On a recent edition of the news-commentary show, “Morning Joe,” Joe Scarborough aggressively pressed presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, to say if he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. The interview was remarkable on several levels, including the extended amount of time allowed for it – especially given a medium geared toward thirty-second soundbites. But also, because the candidate spoke with authenticity about his faith in a way that was not prescriptive, trite, or canned.
For more than ten minutes typical television pabulum was suspended as Buttigieg discussed his faith without using the usual religious jargon. He spoke in a way that was specifically personal while also hosting a sense of interfaith openness. The fly in the ointment was Scarborough’s relentless jabbing of a personal litmus-test question. I smiled to see “Mayor Pete” brush aside the question as a minor disturbance, fly that it was to him. But Scarborough couldn’t let go.
The question, “do you take Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,” is of particular importance to portions of Christianity identified as Evangelical. To many, like Scarborough, it is presumed to be theuniversal Christian tenant of faith upon which all else rests. For some Christians, how one acts and lives is secondary to how one answers that question – an indication perhaps, that for them faith has more to do with belief than with practice. However, it is not a question of universal importance to all Christians.
Listening to Pete and Joe that morning, it was clear that among people of the same religion, it can be an apples-to-oranges conversation. Buttigieg was talking about a practice-centered spirituality while Scarborough was insisting upon an up or down belief-focused religion. These are two parallel ways of holding faith that do not intersect, and that is difficult for the inhabitants of either sphere to accept or comprehend.
Take, for example, the question of absolute morality verses judging right and wrong contextually. Roughly 70% of those who belong to the denomination I worship in, believe that determining right from wrong depends upon the context in which the decision is being made. Pew research indicates that 62% of Evangelical Christians believe there are clear standards for right and wrong that do not change with context. That difference among others, leads over 70% of those in my denomination to support same-sex marriage, while only 29% of Evangelical Christians do.
There was another example, also raised by Scarborough. He kept talking about “the red letters of Jesus,” referring to some translations of the Bible that print any words Jesus is supposed to have said in red letters, as if a verbatim recording of his words. Buttigieg’s Christian denomination does not hold that all the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are the precise and virtual utterances of the historic person. So even the Bible is not a common reference point because it is interpreted and understood differently. Again, apples to oranges.
When there are two completely different points of reference for deciding something, both parties can imagine they are talking about the same thing when in fact, they are looking through completely different lenses. What they see is not the same thing at all. In such situations, finding common ground will require both people’s willingness to find a third, common lens, in order to have a true conversation.