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Mclaren on "A Bridge Far Enough?"

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Advice from author and Pastor Brian Mclaren from this month's Sojourners on communication and bridging across polarized factions:

"IF THERE IS a rising purple peoplehood out there - people who don’t want to be defined as red or blue, but have elements of both, and for whom faith speaks to both abortion and war, both sexuality and ecology, both family values and fair, respectful treatment for gay people - then we will need to learn new ways of communication. Again, readily confessing that I’m no expert or example, here are a few hunches I have about those new ways of communication - based on the maxim of one of my mentors, who says, "We must teach what Jesus taught in the manner that Jesus taught it."

1. We must stop answering questions that are framed badly. When Jesus was asked a trick question by representatives of a conservative religio-political party of his day, he didn’t fall for the trap (Luke 20). Rather, he showed how the question was based on false assumptions and used the trick question as an opportunity to expose those false assumptions and instruct the questioners.

2. We must start raising new questions and issues that need to be raised. When Jesus was being tested in another politico-religious interview, he refused to answer the question of whether taxes should be paid to Caesar or not (Matthew 22:17-21). In fact, he cleverly deconstructed and neutered the question and instead pushed another question to the surface: Were those asking the question willing to render to God what is God’s?

3. We must answer questions with questions. Some opponents asked Jesus a trick question for which there was no good answer; rather than falling into their trap, he said he would answer their question if they answered a similarly difficult question (Luke 20:1-8).

4. We must go cleverly deeper. In Jesus’ day, there was plenty of debate over divorce, with clear "liberal" and "conservative" polarities. Jesus went to a deeper level of discourse by dealing with the issue of motives: Were men seeking legal divorces to indulge their lustful desires, trading in their old wife on a sexy younger model - but doing so according to the rules (Matthew 19:3-9)? He exposed the lustful intentions of their hearts on the deeper level rather than merely taking a position on the surface level. Paul did something similar on the controversial question of eating meat sacrificed to idols in his day: It’s the motive that is more important than the policy, he said (Romans 14)...

5. We must agree with people whenever we can. Survey the gospels and notice how often Jesus said, "You have answered wisely" (for example, see John 4:17 and Luke 10:28). Similarly, we must agree with both conservatives and liberals whenever we can. Conservatives are right, for example, when they affirm the importance of good business in lifting people from poverty. Liberals are also right when they affirm the role of government in not trusting business to always behave well. Conservatives are right that personal sexual integrity really matters; liberals are right when they say there is more to morality than personal sexual integrity.

6. We must speak through action, not just words. When Jesus sought to confront people for their hypocrisy and misplaced priorities, he didn’t argue; instead, he healed a man on the Sabbath. This created a stir that made his point more than any number of well-reasoned arguments could have. So, what we do for those suffering in Darfur may speak more eloquently than anything we say about domestic issues; how we treat our critics privately may speak more loudly to them than what we say in public.

7. We must tell stories. While dining at the house of a Pharisee, Jesus was honored by a woman of ill repute (Luke 7:36-50). When the host and guests began judging him for his failure to adequately judge her, Jesus told a story about economics, debt, and forgiveness. The story abducted the imagination of the critics and transported them to a new vantage point.

Now these approaches didn’t help Jesus be well-liked by the counterparts of Limbaugh and Carville in his day. In fact, they heated up the hot water he was in even more, and ultimately he was rejected by both polarities. But Jesus’ ways of responding to the religio-political debates of his day did something more powerful and important than making Jesus popular: They got both sides thinking, and they assured that God’s higher perspective was given a place in debates that generally missed the point..."
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