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True Dialogue

Reminding ourselves how to speak politely—especially when it comes to controversial topics.

It won’t be a quiet week in Bannerland.

Two articles in particular will generate some heat: “Jihad: What Does the Qur’an Really Say About it?” (p. 18) and “Mash’Allah: Whatever the Will of God,” some observations from life in Kuwait (p. 39). But if those will nudge us to more honest reflection, then so be it.

No doubt you’ll have your own reactions, and we’d love to hear from you—really! But before you hit “Send” or drop that letter in the mailbox, remember, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16).

Firing off a hasty rant might make you feel better—or not—but it will soil your soul and derail a perfectly good discussion. Useful dialogue requires that what we speak, print, and text is well-informed, well-reasoned, and presented humbly as a noble gift to the body of Christ.

Will people see Jesus in our conversations—or Jerry Springer?

For example, before we share our views on Muslims, we should be sure we’ve done our homework. Have we actually read the Qur’an before tackling its teachings? Have we checked out our opinions with a Muslim acquaintance or two? Have we engaged enough sources to survey the vast range of differences from one Muslim (and Muslim-majority society) to another?

Fruitful dialogue doesn’t mean we need to agree on everything. But let’s forgo the bombast and snotty attitude that we learn from the media. When non-Christians or new Christians view The Banner’s online discussions or flip to the “Letters” section of the print mag, will they see Jesus in our conversations—or Jerry Springer?

We are Christ’s ambassadors. We need to adopt a respectful, diplomatic tone and (re)learn healthy dialogue.

Here are some tips I’ve received from some fine Christian statesmen/women:

  • Don’t hog the discussion—speak only to the few issues you really know about, and then only a few times to leave room for others.
  • Don’t repeat what’s already been well said.
  • Offer an incisive question instead of a knee-jerk answer—that’s a precious (and rare) gift.Make generalizations only when you can quote actual data to back them up.
  • During a needlessly fiery debate, throw in a “bucket” of water instead of gasoline.
  • Don’t misrepresent those with whom you disagree.
  • Acknowledge points of agreement.
  • Humbly admit that your interpretation of Scripture or analysis of a situation could be faulty, incomplete, or wrong.
  • Don’t scold, condemn, or judge others.
  • Be prepared and willing to “lose” a few discussions.

Our words—open, honest, and heartfelt—must be filled always with grace, especially when we dialogue with and about such folks as Muslims, homosexual people, six-day creationists, and women clergy.

The epistle writer James sternly warns us to mind our tongues (and keyboards), then observes: “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace” (James 3:17-18).

Please post that on your screen before you hit “Send.”

We can’t wait to hear from you.

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