From Capitol Hill: The Witness of Our Word
Shapri D. LoMaglio
Have you noticed that the news seems to come faster and faster? That not only the speed but the volume has increased? Each day, there are increased numbers of important, heavy, and often divisive topics that we encounter, discussed in an increasingly adversarial way. I feel exhausted by it sometimes. In fact, on my summer vacation I went on a news fast specifically to take some time away from the constant noise.
But of course, we can’t escape from it for long, and in our roles, we must engage it so that we can both effectively represent our institutions and successfully prepare our students. That’s why in this issue, we’ve chosen to deal with many of the “headlines” head on. There is no better way to navigate tough issues and hard conversations than by doing so together. Relying on the wisdom of the group and speaking to one another allows us to share knowledge and perspectives with each other about how to develop the new pedagogical methods that demographic shifts require, how to engage refugees in our communities, or how to navigate difficult conversations around race and privilege from a biblical perspective.
This issue of this magazine is hopefully a helpful resource to you. It’s also completely countercultural. The fact that we’re speaking to and with one another, rather than at and around one another, is a testament to our shared commitment to Christ and to Christian higher education. Even when we have different perspectives or disagree with one another about political matters, our unity in Christ remains unshaken. Furthermore, our shared commitment to Christ frees us to listen humbly to one another; to learn from one another; to be open to changing our opinions; to seek to understand more than we seek to be understood.
But that’s communicating within the family. While that can be hard enough at times, an even more vexing proposition is navigating communication with external audiences that may have no obvious shared commitments or unifying beliefs. Oftentimes, we start with a lot of baggage and preconceived notions about one another: “Christians are like this; this group is like that.” Sometimes, we even start from the place of being against one another.
So in this age of divisive and angry rhetoric, can Christians model speaking and listening differently? Can we be known as followers of Christ because there is something noticeable about how we engage the daily, hourly, even minute-by-minute din? Can we engage in a charitable discourse that others witness?
This depends on what we set out to do when we communicate. Are we trying to make a point? To take on an adversary? To prove we are right? To win the round? (These are certainly my human instincts.)
When everything in us may want to jump into the fray to defend ourselves, or set the record straight, or even speak the truth, scripture encourages patience and restraint. Proverbs 29:20 says, “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
And when we set out to prove that we’re right?
“The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. … The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.” (Proverbs 16:21, 23)
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Patient speech. Judicious speech. Kind speech. Gracious speech. Respectful speech. In other words, the tone we use is not only as important as the message, the tone can also create content. How we speak affects what people ultimately hear.
In their new book Winsome Persuasion, Biola professors Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer describe it this way: Christians who want to have an effective countercultural voice in today’s “argument culture” should root their communications in compassion. “Even when confronted by his children’s rebellions, a father shows compassion. … Our job as [Christians] will often entail bestowing compassion – like our heavenly Father’s – toward the very people who rebel against God’s plan for the world – shalom.”
Social science affirms this. Communicating with the goal of changing someone’s mind or convincing them that they are wrong does not work. Instead, it is best to start from a place of understanding them. People’s beliefs and opinions are rooted in core experiences and identity; rejecting previous beliefs can feel like rejecting yourself. But listening and understanding where a person’s beliefs are coming from and validating them, their experiences, their fears, their hopes – this opens the heart and mind.
One of the saddest consequences of culture war speech is that it distracts us from our true adversary. We forget that we are not fighting against the person we disagree with or even the person trying to do us harm, for “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
When we view the people around us as loved by the Father; when we view them not as our enemy but as people to be loved, to befriend, not deserving our wrath but rather our compassion, our understanding – that changes a lot about the way we communicate.
This kind of care and compassion reflects the love of Christ. God closed the gap with us by inviting us into a loving relationship with him and through sacrificing for us. Likewise, we can close gaps with others by inviting them into a loving relationship and being willing to sacrifice our comforts, our preferences, our traditions on their behalf.
Perhaps there is no better prayer for us to help us navigate this time than that of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
Shapri D. LoMaglio is the vice president for government and external relations at the CCCU. A native of Tuscon, Ariz., LoMaglio is a graduate of Gordon College and of the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.