• Persuading Hostile Adversaries: Kindness, ‘Niceness’, Truth … and Battle to Rescue America

    Don’t let Leftist social media shut us out! Sign up for Daily Surge’s daily email blast… it’ll keep you updated on each day’s Daily Surge new columns. Go to dailysurge.com and sign up under “Free Newsletter” on the right side of the page, one-third of the way down. It’s easy! And like it says, it’s free!


    Surge Summary: In pushing back against the destruction of society, Christian and conservatives need to be able to discriminate between spineless “niceness” and essential kindness. The latter is necessary if the goal is to change the hearts of those opposing truth.

    by Lewis Waha

    Christians are known for being nice, or at least trying to be. But some reject niceness, saying it’s outmoded. They see a fool’s errand in trying to persuade a culture that has turned decisively hostile against Christians. The case has been well articulated by pastor and professor James Wood. Through essays and other media, he’s advocated against “winsomeness” and in favor of alternative values: courage, clarity, and resilience.

    But Wood’s campaign sparked an ugly debate at its outset. Journalist David French criticized Wood’s essay “How I Evolved on Tim Keller” as justifying “cruelty and malice.” Podcaster Skye Jethani decried critics of winsomeness as fearful of the broader culture. In return, blogger Rod Dreher identified contemporary Christian niceness as a form of denial and “cowardice.”

    Such dissension among serious Christians is disappointing but unsurprising. Whatever its merits, Wood’s essay came with tribal baggage. First, its given title implicitly disses widely respected evangelist Tim Keller as an old dinosaur to evolve beyond. Second, the essay functions as a deconversion story. It rallies members of one tribe based on their shared negative experiences with another. As Wood tells it, he left a tribe of resentful “Kellerites,” who swear by Keller’s “winsome approach” to engaging the culture. By being pleasant and avoiding offending others, they hope to “gain a hearing” for the gospel. But wrongfully, they have extended the imperative to not offend to politics. As a result, they bind the consciences of American Christians who voted for the offensive Donald Trump in 2016.

    Perhaps Kellerites’ false judgments against their fellow Christians are real and well documented. But charity requires setting aside these “atrocity stories,” as James Davison Hunter might call them. Only then can we grasp a finer point in Wood’s follow up essay, which gestures toward politics as the “prudential pursuit of justice.” He thinks Christians on the center-right could learn from the Christian left because they get “the nature of politics.” As he puts it: “Most Christians on the left are passionate about the pursuit of justice (as they perceive it), and they are not overwrought in concern about how their political actions will help or hinder the reception of the gospel message.”

    It’s sensible enough that for Wood, passion and the willingness to offend for justice’s sake are essential to politics. What’s questionable though is whether the Christian left’s passion and forthrightness are good examples of this. After all, they aren’t major players in American politics. Playing second fiddle to their allies the secular left, they are sheltered from the costs of being offensive or decrying their perceived enemies. By contrast, Christians at the center-right pull much more of their own coalition’s weight; emulating the left’s “passion” would turn off moderate allies who make the difference between electoral victory and defeat.

    Political prudence then, cuts both ways. One must believe enough in one’s own cause to advocate with verve. But one must also persuade allies who don’t share the same viewpoint or even speak the same political language.

    This latter part of political prudence belongs to the ideal of civic friendship. Persuasion is key here. Through it, citizens arrive together at truth and a shared vision of the common good. That vision includes perpetuating “the city” as a unified polity, not splintering it by civil war or civil divorce. And since the bloody wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries, civic friends have rejected totalizing victories that would exile the vanquished.

    Christians and others have taken this modern ideal of tolerance for granted over the course of American history. But we’ve wavered in recent years, as some are tempted to return the old vision of politics as enmity and total war.

    To be sure, there really is such a thing as being too nice. But niceness is a strawman, not a serious position. Populists cast their bromides against it, urging people to grow a spine and shake off their denial that the other side is pure evil. Ultimately, rhetoric against niceness diverts us from discussing the common ground we share on kindness.

    Kindness always admits of speaking hard truths in love. At the same time, not every effort to avoid offending others is cowardice. As the proverb goes, discretion is the better part of valor. Courage and passion to confront enemies fall short if they are only in service of waging politics as war. The pluralistic reality we find ourselves in requires that we practice the discipline of civic friendship as well. Then we might not just pursue justice but achieve an actual measure of it.

    The views here are those of the author and not necessarily Daily Surge

    Originally posted here.

    Image: Adapted from: Eugene Eric Kim, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42626592

    Lewis Waha holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University and is a freelance writer focusing on faith in the public square.

    Trending Now on Daily Surge

    Send this to a friend