Pastoral Message: November 2017
I still subscribe to the newspaper. I like the routine of opening up a morning edition of the paper, of glancing at the headlines, the sports page, and the comics, while I also find something to eat for breakfast. I know that this same information is available in electronic form. I know that I could use my smartphone to scan articles from several newspapers at once. But the regimen of unfolding the paper and the feel of the newsprint in my hands is something that gives me joy.
Like many paper readers, I look to see what is the contentious issue of the day in the Letters to the Editor. Some people submit only a sentence or two, making their point as concisely as possible. Others need paragraphs to unwind their argument and get their rhetorical arrows launched into the editorial battlefield. While most letters are less than compelling, they are often quite entertaining.
Many people have noted recently that “civil discourse” has almost become a contradiction in our contemporary society. On any topic in which there is disagreement, people argue in such a way that there is no room for “middle ground” or points of commonality. It is comforting to remember that this is not a new dynamic in the human realm. There have always been points of view that seem diametrically opposed and irreconcilable. This has been true both in the political arena and the religious world.
“Absolutism” is when one side believes that the opposing position has no merit whatsoever. “Relativism” is when every possible position is deemed feasible, so that in the end, no one viewpoint takes precedence over another. Too often we believe those are our only two options. We hear things with which we disagree, and through the nature of inflammatory rhetoric and social media, it seems our only response is to reject such views categorically and absolutely (“Burn all the heretics” mentality). Or we grow so weary of the arguments that we end up deciding that no right answer will ever be found and everyone is equally mistaken in their opinions (“All are wrong and none can be trusted” cynicism).
A third option is pluralism, which humbly acknowledges that diverse opinions, experiences and responses exist around us and sometimes the wisest path forward allows for more than one answer to any given problem. The disciples of Jesus were a pluralist bunch, containing fishermen, political zealots, and at least one tax collector. They found common ground in the gospel of Christ, despite their different worldviews and experiences; hence, they remind us of the power of a pluralistic faith. In the same way, there are many Christian denominations active today. Rather than asserting that Presbyterianism is the only way, we can learn a lot from the faith traditions and histories of non-Presbyterians seeking to follow Christ with integrity in today’s troubled world.
Pluralism simply acknowledges that God is a true “creator,” moving in creative ways shaped by and accommodated to the specific needs of greater humanity – whether in Pittsburgh or Patagonia. The vocabulary of faith, actions of faith, even expressions of faith will never be absolute or uniform, because that would be contrary to God’s generous and pluralistic love. So whether you read the paper or watch cable news or scroll through your social media, trust that God’s foundation of faith can sustain all of us in this diverse and ever-changing world.