Truth and mercy have met together.
Justice and peace have kissed. (Psalm 85:10)
“Christians frequently differ on important issues, and it is a mark of spiritual maturity if they handle those differences creatively rather than engage in damaging verbal warfare.”1 (Raymond Brown)
In rediscovering what it means to live for God and His glory alone, Contemporary Christianity seeks to support Christians and the church to serve their communities at critical points of: cultural contention; communal conflict; and social change. We aim to engage Christian minds with issues in the public square, to inject new perspectives and provoke discussion.
Christians often complain that certain views are ridiculed, scoffed-at, and shouted down in the public square. Similarly, churches have often been complicit in shutting-down debate and excluding marginalized voices within their own spaces. By mirroring this behaviour in attitudes to differing voices and opinions within our congregations, how many people are being driven away from church?
How then should we handle differences creatively, in a way that is faithful to the Gospel of peace?
In his book “Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians” John Paul Lederach advocates the interwoven principles of truth, mercy, justice and peace described in Psalm 85 as central to ensuring interdependent social energies and concerns are brought together and given voices.
Truth seeks transparency, honest and clarity. Mercy is concerned with acceptance, compassion and support. Justice is about looking beneath the surface and making things right. Peace seeks to hold people together with security, respect and wellbeing.
Public square discourse is all too often framed by division, exclusion and privilege. If we interpret truth, mercy, justice and peace as the four sides of public square engagement, Christians can help to create a dynamic, safer, social space where different perspectives can genuinely meet and wrestle things out.
Rather than roping different opinions into a boxing match (along with our own), Lederach writes that:
“If we create the social space that brings Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace together within a conflicted group or setting, an energy is crystallized that creates deeper understanding and unexpected new paths leading toward restoration and reconciliation.”2
A recent Irish Independent article by Dr Eoin O’Malley laments the silence of centrists, which has led to a decline in decent debate on a range of moral and political issues. Citing Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s recent book “The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion” there is often “a failure to appreciate the different moral foundations for the other side’s beliefs”3 which leads to an escalation in damaging, hurtful rhetoric.
Regardless of whether Christians regard their views on moral and political issues as “centrist,” the biblical imperative to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) should be central to how we approach critical points of contention in the multi-sided public square.
Furthermore, the potential for Christians to take the lead in transforming the square into a dynamic, safer, social space would be truly counter-cultural.
Chairperson and Board Member of Contemporary Christianity
1Brown, Raymond; The Message of Nehemiah: God’s Servant in a Time of Change; IVP; 1998.
2Lederach, John Paul; Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians; Herald Press; 2014.
3O’Malley, Dr Eoin; “Silence of the centrists kills decent debate”; Irish Independent; 2 October 2016.