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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

How Do We Live and Honor Each Other Despite Our Differences?

by Krista Tippett, host

Restoring Political Civility with Richard Mouw

"Restoring Political Civility: An Evangelical View" with Richard Mouw was as hard as any show in my memory to produce, edit, script — and even to justify, as news unfolded while we were creating it.

I have known Richard Mouw for 15 years and interviewed him on this program in its early days. Other Evangelical Christian leaders have been more visible in American political and media life: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, James Dobson, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and on the more progressive side Jim Wallis and Richard Cizik. I have followed them, but I have also always kept my ear and eye on quieter figures like Richard Mouw. As president of Fuller Theological Seminary, with more than 4000 students from 70 countries and over 100 denominations, he is training generations of Evangelical and Pentecostal pastors and global leaders.

And in this political season, in which values have once again — and with a new edge of hysteria — come to be a rallying cry for viciousness, I wanted to speak with him again. A book he first wrote in 1992, Uncomon Decency, has just been released in a revised version with the subtitle, “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.” Mouw has long been a kind of bridge person — theologically conservative on some issues and more progressive on others — but he most fervently insists that the way people are treated is a greater measure of Christian virtue than the positions one takes.

I’ve wondered rhetorically how our political life would have evolved differently if the Christian re-emergence into politics in the late 20th century had modeled a practical love of enemies. My own deepest despair at present is not about the vitriol and division per se — as alarming as they are. It is about the fact that we seem to be losing any connective tissue for engaging at all, on a human level, across ruptures of disagreement. Across the political spectrum, many increasingly turn to journalism not for knowledge but to confirm individual pre-existing points of view. What we once called the red state, blue state divide is now more like two parallel universes where understandings of plain fact are no longer remotely aligned. This leads to a diminishing sense of the humanity of those who think and live differently than we do. And that is the ultimate moral slippery slope, for everyone on it and for the fabric of our civic life.

Richard MouwRichard Mouw lays out the imperative to all kinds of Christians for gentleness, reverence, humanity, and “honor” of the different other at the heart of the Bible and the life of Jesus. But this is not a feel-good plea for harmony. Even as he calls for civility and gentleness, Mouw reasserts his public and private opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. The civility he calls for would not minimize difference, at least at the outset, but would create a different space for discussing and navigating it — indeed for bringing differences into public life with virtue and vitality of expression. Picking up on a phrase coined by Christian historian Martin Marty, Richard Mouw builds upon this idea of “convicted civility.”

We had impassioned and difficult discussions on our production team about his ideas, and the complications and contradictions they present. When he says that, as a Christian, he sees other human beings as “works of divine art,” can that genuinely apply to a person whose sexual identity he defines as fundamentally wrong? And then, in the thick of creating this show, the Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide — one of a string of suicides of gay youth. This sharpened a question of whether religious views condemning homosexuality — however civilly expressed — inevitably fuel hateful, even fatal, behavior.

With all of this on my mind, I was struck by an open letter the Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler wrote in direct response to those teen suicides. Though Mohler is to the right of Richard Mouw theologically and culturally, his letter takes an unexpectedly kindred tone. Mohler leads the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and one of the most conservative. He spends the first few paragraphs of his statement reiterating his firm theological conviction that homosexuality is a sin. But in words that echo a search for a new way of “convicted civility,” Mohler confesses, “Much of our response to homosexuality is rooted in ignorance and fear.” And he asks, of the faithful and of his church leaders, “What if Tyler Clementi had been in your church? Would he have heard biblical truth presented in a context of humble truth-telling and gospel urgency, or would he have heard irresponsible slander, sarcastic jabs, and moralistic self-congratulation?” I read in Mohler’s statement a profound shift of tone, if not of position — and an opening to new ways of being.

This all drives towards a question I pursue in so many of my conversations: How does social change happen? We will not all be “on the same page,” as Americans like to be, on sexuality or many other issues for generations to come. The 21st century has opened up questions Western civilization thought it had put to rest. Some of them are intimate and raw, terrifying in every life at some point and therefore all the more unsettling when we are forced to ponder them out in the open together. Same-sex marriage is but the tip of an iceberg of human redefinition: What is relationship? What is marriage? What is friendship? What constitutes a family? In this messy moment, we retain our rights and responsibilities as human beings and citizens to discern our truths and live by them. But we have no choice, at the same time, if we want this to end well, to search for new ways to discern our multiple truths while living together.

Richard Mouw suggests that we need to start some of our conversations again from the beginning, certainly the conversation about sexuality. He believes that only by naming our hopes and our fears, articulating them among ourselves, revealing them to each other, can we begin to recreate something called a common life, which can contain, and not be destroyed by, our differences. I want to believe him, to believe that this is one answer to the question of how social change happens. If I didn’t believe that a new kind of conversation can also be a starting point for walking forwards together — living together, differently — I would not do what I do.

And yet, maybe another reality we have to live with is that these critical new conversations will start small, in many places, compelling us to connect dots for a while in lieu of convening the sweeping dialogue we might hope for. I’d point to a few that we’ve pulled together at onBeing.org with this show, including Albert Mohler’s letter in its entirety as well as a Religion Dispatches report about an historic meeting between a senior Mormon elder and LGBT Mormons.

1990 Ordination of Gay and Lesbian PastorsWe’ve also posted a piece we admire by fellow journalist Sasha Aslanian titled "Sex, Death, and Secrets" — featuring an interview with two lesbian pastors who’ve experienced a roller coaster ride of discernment within their own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

And we’ve posted another kind of contribution to civility, an act of care for “despairing LGBT kids who are being bullied and harassed, kids who don’t think they have a future” — Dan Savage and Husband Terry from "It Gets Better" Projecta video project called “It Gets Better” that was created by syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry. Both come from families with conservative religious roots, and we see photographs that bespeak the embrace they’ve both received as members of these families. They are photographs of love that has overcome convictions — or chosen to live in a gracious, loving tension alongside them. This too is possible. Please add your thoughts, stories, and pictures — your dots, if you will — to this difficult, dispersed, essential conversation.


Richard Mouw: A Twitterscript with an Evangelical Leader on Civility

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Richard MouwThis coming week we will be releasing our latest show, which focuses on the topic of incivility in political, religious, and civic culture with one of the leading Evangelical Christian leaders in the United States today. On September 8, 2010, Krista interviewed Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a professor of Christian philosophy and ethics, which we live-tweeted (@softweets) from behind the glass of Studio P at Minnesota Public Radio. Here’s a compilation, our Twitterscript if you will, of all those tiny nuggets, and a few exchanges with our followers:

  1. Tweeting Krista Tippett’s interview on civility with @richardmouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:11:57 2010
  2. "The antichrist has changed across my lifetime…in the 1980s it shifted towards Islam" - @richardmouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:12:47 2010
  3. On civility, @RichardMouw quotes the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah: “Seek the shalom of the city in which God has placed you.”
    Wed Sep 8 14:18:06 2010
  4. "What does it mean for me to honor the Muslim..the Mormon..the people of unbelief who are hostile towards Christianity?" - @richardmouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:18:22 2010
  5. "What I owe to my mother and friends, I also owe to the stranger. And that’s more than toleration." -@richardmouw on going beyond tolerance
    Wed Sep 8 14:19:11 2010
  6. "Evangelicalism goes back + forth between alienation to a takeover mentality - but alternate between two theologies." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:26:32 2010
  7. "I do think Jesus is a model of civility - of convicted civility." -@RichardMouw, president of Fuller Seminary
    Wed Sep 8 14:32:48 2010
  8. "For starters concentrate on your own sinfulness and the other person’s humanness." Evangelical leader @richardmouw on gentle Christianity
    Wed Sep 8 14:32:55 2010
  9. "Glenn Beck + anti-Islam have revived the Evangelical sense that they’re taking something away and we need to get it back." - @richardmouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:36:42 2010
  10. "It’s very important for a leader to approach people having a hard time controlling their fears." -@RichardMouw on conservatives’ concerns
    Wed Sep 8 14:42:13 2010
  11. @mindywithrow You’re welcome! It’s tough keeping up. in reply to mindywithrow
    Wed Sep 8 14:42:52 2010
  12. "We have to be careful that we not sin in the process of acting on those concerns." @richardmouw on “Glenn Beck followers’” moral concerns
    Wed Sep 8 14:45:42 2010
  13. "We’re not messiahs. And God isn’t going to hold us responsible for righting all the wrongs in the world." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:48:27 2010
  14. "Instead of telling Mormons what they believe, asking them what they believe." @richardmouw on a “gentle” approach w/ those we disagree with
    Wed Sep 8 14:51:19 2010
  15. "GK Chesterton once said, ‘It’s bad to have false gods. But it’s also bad to have false devils.’" -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:52:44 2010
  16. "Seeing other people is a kind of exercise in art appreciation." - @richardmouw on the realization that all people are a work of art
    Wed Sep 8 14:53:02 2010
  17. "Even in expressing our differences we’re dealing with people that are precious works of divine art" @richardmouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:57:41 2010
  18. "One of my stories about learning in civility was going to a gay Mass at an Episcopal church." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:58:38 2010
  19. "I’m gratified by a growing Christian subculture of the more conservative side that are willing to think some new thoughts." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:04:05 2010
  20. "There’s a common life. There’s something that bonds human beings together that politics can’t create and shouldn’t destroy." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:07:58 2010
  21. RT @expatminister: ah yes, the oft-quoted Jeremiah 29. Much more complex, much harder than “I know the plans…” bumper sticker. Good tho…
    Wed Sep 8 15:09:57 2010
  22. "I think more and more we’re committed to bringing people in (@FullerATS)… It’s important to create these kinds of spaces.” -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:11:51 2010
  23. "We need safe places. The problem is that there aren’t safe places any more." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:13:21 2010
  24. "If more people who have influence and leadership positions can give their blessing to this [civility] and encourage this…" -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:19:56 2010
  25. "In many ways, we are living in a world that’s much like some of the best years in Christianity in the past." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:23:50 2010
  26. "We have to bracket those kinds of [social] issues and live with more mystery on that." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:26:29 2010
  27. "We need to see He [Jesus] calls us to go out to identify with the things he cares about." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:31:00 2010
  28. And that concludes our live-tweeting of Krista’s interview with evangelical leader @RichardMouw. Thanks for reading!
    Wed Sep 8 15:32:35 2010