I am a Christian, and my greatest duty is to love God and love my neighbor.  You wouldn’t know that to hear what many loud voices proclaim about us.  You might also think they invented the idea of helping others, even though history clearly records that Christian people originated the great works of compassion—schools, hospitals, and orphanages, to name a few.  Christians also introduced the world to religious liberty and forbearance, perhaps a better word than the intolerant tolerance of these days.

Sin makes it hard for me to love.  Yes, I believe in sin, which is awkward in a culture that desperately prefers to reject all absolutes[1], especially those regarding right and wrong.  Those voices accuse us of using the word sin as an expression of intolerance to diverse ideas about morality and the completely equivalent (in their view) values of other cultures[2].  Many think of sin as disobeying God, which puts Him in the category of an autocrat imposing His will on us mortals; those who reject God think we believing mortals seek to impose our values on everyone else.  I think of sin as falling short of our God-given potential.  God is the Creator.  He made us, knows us intimately, and understands what is best for us, individually and collectively.  Like a loving parent, who tells a child not to touch a hot burner or run with scissors, God commands us not to do things that will harm us, others, or ourselves and to do what is best for us.  He made us so He could enjoy being with us, but sin corrupts that relationship even more than earthly ones.

My own sinful inclinations make loving difficult, but it is also hard to love other sinners, people who hurt us or let us down.  Sinful people have a tendency to see the sins of others more clearly than their own, which really corrupts most human activities, however well-intentioned.  Christianity offers a unique remedy relying only on God’s action, not on human efforts.  Every other religion, even some Christian sects, tells imperfect people what they must do to perfect themselves or satisfy God.  The New Testament says that God, in His virgin-born son and thereby God-man Jesus, did what no sinful human could do for him or herself; He lived sinlessly and satisfied justice by bearing the penalty for sin.  We trust Him who was sinless to cancel our sin and its eternal consequences.  We Christians want, or at least should want, nothing more than the freedom to enjoy what grace has given us and share it with other people[3].

The spiritual vocabulary of Christians includes praise, worship, and obedience, but love is their first expression.  Without love none of these religious acts has any value according to the often-quoted I Corinthians 13.  Other words like grace, mercy, forgiveness, patience, kindness, humility, reconciliation, peace, and unity make it clear that we have no obligation to conquer this world for God, either by vote or by power.  If you know the story of Jesus’ arrest and trial, you are aware that His follower Peter used a sword, and Jesus rebuked him for it.  However, we do have a responsibility to represent His kingdom on earth, and one of the clearest expressions of that obligation is John 13:34,35:  A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  This along with “love your neighbor as yourself,” shows he desires a wholly different kind of conquest from either religious war or political domination.  Unfortunately, we live in a world where even Christians motivated to love have to respond to both.

So how is a Christian like me to love “neighbors” who seek to deny my freedom or want to destroy me if I don’t convert to their beliefs, whether they are atheism or Islam?  May we defend ourselves without violating His command to love others?  How do we engage in debate about this and the many other issues that concern us?  Can we overcome the biases of which others accuse us?  I am confident that the principal values I have listed provide the key to answering these questions.

I have two catchphrases to provide that key.  First, “encourage and enable respect among people, harmony in our relationships, and credibility among those who hear us.” I first wrote this as a mission statement for a peacemaking organization I led.  I targeted it toward Christians but chose words with less ambiguous meanings than love or peace.  As I read and listen to the various interchanges between opposing viewpoints, I often notice a lack of respect, words that polarize, and a flagrant disregard for facts and truth, even among Christians.  As I’ve said, I am a Christian.  I am also a classic liberal because I believe in individual freedom[4] as did many of our Founding Fathers; that makes me a libertarian, using today’s terminology (Frankly, I prefer not to use the word liberal for today’s progressive socialists, who control the Democratic Party).  I am basically a conservative, even though I am not happy with many who claim to be but who lack the courage to uphold its core values of freedom, character, lower taxes, smaller government, and less waste.  My point here is that, whatever I am and whoever supports the same ideas I do, we need to advance our ideas with respect, work with as much congeniality and civility as possible, and demonstrate not just the worth of our opinions but the quality of our character (Dishonesty and intentional deception are grossly disrespectful and unloving!).

How can we do this?  Here is my second recommendation:  “Listen, understand, and respond appropriately; demand that others do the same.”  This is my working description of respect as well as love.  I believe it is the key to productive engagement with friend and foe alike.  I also suggest that this is the basis for positive influence and effective persuasion.  I know it works to improve spousal and parent/child relationships; I see it to be equally powerful in a neighborhood.  This is the ultimate key to healing racial barriers and biases.  This formula can turn a fighting congregation into a loving community or a contentious, friction-filled office into a cohesive and effective working environment.  Without it, athletic teams are not teams but just a bunch of athletes.  With it, a nation of immigrants can be one people[5].

What is an argument?  How do you distinguish a discussion from a quarrel if you walk in on a disagreement in progress?  We all know the difference immediately by the volume and tone of what people say.  Arguments are loud, angry, and uncivil; people often say things they later regret, or should.  People raise their voices with loved ones in the same way they do with their worst enemy.  Why do they do it?  Our self-centered, sinful instinct is to impose our will on others with volume, name-calling, intimidation, manipulation, and sometimes physical force.  Does it work?  No one ever wins over an adversary or even an undecided person that way.  I wish it were only progressive socialists who rant and scream and call people names because I want them to lose.  Unfortunately, many with whom I substantially agree use many of the same techniques.  That is what we have to change!           

Let me refer back to my Christian experiences.  Hell-fire and brimstone preaching tends to be an insulting and intimidating approach[6].  Anonymous flyers on the windshield are annoying and impersonal, another kind of affront.  Uninvited guests coming to our door often convey a selfish interest in selling something unwanted, whether it’s a subscription or salvation.  Many non-conservatives claim their good intentions and claims of compassion are sufficient, even when their programs fail or, worse, produce negative results.  We need not only the right ideas but also the right means of sharing them.  Furthermore, I hate it when people imply bad motives as the reason for my opinions and preferences, so we must be careful to listen to our adversaries and understand them accurately before we attempt to change their minds.  As they say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  We must avoid berating or belittling people who mean well but adopt bad ideas for achieving it.  As with the outreach methods I mentioned above, we can’t just talk at people; we must talk with people, and that requires listening.

In a culture that prizes competition, winning is everything.  Defeating others, whether they are enemies, adversaries, or simply the opposing team, tempts people to do anything to win.  We see a resultant loss of character and principle in the media, the courtroom, the boardroom, and the arena that is becoming evermore prevalent in this country.  What I propose is a different kind of winning, winning people over rather than defeating them.  A Proverbs 11:30 says, “He that wins souls is wise,” and that is what we must do.  Friendly competition is good; another proverb (27:17) calls it “iron sharpening iron.”  Words like sportsmanship and statesmanship once indicated this mutually honing kind of interaction, but they are rarely heard or seen, any more.  Even in the War on Terror, we must win people over and not just defeat them.  This war, too, is a conflict of worldviews as well as an engagement of physical means.  We must win both!

Many opposed to Western civilization, from radical Islamists to Chinese communists, hate what they perceive as a depraved and godless culture[7].  To a substantial extent, they are right; many of us Christians agree.  To defeat the very real threat they pose, we Christians cannot afford to sit on the sidelines.  We need to do more than win militarily; we need to defeat the rot within our own culture.  The ideas I advocate are the tools we need to overcome our own moral decline, the dismal voices that stand against nearly everything that is good about America, and the ideologies and religions arrayed against us.  This evangelism must be attentive, respectful, well spoken, kindly spoken, complete, and “always…prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…with gentleness and respect.”[8]

In other words, as many of us as possible need to be engaged in this war of ideas, and we need to do it in the way most likely to succeed.  We not only need to vote and vote consistently against those who most strongly oppose freedom and faith, but we must also talk to people and gently but respectfully persuade them of the need to vote appropriately, be kindly vocal, and talk to others.  In the process, I believe we Christians may have the opportunity to share the substance of true Christianity.  The manner I have described is the practice of love, and its exercise among our neighbors, co-workers, schoolmates, friends, and even presumed enemies is will make us credible witnesses of our Savior and our faith.  For Christians, conservative or libertarian like me, these seemingly separate areas of interest—freedom and faith—are inseparable and both are a necessary part of our duty as believers and citizens.

[1] Perhaps I should say they reject traditional absolutes, truths that have strong support in fact, science, and history; yet strangely, they seem to have created another set of preferences for which they demand allegiance as if they were absolute truth, which they deny!

[2] I’m sorry but I cannot accept cannibalism as equally valid as brotherly love…does anyone?

[3] I have written about this in more detail at www.xanga.com/jrogerw.  This message is called the gospel, a word that means good news.  Evangelism is not recruitment to our club; it is telling people the good news of salvation.

[4] I wrote about this recently at www.right-thinking.townhall.com in an article called “Parallel Society.”

[5] Multiculturalism rejects the traditional American idea of a melting pot.  They seem to want a smorgasbord of disconnected, even antagonistic peoples and cultures.  Perhaps a stew would serve better, in which many different tastes contribute to a single dish of one melded flavor created from the many separate ingredients.  You may still be able to recognize the peas and potatoes, but none of them dominate the stew.

[6] The Great Awakening preachers wrote sermons like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” but they read them in a very different style than we might hear today.  I suspect that they primarily explained the eternal consequences of sin, rather than accusing their listeners of being sinners.  Most people already know, but they react to insults.

[7] Dinesh D’Souza, himself an immigrant from India, does a fine job of explaining this in his book, What’s So Great about America.

[8] From I Peter 3:15


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