You’re Invited To A Holy Conversation

You’re Invited To A Holy Conversation

Mr. Everett Whittington was the Sunday school superintendent in my first pastorate at New Salem, Mississippi. I was only sixteen, and he was about eighty. The little country church at the end of the gravel road could get hot as blazes in the humid summer South.

I preached to my little congregation of ten while standing six inches under a naked hundred-watt bulb dangling from a wire in the ceiling. I’ve always wondered if this was the beginning of a bald spot about the size of a light bulb’s heat pattern. Red wasps circled the bulb as I preached. The heat attracted them. I was always cautious about breathing deeply or gesturing liberally.

A local businessman heard of our “heated” summer services and graciously donated an air conditioner for the church sanctuary. I was elated. When I presented the gift to the church board, Mr. Everett immediately staked his ground. “I’m against it!” And with that, the discussion was ended.

I brought it up a few more times and finally got to the bottom of his opposition. Apparently air-conditioning was in some way an accommodation to the prevailing evil culture. His opposition was summarized: “My Bible says, ‘The morning air of the Lord will cool the sanctuary.’” I was too young to realize that there is no verse in the Bible that says this. He was probably correct in saying that this was a verse in his Bible—his authoritative interpretation of the way the world functions. With his mind made up, nothing else mattered—not the comfort of worshipers, the welcome to new friends, the gift of the businessman, the leadership of the young pastor, nor the majority vote of the board. He was decided on the issue, and anyone who brought up the topic was not his friend.

Based on the vote of the board (two to one), we accepted the gift of the air conditioner, had it installed, and enjoyed a much less heated worship experience. But Mr. Everett left the church. Over an air conditioner, I lost 10 percent of my church and a third of my church board. Time healed the issue, and Mr. Everett returned, only to volunteer to come early and turn the air conditioner on to cool things down before everyone arrived.

I wonder if Mr. Everett knew the origin of his deeply held convictions. I doubt he had seriously talked about the issue with anyone. An air-conditioning prejudice had developed in his thought patterns across years and crystallized in a moment of decision.

Can you imagine a country church that bowed year after year to his silent/threatening opposition to air-conditioning:

  • Generations of youth shaped by sweaty worship as the only one, true kind of worship.
  • Real religion is the perspiring kind.
  • If you can’t stand the heated preaching, get out of the pewed kitchen.
  • Good preaching defined by wet suits and sweat-soaked handkerchiefs.

Silly, I know.

But this is how generations are shaped when the unspoken conclusions of the church are passed down only in cliché, evil characterization, judgment, and punishment of dissent.

I’m not sure who is worse off—the generation that stays to be warped or the generation that walks away from the church in protest over this silent dishonesty.

Holy Conversation Is A Means Of Grace

Leaders who venture into controversial issues are seldom given the keys to institutional leadership. We prefer safe leaders who neither raise discomforting issues nor call the community to the painful task of revealing our biases. We prefer a theology whose answer to everything difficult is one quick trip to the altar followed by a testimony of resolution and conformity. We want to be made to feel better quickly, not taken into the bowels of difficulty. Life is hard enough without adding controversy to discipleship.

I have a deep appreciation for those who have suffered in their brave venture into the difficult issues. They have scars to show and stories to tell, but their platform for show-and-tell has been taken from them long ago by those who wished life to be easier.

They are the heirs of the apostle Paul, who wrote about sexual ethics, lawsuits between believers, arguments between two church women, participation in pagan rituals, misuse of religious authority, refusal to work for a living, and legalism. Most of the letters of the Newer Testament are ours because Paul dared to rush in where angels feared to tread. He brought gossiped issues front and center. He named the persons involved and chronicled their positions. And he opened himself to all kinds of accusations—big talk, little power; in it for the money; anti-establishment. I’m guessing they also called him a liberal. That seems to end most Christian conversations.

One of the means of grace, according to John Wesley, is holy conversation. It is the practice of Spirit-guided listening to one another, discerning the ways of God, consulting Scripture, using our God-given reason, respecting the value of time-honored tradition, and speaking truthfully without fear of reprisal. In this atmosphere saints are made. I have belonged to a few communities like this. They have sanctified me by their gracious way of conversing. They were not afraid of controversy or complexity. Maybe they were fools—but in the way of the apostle Paul, fools for Christ.

Today’s post is the first of several excerpts from my book, A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us. I hope you’ll see this blog as a place where we can wrestle with the difficult issues in order to have holy conversations.

Comments

  1. Pam McGraner says

    Excellent!

  2. Dr. Boone,
    I think you have touched on one of the most critical problems facing or culture today, namely the general inability to converse over controversial topics without escalating to demonizing and name-calling the opposition.
    I hope and pray that your candor on the subject(s) of your book will inspire not only a conversation, but a movement toward more (holy) and civil discourse that will spill over from the church into the culture at large.
    One of the axioms of communication I learned in my first semester (quarter) at Trevecca Nazarene University (College) was, “We cannot not communicate.” I perceive that this is not only a basic truth, but also a warning. God bless you in your efforts to help us communicate in a holy manner and deal with the issues of our day.

  3. Sharron Stout says

    I just wonder if this method of Holy Conversation was practiced in our churches back in the sixties, would my niece have chosen the atheistic way. She graduated from TNU, married, worshiped and taught a junior SS at TCCN.. She blames her turning from Christianity was because of how she was brought up in the Church and taught that everything was sin.
    Unfortunately now she just wants everyone to respect her choice because she is an intelligent individual that deserves respect. Now all I can do is pray and leave her in God’s hands.

    Sharron Stout

    • Sharron, why not send her a copy of the book and write an apology on behalf of Christians who drove her from the church. I’ll be praying as you seek to care for her. dan

  4. Rebecca Poole says

    Our pastor at Dothan First Church of the Nazarene (Kevin Knight) is leading a Sunday night Study of your book Charitable Discourse. It is very refreshing and even comforting to be part of a Church that not only “allows” but encourages frank discussion about the hard subjects in your book. I’ve have always felt that I was too much in the minority of my fellow Christians to express my opinions on many of these topics. I’m not saying that any of us are changing the minds of our Church Family Members but we are being compassionate and interested in one another’s opinions. I pray that this will lead to better understanding and acceptance of people that are different in many ways from us.

    • Rebecca, thanks for the kind note. I hope the church can do a better job on charitable conversations. I have a new book coming out in a few weeks titled “Human Sexuality: A Primer for Christians”. Your group might enjoy studying this one, too.

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