We have had a lovely time debating here on Facebook/Twitter/G+. And I have enjoyed this conversation immensely, what with all the reading and responding. I can honestly say that you have caused me to think more thoroughly about my own positions and to honestly consider yours as well. But now I’m going to have to call it a day.
This debate we’re having isn’t honest.
So I’m leaving you. I’d love to say it’s not you, it’s me. But it really does have to do with you and with me. For it takes two to tango as they say.
We are not debating honestly.
I have three expectations with debates:
- Both parties will listen.
- Both parties will understand the complexity and nuance of the situation, knowing that nothing we talk about is truly black and white.
- Both parties will respect the dignity of every human being and that we are both likely to be right given our experience/education/status.
At least one of these three has been violated, so I’m bringing this debate to an end.
I don’t blame you for this, of course. What with passions flaring and the present circumstances and all.
But the issues aren’t that simple, extreme, or black and white. And they require more from the debate than you and I are willing to give. They require compromise and negotiation. They require fidelity to the issues and knowledge from where they come. They require a respect distinctly lacking in our conversation.
We aren’t the only ones who make this mistake. We do this all the time.
May I give you an example?
In the church 2000 years ago when the first followers of Jesus were collecting that next generation of followers, they started a practice of gathering people in, baptizing them, and making them members. It started out really well, and the church grew and grew.
This practice began with great intentions. They had all these adult converts coming in, so they taught them the faith in an intentional process known as the catechumenate. They would study and practice for the 6 weeks before Easter, and in one great celebration on Saturday night or Sunday morning, these men would be baptized and brought into the faith.
Of course, the situation started to get a little messy.
These men often had wives and children and slaves, so these people were getting baptized, too. None of these got the training before baptism. So the training wasn’t required of everyone. But not everyone counted as a person.
Then we got worried about our children, how they needed to be protected from evil through baptism, so they were baptized before they could have a say in the matter. They weren’t converts to the faith whatsoever! And they certainly didn’t receive any training either.
These issues came quickly because, if you think through it for a moment, baptism was born out of a practice of adult conversion, which makes sense when all newcomers to the faith are adults. However, when that first generation had their own children who were raised in the church, there would be no conversion to what they already were.
The original circumstances of baptism have changed and cannot be regained. We are then left to choose between priorities of membership and conversion and age and training and community standards.
For two thousand years, we have wrestled with these ideas and expectations, trying our best to understand them in the present moment and with respect to our past. None of us can have the same experience as those first Christians. We are all interpreters.
It is dishonest to say that we have an either/or decision with regards to baptism or that the original apostles would side with our decision. Chances are they wouldn’t. Not in the way we are thinking about it.
And the same could be said about our country’s founding, its law, the post-Civil War movement, the laws and efforts which broke the Great Depression, the rise of the middle class, the rise of selfishness, globalization, perpetual war. And for all of our great debates today, with their complex legal histories. Our country’s founders would probably not stand for much we attribute to them today.
Complexity is Necessary
If we don’t recognize the complexity of the situation, we can’t come to a sober and decent decision about it.
Discussions of how to address gun violence, human rights, police brutality, refugee relocation, tax policy, poverty prevention programs, labor and workplace rights, human sexuality, and religious freedom all require methodologies, statistics, and common understandings of common interests. They require knowledge of law: local, state, and federal. They require respect to tradition, ethics, and morality.
They all involve the balance between personal rights and personal and community safety. They all involve the complex notion that some restriction can lead to greater freedom. They all involve a web of multiple commitments: to city, state, and national communities, to church and state, to citizenship and independence. They all require us to come to a table and discuss, not only the common ground and the pittance we’re willing to offer in exchange, but honest compromise.
If you can’t admit that the ground on which our conversation is being held is complex, more nuanced than you would like it to be, then I must stop.
And if you are one of the surprising number of people who think “compromise” is a dirty word, then don’t be surprised when you aren’t invited to the table for further discussion. For without compromise, there can be no conversation.
Uncompromising speech makes for dishonest conversation.