Speaking the truth honestly
Moral progressives show no respect for Christians who retreat
When Tish Harrison Warren published her recent New York Times op-ed on gay marriage and pluralism, she probably didn’t expect that her comments section would immediately fill up with angry leftists. But one day and about 1,000 replies later, the paper had to close comments. They were just coming in too fast.
What did Warren, ordained in the ACNA, say to draw such ire? Did she make a bold case against the newly passed Respect for Marriage Act? Did she, like Katy Faust, cite unsettling statistics about gay parenting and its long-term impact on children? Did she condemn the economic pipeline that allows two men to disappear the women involved in creating and carrying their perfect “designer baby”?
Of course, she did none of these things. In fact, she speaks warmly and non-judgmentally about her gay married friend and his “husband.” Her thesis is that Christians can still respect gay marriage as a “civil right,” even if they can’t participate enthusiastically in the ritual. All she asks is that Christians and their private religious convictions be respected in return. If they don’t want to bake a cake or design a website, she thinks they shouldn’t be forced to. She ends by predicting most people on both sides would agree with her. How did that go? The comments on her column have been intense, to say the least. She expected wide agreement, but she’s been called a hypocrite and a bigot.
Warren hasn’t been the only one to discover how far this brand of painstakingly circumscribed, Christian speech will get you in 2022. The other month, Australian pastor Guy Mason was grilled on live television after a congregant lost a prestigious football CEO-ship over one of Mason’s old sermons. Mason scrambled to apologize for the 9-year-old message, which had included some strong words on abortion and homosexuality, but which he assured the aggressive atheist host he would now “phrase very differently.” The host still steamrolled Mason throughout the interview, even as the pastor kept weakly repeating that his church was “all about life and love,” that they didn’t hate anyone, and that he even had gay friends. Even his one timid attempt to share the gospel was quickly smacked down before he could finish his sentence.
What does a better alternative look like for how Christians should speak in public? Obviously, the Bible doesn’t instruct us to be “jerks for Jesus.” If all “winsomeness” means is delivering truth in a thoughtful and compassionate way, everyone can aim for that goal. The question is, how do we define “compassion?”
In October, a retired Irish Catholic priest named Sean Sheehy made headlines when he preached a rousing homily on the “rampant” sins of abortion, homosexuality, and transgenderism. He instructed his audience that they had a responsibility to speak up, to seek out the lost, and to call people to an awareness of where these “destructive” sins will lead them unless they seek God’s forgiveness. Some people in the audience were so offended to hear this that they walked out. As the clip spread, some of Sheehy’s fellow priests denounced him. Even his own bishop forbade him to celebrate mass.
Like Guy Mason, Sheehy was challenged by more than one hostile media host who asked how he could be such a harsh, uncompassionate “fundamentalist.” But unlike Mason, Sheehy was ready with a strong answer: “Compassion must never be at the expense of the truth as revealed by God.” True compassion, he firmly maintained, is like surgery. It does not protect people from the pain that will result if their sin is exposed. Rather, it calls people “to embrace the pain in order to experience the healing.” And, like a good father, he feels compelled to warn his children, according to what his church is supposed to be teaching.
So, did Sheehy’s approach “work”? Well, if his goal was to make bullying atheist radio hosts think he’s a swell guy, then no, it didn’t work. If his goal was to be liked by everyone who came to hear his homily, then no, it didn’t work. But these were not his goals, and they should not be our goals either. Our goals must remain what they should always have been: to be clear, courageous, and compassionate in the sense that Sheehy so incisively defined that word. This is how we should speak in public, and how we should teach our young people to speak.
When I showed my high school rhetoric students the Guy Mason interview, then played a clip from one of Sheehy’s interviews, they could all feel the difference. It’s the difference between a publicly timid Christian and a publicly confident testimony. Confidence may not win us many new friends, but neither will timidity. No matter how gently our “private religious convictions” are articulated, no matter how padded about with qualifications and concessions, they will be virulently hated, as Guy Mason and Tish Warren have discovered. So, like Sheehy, let us at least have the courage to own them boldly.
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These daily articles have become part of my steady diet. —BarbaraSign up to receive the WORLD Opinions email newsletter each weekday for sound commentary from trusted voices.
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