Sometimes I wonder how we carried on a decent dispute before the invention of the photocopier. The thickest folders by far in the EPA files are ethics cases. Not that we've had that many, but the volume of replies and counter replies in each stirs my appreciation of a tree.
What troubles me more than the volume, however, is the tone of many of these documents. The pursuit of truth is a mark of modem evangelicalism and not to be abandoned for a veneer of peace. In the chase, however, our discourse often turns combative, sometimes disdainful. We treat each other as opponents rather than brothers and sisters, and our prose takes on a strident and militant tone.
If we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit, to seek and pursue peace, and keep from destroying each other, we need to think carefully about the manner in which we conduct our dialogue.
I would like, therefore, to submit some guidelines for us as we approach any conflict, personal or corporate. And I offer these to both journalists and readers, to those who write and to those who are written about. I don't expect these steps to replace our EPA code of ethics, but I believe they can substantially reduce the size of the folders in the EPA ethics files and go a long ways toward bringing about the shalom among us which glorifies God.
Look deep into our hearts
A dear saint named Jack Miller used to say, "Cheer up. You're a lot worse than you think." I think the term "total depravity" is more graphic. Proverbs 10: 19 reminds those of us in publishing that "where words are many, sin is not absent."
I believe we'd do well not just to examine our motives and actions in the particular dispute at hand, but to get a firm grasp on how strong is our bent to sin, how deep is our desire to have our own way, and how deceitful is the human heart. I have personally been astounded in recent months as my penchant for defensiveness (who, me?) has been painfully revealed to me. The self-examination I am recommending may hurt, but unless we look deep into our hearts and let the Spirit root out our pride, our hypocrisy and our folly, we will never achieve the oneness for which Christ prayed.
Shed tears of remorse
We should never come to such differences with true Christins, Francis Schaeffer wrote, "without regret and without tears." True, godly sorrow should follow the acknowledgement of our sin, as well as the recognition of the divisions among us. Our factions grieve God, but our remorse and our brokenness greatly speed the process of reconciliation.
Love me as you love yourself
A thorough audit of our hearts may well reveal a shortfall of love toward those who tell us we're wrong. Love is often the first casualty of our conflicts. (Lovelessness is often the cause of them.) In the pursuit of truth and justice, we overlook compassion, and we sacrifice the integrity of our brothers and sisters.
A journalist from the days of manual typewriters parapluased I Corinthians, 13:1 in this manner: 'Though I write with the elo, quence of men and of angels and have not love, I am nothing more than a clickety, clack, ding, bang."
Some folks, admittedly, Christians included, are difficult to love. Jack Miller followed his "Cheer up. You're worse than you think" with "but you are loved much more than you could ever imagine." Only the Lord's unconditional and unfailing love for you will enable you to consistently love me when I am not very nice to you.
Let it go!
In true submission, Richard Foster wrote, we finally "lay down the terrible burden of having to have our own way." Jesus did this. He willingly gave up the privileges of heaven and submitted to accusations, mistreatment, and finally death, which, as the sinless Son of God, he in no way deserved.
Submission and humility, however, run counter to our culture, not to say anything about our nature. But God not only opposes the proud, he gives grace to the humble.
Still, we don't have to address all wrongs. Sometimes it's best to let the offense go. That doesn't mean we deny it. We simply move on to the next stage, which is much more than giving up control. We forgive those who have wronged us.
Forgiving is tough. After what they said about us, we deserve an apology and they deserve to squirm. Well, at least they need to say they're sorry.
True, those who have offended us need to ask forgiveness, but we don't need to stand around waiting for it. We can do what Lewis Smedes suggested: "hold the offense in our hands, take one last longing look at it, and let it spill to the ground like a handful of water."
We forgive, of course, because the Lord has forgiven us. The health of the body and the state of our fellowship require it, and there is no reconciliation without it.
Grace versus journalism
The EPA code of ethics to which each of us subscribes is an excellent guide for publishing and for the fair treatment of others. However, we need more than laws and more than a judicial process that tells us who is right and who is wrong. To be true to our journalistic calling, and at the same time live in a way that all men will know that we are his disciples, we need grace. We need to receive it, and in the same manner in which the Lord has bathed us in it, we need to extend it.
Ron Wilson is the former executive director of the Evangelical Press Association.