In the times we live, it is hard to have respectful disagreements. In this age of tolerance, people are intolerant if you say your beliefs are correct. There is no absolute truth except the absolute truth that there is none (are you getting the problem here?).
In these current cultural wars, oftentimes, theological differences are accepted for the sake of ethical commonalities. You saw this in the last presidential election in which people who disagreed heavily with Mormonism embraced Mitt Romney for the sake of common ethical beliefs.
That’s what brings me to an interesting alignment on October 21st. Al Mohler, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President, was invited to speak on marriage and family at Brigham Young University. The Baptist flagship seminary president was invited to speak at the Mormon flagship college. That doesn’t happen.
Al Mohler is a theological beast. I have his signature on a couple of degrees on my wall. He heard about my story about my doctoral defense being done after a concussion I received in a car wreck on the way to the seminary. I was glad my legend had proceeded me.
While his discussion on marriage and family is fantastic and will cause many of us to reread deep lines or reach for the nearest dictionary, his honest, gracious, real expression of tolerance is the best I have ever read. The following paragraphs exemplify 1 Peter 3:15 for me: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
He is gracious. He agrees with what he can agree. And he respectfully disagrees with what he disagrees. Even if you don’t agree with his stances on all matters, we all could learn a lesson on how to stand on what you believe to be the truth and not be a jerk about it.
The following is from his address and covers his introductory and concluding statements:
I deeply appreciate your invitation to speak at Brigham Young University and to address the faculty at this greatly respected center of learning. I am so glad to be on this campus, filled with so many gracious people, such admirable students, and so many committed scholars on the faculty. To many people, shaped in their worldview by the modern age and its constant mandate to accommodate, it will seem very odd that a Baptist theologian and seminary president would be invited to speak at the central institution of intellectual life among the Latter-Day Saints…
The conflict of liberties we are now experiencing is unprecedented and ominous. Forced to choose between erotic liberty and religious liberty, many Americans would clearly sacrifice freedom of religion. How long will it be until many becomes most?
This is what brings me to Brigham Young University today. I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together. I do not believe that. I believe that salvation comes only to those who believe and trust only in Christ and in his substitutionary atonement for salvation. I believe in justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. I love and respect you as friends, and as friends we would speak only what we believe to be true, especially on matters of eternal significance. We inhabit separate and irreconcilable theological worlds, made clear with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity. And yet here I am, and gladly so. We will speak to one another of what we most sincerely believe to be true, precisely because we love and respect one another.
I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together. I do not mean to exaggerate, but we are living in the shadow of a great moral revolution that we commonly believe will have grave and devastating human consequences. Your faith has held high the importance of marriage and family. Your theology requires such an affirmation, and it is lovingly lived out by millions of Mormon families. That is why I and my evangelical brothers and sisters are so glad to have Mormon neighbors. We stand together for the natural family, for natural marriage, for the integrity of sexuality within marriage alone, and for the hope of human flourishing.
The great Christian theologian Augustine, writing in the final years of the Roman Empire, reminded Christians that we live simultaneously as citizens of two cities: a heavenly city and an earthly city. The one is eternal, the other is passing. But the earthly city is also a city of God’s good pleasure and divine compassion. As a Christian, I am instructed by the Bible to work for the good and flourishing of this earthly city, even as I work to see as many as possible also become citizens of the heavenly city through faith in Christ Jesus.
In this city, I am honored to come among those who, though of a different faith, share common concerns and urgencies. I come as a Christian, and I come as one who is honored by your kind and gracious invitation. I come in the hope of much further conversations, conversations about urgencies both temporal and eternal. I am unashamed to stand with you in the defense of marriage and family and a vision of human sexual integrity. I am urgently ready to speak and act in your defense against threats to your religious liberty, even as you have shown equal readiness to speak and act in defense of mine. We share love for the family, love for marriage, love for the gift of children, love of liberty, and love of human society. We do so out of love and respect for each other.
For the entire address, you can go here.
Hope you learned something. Hope we can all learn to stand graciously for what we believe.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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