Yesterday I had the opportunity to drive up to Wichita to attend a simulcast of the Elephant Room. This event is centered around the idea of taking a number of prominent Christian leaders and letting them answer and debate some tough questions. I’m going to take a little different approach with this blog post. I’m not going to try and rehash what was said and wasn’t said (you can find a good rundown here). I’m not even really going to discuss the most talked about session in which Mark Driscoll and T.D. Jakes discussed Trinitarian theology. Instead, I want to focus on something I thought this Elephant Room did really well: it proved you can have a respectful conversation/debate on often contentious issues.
First of all, let me say that I’m a stickler for sound doctrine. There are some things that absolutely have to be right. That said, I am growing increasingly weary of the flaming that goes on in the Christian online community. I absolutely agree that pastors need to be held accountable for what they say but too often blogs turn into nothing more than a feeding frenzy for like minded people to come together and continually bash a mutually disliked pastor/public figure over and over and over and over. This often leads to what amounts to a completely irrational hatred (yes, it really does look like hatred in some cases) for a fellow Christian that is based not on having heard or read anything by said public figure but instead on the raw meat that the bloggers continually toss into the piranha tank that is their following.
The Elephant Room proves something important. When you actually have to talk to someone face to face, get to know them, and let them tell you their heart it changes the way you talk about that person. Even if you disagree mightily on issues (even vitally important issues of doctrine) you can still have a reasoned and reasonable debate where both parties are treated respectfully. There is nothing wrong with respectful debate. There is nothing wrong with engaging someone whose doctrine is purported to be unsound in a public forum. Christians engage in reasoned and passionate debate with atheists and agnostics all the time. Why can’t we do it with each other?
Something like the Elephant Room is exceedingly helpful because it forces us out of our box and away from only reading the blogs and literature of “yes men.” It puts a human face on the other side of the debate and makes it a lot harder to spill blood and bytes on the next “anti-that guy” blog post because you’ve met them, heard them, and realized that even though we disagree we can at least be civil. It’s okay to read the literature of people you agree with. That’s primarily what I read too. However, we should still be able to respectfully and competently engage with those with whom we disagree. That means not just taking the word of your favorite blogger or public figure but instead going out and doing the hard work of getting to know that person they criticize yourself. Now most of us will never personally know these public pinatas, but we can broaden our understanding of them by actually engaing with their works instead of just taking the word of some folks feeding the piranhas and driving traffic to their blog.
A lot of good was said at the Elephant Room. A respectful discussion was had on a variety of topics. Discussion, debate, and dialog are not something to be afraid of. That’s what the Elephant Room is all about. It’s okay to discuss, debate, and dialog with people you don’t agree with. I’m sure that though there was a lot of common ground among the men at the Elephant Room yesterday that there are still many areas where they would respectfully disagree with each other. I think that is the key. Respectful disagreement. We accomplish nothing other than alienating fellow Christians and pushing away non-Christians when we viciously attack each other online. I want to see the online debate and dialog continue but perhaps all these bloggers, authors, and pastors who have a presence online and a large following would do well to ask themselves if the tone of their posts would be different if they were talking to the person they are attacking face to face? If so, change the stinkin’ tone! It’s high time to stop feeding the piranhas and instead engage substantively and respectfully. Oh, and the piranhas should branch out from just listening to/reading those who only reinforce their views and instead engage with the “controversial” material themselves.
Doctrinal fidelity is vital must always be defended (such as the doctrine of the Trinity). Secondary issues are worth respectful and vigorous debate but should not be used to so brutally assault fellow Christians that the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is damaged because of our lack of love and respect for fellow believers.