Monday, March 19, 2012

Don't Ask, Don't Tell vs. Don't Judge, Don't Preach

I was having lunch in Toronto with a friend of mine recently when we began talking about all of those topics that you're not supposed to talk about in the church. Drinking, swearing, and sexual orientation were at the center of our conversation. We both agreed that there is a kind of universal "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in the church when it comes to such matters. It seems that Christians would rather mind their own business than actually engage with those who might live and believe differently. Kind of strikes me as a form of xenophobia. And I think it's a real problem in Christian culture.

First, the problem with "Don't ask." Not asking means not knowing. Not knowing means not caring. And soon enough we have a bunch of people who don't really care about one another because they haven't bothered to ask questions to people who are different. Instead, people hold surface level conversations about ubiquitous topics rather than going deeper into the complexities and mysteries of life. Differences are a good thing and the church needs to embrace diversity within the unity of Christ. Interestingly, not asking is, in many ways, just a silent way of judging. By not asking, we presume to know someone else - and therefore are not worth talking to.

Second, the problem with "Don't tell." When church culture cultivates a moratorium on sharing, then people are stifled. Our identities are suffocated. We can't share what makes us who we are. As I wrote in a post long ago, the beliefs we hold are near and dear to us, the church needs to be a place where people do tell. A culture of not sharing only promotes hidden secrets, shame, and more judgment due to lack of understanding.

Perhaps the church needs to replace "Don't ask, Don't tell" with "Don't judge, Don't preach." Here are some advantages.

"Don't judge" means that we ought to authentically inquire and go deeper into the mysteries of God and life with others. Without asking questions we do not grow. And we need one another to learn (otherwise God wouldn't have created community at the center of everything). But this needs to happen without judgment. We can never see the world exactly the same as someone else because we all have unique experiences according to our situatedness. Asking is the means to knowing and knowing the means to building relationship. If we ask without judgment, we are afforded better relationship through inquiry.

"Don't preach" simply means to share without an agenda. Do tell, but don't tell in order to convert others to your own opinion (at least not aggressively or coercively. Wanting others to share your opinion is OK in my opinion). This ultimately liberates us to share without fear or shame. We are free to share simply because what we share is authentically ours to share. We share a piece of ourselves because, once again, through sharing we move closer together and build relationship.

Church ethos needs to move away from this simple and anti-relational "Don't ask, Don't tell." We need a community building "Ask! But don't judge. Tell! But don't preach." What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Josh, I like the additional language in the last line of your essay. Asking without judging seems key to your point. I love what you've written so invitingly here. I think you are quite right that the churches' present "don't ask, don't tell" policy (however tacit, it is "policy") forces so many to suffer in secret without the support of those who would love them whether in agreement or disagreement. The communal affect of our secrecy is a community without integrity that remains perpetually wounded by our fears. Of course, there probably will inevitably be "pharisees" among us who can't handle the truth about their Christian neighbor whom they have loved in ignorance but cannot embrace in the fullness of knowledge. The primary lurking fear in the "don't ask don't tell" status quo that I sense is, we are afraid of having to trust God with/in all our complexities and ambiguities.

    I am uneasy though with what I am feeling as I write. What does it say about me that I am increasingly willing to let the hardened unchanging ones go their way? Yes, I grieve; but they have held back the cause of Christ's liberating Gospel, ironically in the name of a gospel, for too long. And yet, without their voices are we missing a point of view the absence of which eventually may very well haunt us, even if I cannot just now envision how? Just wondering out load. I enjoyed your essay.... as always.