Sean McDowell and Mathew Vines engaged in a very important conversation regarding what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. The conversation was riveting. You need to watch it (see below). I think this conversation teaches us four valuable lessons for engaging any issue and certainly sensitive ones. The way these two engaged this issue is a model for us all to follow.
1. Relationships are Vital
Without any background knowledge, one can tell that Sean and Matt know each other and that the relationship isn’t merely professional. There is a comfort they have with each other that is the result of friendship. All too often, little time is given to building relationships with those that find themselves on opposing sides of some belief. But not here. Long before this conversation ever took place in public, a relationship was cultivated off stage. This, perhaps more than anything, led to the civil and respectful dialogue that seemingly never accompanies this issue.
2. Preparation is Essential
It respectful to truly know another's position. Far too often, discussions are mired in straw-man arguments and a general ungracious misrepresentation of someone’s beliefs. This was absent from Sean and Matt’s discussion. They each knew where the other was coming from, and where there was confusion, a question was asked to clarify. Very rarely, if at all, either man attacked a position the other didn’t truly hold. In order to do this, one must really study. But this is essential for respectful and effective dialogue. The great take away for us all is to learn as much as we can about someone’s actual beliefs before engaging them in a spirited debate.
3. Pushback is Respectful
The night ended with Sean and Matt having the chance to ask each other questions. During this time, Sean, more than Matt, pushed pretty hard on some points not letting Matt off the hook. The conversation became tense at times, and I wondered if Sean would press too hard. He didn’t. He toed the line perfectly. It is a sign of respect when you appropriately press someone for answers because it shows that you consider the other person your intellectual equal, not some child that you must patronize. Walking on egg shells trying not offend someone tells them and the audience that you consider them weak. But in this conversation you could tell that each man respected the other, and it was displayed by the freedom to challenge the other's ideas without crossing over into personal attacks. It was beautiful.
4. Dialogue is Inspirational
A good spirited debate is enjoyable and quite inspiring. In a day of heavy rhetoric and toxic attempts to quench free speech, it is uplifting to see two men engage in serious and respectful dialogue. Many are hopeless on this issue. They have given up talking about it, and that is no small thing. When we think we cannot persuade others with compelling speech and good argumentation, we seek to control others by force. We then pursue power not understanding, and we trade in argumentation for ammunition. But free and flourishing societies are built upon the ability to freely argue for beliefs in the public square. This conversation was relief for my very soul as I witnessed two men, worlds apart on a sensitive issue, engage in a thought provoking and sprinted yet cordial conversation. That gives me hope. It surely is an example for us all to follow, and a dose of inspiration for the way forward.
Michael C. Sherrard is a pastor, a writer, and a speaker. Booking info and such can be found at michaelcsherrard.com.