A number of people have expressed concerns to me in person regarding my views on abuse, and I admit that my stance is unusual. There is a good reason, however: one’s perspective will govern one’s actions. The culture we engender will naturally give rise to our behavior. If we cannot listen to others, then I believe our behavior will suffer.
Consider an ongoing fight between you and a friend. Your friend believes you have wronged him, and nothing will dissuade him otherwise. If he does not listen to you and does not take anything you say into consideration, his viewpoint will remain the same, and all of his actions toward you will be a result of this one view. So the longer this persists, the more individual things he will do to you as a result of his view; however, is each of these actions really new, or is it just a manifestation of that which already existed? His anger, his resentment, and his unwillingness to listen all coalesce into a series of specific actions — say, a hostile word here, a slight jab there — but there is one primary action at the root of it all: the choice to stick by a particular view at all costs.
If you pay attention to detail, you may have noticed that I have Luke 8:18 permanently affixed to this blog — and for good reason. Many of you will know Luke 8 as including the Parable of the Sower. As a recap of the parable, Jesus tells of a famer sowing seeds across his land. The seeds land on various types of soil: first, it falls on the path, where people trample it and the birds eat it; next, it falls on the rocky soil, where it grows for a bit, but it withers because it has no moisture; third, it falls among thorns, where it grows momentarily, but the thorns choke it; lastly, it falls on the good soil, where it yields an enormous crop.
These types of “soil” refer to how we respond to the word of God. The symbolism should be somewhat obvious, but read the passage if you want further insight.
What strikes me, though, is that I have never heard the parable mentioned alongside what comes afterward. Jesus talks about the importance of listening. Look at what he says:
16 “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”
The way that you listen will determine your response to God. Notice the curious inversion here: “whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around, where the last will be first, and the first will be last? Well, we should consider then what it is that someone has which will grant them more of it. Let me suggest, and let the reader affirm, that Jesus is talking about the ability and willingness to listen. Whoever has the ability to listen will receive more of it; whoever does not have this capacity will have even what he thinks he has stripped away.
Therefore, I argue that one of the fundamental Christian traits is the ability to listen.
That means you need to be humble; the prideful person who believes he/she knows everything will be totally unwilling to listen and will suffer in that unwillingness.
So let’s tie this back to the subject of Christian culture. If we are unwilling to listen to alternative views from our own, then we are rejecting the kingdom of God. Listening does not mean accepting all views, but it does mean that one must carry a reasonable mind and humble heart. It means being kind to others who disagree with you and considering what they have to say.
I don’t always do a great job of this, but I do try. For reasons I explained in my previous post, however, many people are completely unwilling to listen, turning alternative viewpoints into moral problems. This is not the character of God’s people, no matter what one’s stated beliefs.
This is why I call many aspects of Christian culture abusive: the specific actions they take are a result of their unwillingness to listen. I am not so terribly concerned with the abusive actions themselves and see them as a natural consequence of the preexisting view. Many Christians believe they know the exact outlines of Christian doctrine, whether through tradition or through Sola Scriptura or some other interpretive principle which is going to yield a predetermined result. These methods of interpretation are facades over an unwillingness to engage in hard discussion, to grapple with ideas that one might find a little dangerous or disturbing at first glance. And when a professor comes out with an interpretation that rubs against the predetermined views, rather than say, “Hmm, that’s interesting; let me see what substance there is to this,” the unwilling say instead, “Heretic! We must cast you out of your institution.”
This is a serious problem. Like I’ve said before, we don’t need more apologists to come up with creative “solutions” to try to defend predetermined views; we need to face reality. That means we need to listen to our critics and to those among us who have ideas we might even find a little scary. We can’t keep this up and call ourselves God’s people.