaration is not an effective way to launch a calm, Christ-centered, discussion. And there are just as many such attacks from the other side. I’ve seen Christians called “bigoted” and “hateful” among other things.

So what do we do? How do we communicate our message in a loving and compassionate way? For starters we can turn to Osmo Wiio for some advice. Who? Well, Osmo Wiio is a Finnish researcher of communication and he has formulated some laws of communication that, at first glance, look to be something of a joke but, on reflection, can be seen as entirely serious. He gives us some good guidelines on communicating our beliefs in an emotion-charged setting. For example:

1. Communication usually fails except by accident.
    a. If communication can fail, it will.
    b. If communication cannot fail, it most usually does anyway.
    c. If communication seems to succeed, there has been a misunderstanding.
    d. If you are content with your message, communication has failed.

2. If communication can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes the damage.

3. There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your communication.

4. The more we communicate, the worse communication fails.

So, what principles can be learned through our study of the work of this erudite scholar? (And by the way, I am serious, you can look up Wiio for yourself. He may have a quirky sense of humor but he is a world-respected authority on communication.) Here are some that come to my mind:

>  No matter what we do, this discussion will be contentious, confusing and filled with hurtful comments from both sides. All we can do is guard against such hurt coming from our own mouths. Season our own comments with grace.

>  When those who disagree with us seem hurtful and mean-spirited allow grace to rule here too. Recognize that what you think you heard probably does not reflect the heart of the passionate communicator.

>  Be “slow to speak.” There are some, but probably not many, who are called to articulate all we believe in public forums. Not every, and perhaps not any, of our day-to-day discussions with those who disagree need to become debates.

>  In personal witness, recognize that our goal is to introduce people to Christ, not to get them to conform to behaviors we approve of. If we win a heart, behaviors will follow, if we enforce a behavior, hearts are alienated.

>  Always remember an important principle for speaking the truth in love – truth can be heard, but love needs to be felt.

Like it or not, the debate has been launched. We need to pray daily that whatever we say or do in the days ahead is grace-filled.


From → Christianity

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