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Rules of Engagement

January 3, 2014

I’ve concluded that, like it or not, the culture war is going to go into 2014.  Evangelicals and other conservative Christians will continue to battle progressives.  Since I have no hope that my fellow evangelicals have any plan for ending that useless war and getting on with the business of the church I want to try my hand at proposing some rules of engagement for the war.

I’ve decided to approach this by suggesting some rules for progressives; some ways you can perhaps make the war less confrontational.  We Christians have hot buttons and sore points just the same as you but I think there are ways to ask us to rethink our positions without touching them and getting knee jerk reactions.

I’ve decided to call these suggestions “How to talk to an Evangelical.”  I’ve shamelessly stolen the title from the very excellent blog HOW TO TALK EVANGELICAL by Addie Zierman.  While her blog touches many subjects a theme that comes through is that we evangelicals often speak a language all our own.

Oddly, many evangelicals are unaware that they are speaking a language foreign to others.  We can come across like tourists wandering around a foreign city trying to strike up intelligent conversations and getting frustrated when others misunderstand us.  So, rather than trying to get my brother and sister evangelicals to learn a new language I’ve decided to give others ways for you to puncture the evangelical bubble.  So here goes:

  1. It doesn’t help, when you hear what we say, to call us misogynist, homophobic or racist.  Yes, I know some of our statements sound that way to you, but I seriously doubt that an evangelical that strikes you that way sees himself that way.  If you goal is to hurt him, fine, fire away.  If you goal is to reason with him, it is best not to start with accusations.
  2. Don’t ridicule or blow off the Bible.  We know you don’t see the Bible the same way we do; you don’t see it as the inspired word of God.  We can accept that.  You are better off asking us to show you the Bible passages that support what we say.  (Note to evangelicals:  If you are going to tell someone “the Bible teaches…” you’d better be prepared to show that explicit teaching.)
  3. Don’t assume we are stupid.  I know the idea of backwoods, snake-handling, Bible-thumpers appeals to you; it is a lot easier to deal with straw-man caricatures than actual evangelicals but you may be surprised to find that a lot of us have actually thought through our faith.  If you think we are wrong, try and convince us you are right.
  4. Question the flaws you see in our positions and ask us to explain them.  For example, if an evangelical says to you that men and women are equal before God but that men are always in authority and women need to submit, ask how in the world that state of affairs can actually exist in an equal relationship.
  5. Recognize that we are all victims of a confrontational culture.  Talk radio and cable TV has taught us that attacking the views of others is normal and right.  Ask yourself this (and evangelicals do the same) have you ever ridiculed anyone into agreeing with you?  At best you can get sullen silence but you can be sure the silent one is more firm than ever in his views.
  6. Questions are more powerful than accusations.  Nothing engages a person’s attention more than a demonstration that you are trying to understand him.  Questions communicate this desire and also have the advantage of exposing the fact that you often actually did not understand him.
  7. Do your homework.  It is amazing how often, when people try to convince me that, as an evangelical, I am entirely wrong, they have little or no clue what I actually believe.  If you have any desire to get an evangelical to listen to reason you need to learn what he believes.  We are not all alike.

As I said, these are suggested rules of engagements for talking to evangelicals.  Let me know how they work.

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