Home / Jon Singletary / Listening Together:  Discerning Dialogs and Convicted Civility

Listening Together:  Discerning Dialogs and Convicted Civility


SingletaryJCEU0315Lutheran Martin Marty once said, “People who have strong convictions these days aren’t very civil, and people who are civil often don’t have very strong convictions. What we need is ‘convicted civility.'”

A few years later, Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw turned this concept into his book, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Mouw was inviting Christians to contribute more to the solutions than the problems our culture wars often perpetuate. He encouraged us to communicate in new ways when we disagree with others on the issues that matter most to us.

Since then many Christian and other leaders are still trying to learn the spiritual practice of convicted civility. In NACSW life, we have our moments of losing sight of this practice, but by and large, I feel that we maintain strong convictions and at the same time live in a civil manner reflective of the love and grace of the Christ we seek to follow.

Still, we know this practice is difficult. Last Fall, a colleague and I undertook a study of the lived experiences of people of Christian faith who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. A year into this study we are learning that LGBT Christians love sharing their testimonies of grace, their sense of vocation, and their struggles of living in Christian community when their brothers and sisters might not want to hear their stories.

As social workers and researchers, we are seeking to learn what competent practice means when serving people who are LGBT. The opportunity this has presented is further dialog among members of NACSW, including our LGBT sisters and brothers, as we seek to be fully faithful and fully loving.

In recent years, Regent University professor Mark Yarhouse has been promoting convicted civility with regards to conversations about homosexuality. He goes to great lengths to promote civility in Christian conversations about how we engage each other and LGBT sisters and brothers in these challenging conversations. At the same time, he maintains strong personal convictions in support of traditional Christian teachings about sexuality and marriage.

As NACSW and other groups engage these conversations, more Christians are stating that Yarhouse’s convictions do not represent the only Christian perspective. There are some with deep Christian convictions who struggle to understand the Scriptures’ teachings on sexuality and are convinced that living faithfully does not mean knowing the answers for others. There are others with deep Christian convictions who support homosexuality as part of God’s gift and calling. There are still others who believe the Bible may not be as clear as we have traditionally been taught about the nature of sexual sin and yet believe it is perfectly clear in terms of demonstrating love and care for all God’s children.

There are multiple Christian convictions and we have to be willing to listen to each other’s voices on this journey of civility. Knowing that my colleagues with a more traditional biblical and cultural view do not share my convictions should not keep me from reaching out to them and my hope is that while holding true to their convictions, they can hear with respect and openness the voice of LGBT Christians. It is part of my conviction that true civility, and true Christian community, demand it.

Our multiple perspectives on experiences and views of sexuality should not detract us from our common vision of supporting faithful professional growth and development together. I spent too many years avoiding meaningful conversations of difference because I was afraid my perspective would not be valued. Today, I have a much greater trust that God is honored by our attempts at working together to be faithful. My hope is that what begins as conversations of convicted civility will be transformed by God’s grace into much more meaningful dialogues of discernment.

As such, may we learn to listen in new ways and hear God’s voice anew. Here is my prayer as we venture forth on our journey of faith together.

 O God, as we seek to integrate our faith in all aspects of our lives, may listening to one another give us an opportunity to better listen to You. May we begin with a common commitment to loving you and loving all of your children. May we begin with valuing each other and believing we have much to learn from each other. And, may we begin together at the feet of your Son, the Christ, who calls us to serve all. Amen.

Jon Singletary, PhD, MSW, MDiv serves as the Diana R. Garland Endowed Chair for Child and Family Studies and as Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the Baylor School of Social Work.  His research focuses on a variety of social issues as they intersect with faith.  He served as pastor and in a variety of congregational ministry settings before joining the Baylor faculty 12 years ago.  At Baylor he has directed the Center for Family and Community Ministries. Jon has been a member of NACSW since 2001.

4 thoughts on “Listening Together:  Discerning Dialogs and Convicted Civility

  1. Jon,

    I appreciate your thoughtful contribution to an on-going challenge facing an association such as NACSW were so many different Christian traditions meet and seek to share in meaningful dialogue. I believe that when we dialogue with convicted civility we all benefit and are enriched. However, these can be difficult and even painful exchanges, especially when a value I hold dear is challenged by someone I respect and admire. Thank you Jon for reminding us that we need to have these conversations and that we need to conduct them in Christian love.


  2. I have found NACSW to be a unique place for those who identify as Christians and as Social Workers. It is quite different than many other professional organizations for Christians that I have been involved in, and being a member has presented a challenge for me at times. Social Work is already generally considered to be a "liberal" field, and I thought NACSW would have a larger membership of those with traditional Biblical values and beliefs. I don't think there is any doubt that Dr. Yarhouse's views are not the only views. At a conference I attended where he spoke, he shared that people on "both" sides disagree with him! And, certainly, I have heard the views in support of LGBT rights at NACSW. In my humble opinion, those who hold a traditional, Biblical view of marriage are becoming less accepted. I pray we continue to be welcomed in a culture that is rapidly shifting and becoming more hostile to those like minded individuals to the point that if you do not agree with gay marriage, you are considered homophobic. One point we can all agree on is that Christ calls us to love others. I hope we can all do that better.

  3. Thanks Jon for a great post and for the invitation to foster civility. This kind of civility, this kind of love–loving others in spite of difference (differences of beliefs, practices, convictions, culture, and even orientation–is the very hallmark of being a Christ follower.

    Love without accusation. Love without condition.



  4. Thank you, Jon, for your encouragement toward convicted civility. We will only learn this as we take risks to dialogue with those who look at issues differently from us. Part of the idea is that, through this, I learn from you and you learn from me. We may even become more articulate and civil about what we believe as we love each other, through respectful dialogue, as followers of Jesus Christ.

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