My fellow Canadians in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and I will pray for you, our American cousins, when you head for the voting booth next month. You have difficult and important choices to make that will affect you and the whole world.
In that context, I find the conversation between two CRC members (“Can We Just Talk?” p. 18) so fascinating. Both belong to the same denomination and, presumably, share the same basic beliefs. Both have been taught the same principles yet have very divergent views about the real world. How can that be?
I believe it is a function of the mind-numbing complexity of identifying principles, deciding which apply, and then actually applying them to real-life situations. We might agree with Mitt Romney on one point of principle and with President Obama on another. So then what?
Distilling clear principles from Scripture is an important first step. But it’s only a first step, as is clearly indicated by the Dutch word for “principle,” which is beginsel.
Beginsel literally means “a place to begin.” Hence, a “principle” doesn’t automatically and inexorably lead us to one clear conclusion at all. It merely gives us a place to start. From there we’ll need to use our wits and our communal understanding and wisdom to figure out how and when and where to apply it. That’s why we can share the same principles yet end up on opposite sides of an issue.
We should also admit that we aren’t just driven by logic. The deepest inclinations of the heart often masquerade as rationality. For example, my favorite television show airs when I’m often out visiting, so I miss more episodes then I catch. For $300, an upgraded cable box with a digital video recorder would resolve my dilemma. At the touch of a (pre)programming button I could watch “Mayday” anytime I want.
Conflicting principles made this a tough decision. On the yes side: we should keep some Sabbath, we should watch more edifying shows, and so on. On the no side: such materialism adds to global warming, we should donate money to save lives instead, and more.
My spouse had better things to do than plunge into my moral angst. “Darlin’, just do what you think you should; it’s fine by me either way.” Generous, but not exactly the oracle of Delphi.
Truthfully? Ultimately, principle had nothing to do with the final decision. I didn’t buy a DVR for the plain and simple reason that I’m too cheap to slap down 300 bucks for a spinning magnet in a metal box. Besides, Discovery Channel airs so many reruns that I’ll catch those missed episodes anyways.
Let’s recognize that we also adopt many of our political views based on something deep and personal and emotional and ingrained, quite apart from principle. Dare we start afresh by carefully examining whether we are actually basing our views on principle at all—then humbly, and in dialogue with others, explore where principle might actually take us? If so, we’ll probably discover more than one legitimate point of view.
We really need to talk. And because political positions and decisions matter, we need to drench that conversation in prayer.