Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Civility Is Key Among Differing Perspectives

Want my unbiased opinion? Well, most often I don't have one. As much as one might try to be objective there are so many Influencing factors that effect every decision. Biases can be harmful but they may also be helpful.

There are some things I like better than others. There are positions that resonate with the way I think and view life.

Before we get too far along, I need to be clear that I am referring to preference rather than prejudice. Opinion rather than undeniable truth. I suspect that there is a fine line of difference and it is often difficult to discern.

Although I am biased toward many things, it does not mean that my opinion or preference is the only and always "right" answer. As a matter of fact I welcome conversations when there are differing perspectives. Someone has wisely said, "When two people always agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary."

Just because I lean one way does not mean that anyone who leans the opposite direction is wrong.

Please understand, I do not believe that everything is up for grabs. I am convinced that there are some absolutes but I have learned that there are not as many as I once thought there were. I wish that there were clear-cut answers to all of life's questions. Things would be much easier if all issues were "black or white" but it seems to me that much of life is "gray."

It is alright if you disagree with me but I hope you will not be belligerent about it. I don't mind if you conclude that I am not "well informed" but please don't write me off. Cut me some slack even as you make a good case that the opposite of my opinions is valid.

I hope that on all issues, great and small, we will be tolerant and accepting. Even when we believe another person is wrong, we need to acknowledge them as persons of worth and dignity. There is a real need for civility as we interact with persons with different attitudes and perspectives.

It has been said that "love makes the world go around." If that is true, it is because love allows for different positions and opinions. It is alright to disagree and we do not have to demonize persons who do not share our opinion.

A friend wrote me a letter last week and expressed some opinions that are contrary to my own on a particular subject. He is one who likes to "stir the pot." I have other friends who like to "keep the peace." There are times that I tolerate one better than the other but I need both of them.

There are times when I wish that more folks would think like I do. Occasionally I wonder if it would be better if The United Methodist Church was more homogenous. Perhaps we should be more narrow in our approach to ministry and our response to current social realities. But when I think more clearly I am grateful that the doors are open as wide as they are or there might not be a place for me.

The words of John Wesley in his sermon, Catholic Spirit (1749), still ring true:

"Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. "

"Although every man necessarily believes that every particular opinion which he holds is true..., yet no man can be assured that all his own opinions, taken together, are true. In fact, every thinking man is assured they are not,"

"Every wise man, therefore, will allow others the same liberty of thinking that he desires they should allow him, and will no more insist on their embracing his opinions than he would have them to insist on his embracing theirs. He is patient with those who differ from him, and only asks him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question: "Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?" And if the answer is affirmative, then Wesley said, "Give me your hand."

Personally I want to always maintain Wesley's attitude. As a church I hope we will also.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," June 6, 2011. North Georgia Conference, United Methodist Church.]