Things I’ve learned about Controversial Subjects:
Bishop Aitken’s Tips for Talking about Tough Subjects
Our church, the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran church in America) is a church I am proud to be a member of, and proud to serve and lead in as a pastor and Bishop. We aren’t perfect, what sense does that even make to a Lutheran and to all Christians who understand we are both saint and sinner, fully intertwined, until that final day, when God will complete God’s work and bring in the new heavens and new earth? I don’t expect the ELCA to be perfect in order to belong to it, love it, respectfully and constructively point out flaws and growing edges, all the while serving it joyfully.
One thing we do that I am glad for – even when it brings some consternation to some – is that we don’t duck and hide when real, down to earth, tangible, everyday problems in our world directly intersect with our faith and Christian values. Whether it is immigration, the environment, Middle East Peace, marginalized peoples, justice issues, human sexuality, poverty, sexism, etc… I am glad for those who are genuinely trying at least, to address both the evil around us, and the complex problems our society and church deals with. (You may want see ELCA Social Statements; https://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements) But the best way to engage in addressing these issues is through that powerful Christian word, “love.” Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:
1 - You and I don’t know everything
From Scripture; I Corinthians 13:9-12
“For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways; For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will now fully, even as I have been fully known.”
2 - Be curious, not furious
Having been to a few basement meetings during the past 11 years as Bishop during some controversial seasons, I can tell you I have seen both the curious Lutheran, and the furious Lutheran. They both exist inside me as well. But being curious is better any day of the week. Curiosity seeks to learn, not remain ignorant.
3 - The people you will discuss/argue with are made in the image of God - just like you.
Be careful with your words. I’ve learned that, and have to keep learning it. Words can give life and words can kill. Words chosen carefully will draw out more intelligent conversation. Our Lord never said be stupid – as one of my colleagues says regularly!
4 - Hurt and Anger are twins.
Keep that in mind when someone (or you) begins to speak loudly.
I learned this while teaching “Death, Dying and Grief” at the Community College years ago.
When someone lashes out in anger, beneath it is probably a hurt. It may be a recent one; it may be an old one we have never dealt with. Don’t let your anger-jag keep you forever guilty, nor let it empower you to get louder and more self-satisfied. Take it to God in prayer; ask God what is going on inside you? One way I talk about this is to take your own inventory (flaws and gifts) often, so that you get to know yourself better. You will be a better communicator in the end. When someone else is yelling – ask yourself: I wonder what has hurt this person, I wonder if I can demonstrate empathy and compassion?
5 - Be Patient
Patience is already being formed in you, and it helps to know and trust this. The job of the Holy Spirit is to form Christ in you. And that is happening, all the time, Thank God! So use this patience in your dialog with others. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22)
6 - Truth is many faceted.
Recognize that while the other person has a different viewpoint, there may well be an element of truth in it. Find it. State it. See how the anxiety goes down and the thinking goes up! And when you are convinced of your truth, say it in love, not anger or one-upmanship.
7 - Love trumps everything else.
I don’t mean love as a mushy, innocuous, romantic sentiment. I mean our Lord’s love. Remember you are claimed as a Child of God, under God’s reign and God’s values. It was Christ, the 2nd person of the Trinity you were joined to in baptism by the Holy Spirit, and you received his grace, courage and love. You were grafted into the church in baptism as well, with all its goodness and all its flaws. And the greatest good in the church, is the power of love. A huge part of the strength of real love is the ability to also say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake, I ask your forgiveness. Can we continue to talk, and learn together?”
August 1, Bishop Aitken's Message
Last week I met at Congressman Stauber’s Office ( My Representative in the 8th district) with Ecumenical and Interfaith leaders to talk about immigration and refugee issues from a faith perspective: The intrinsic value of every human being, the violence families are fleeing as they seek refuge here, the sad reality of warehousing children at the Border, and smart alternatives to that kind of degradation involving the partnership of faith based groups. Two asks: Allow members of Congress access to detention facilities at 48 hour notice, and raise admittance ceiling for refugees to 95,000 for 2020. Representative Stauber listened carefully and genuinely.
Let us remember what Jesus, James, and St. Paul, as a starter, said as found in Scripture about “faith and works” and how they belong together.
Jesus: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…..and whenever you do this to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” from Matthew 25
James: “…So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17)
Paul: “…the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6)
As Lutherans, we can also say faith creates works of love for the neighbor, because the Holy Spirit is constantly forming Christ in us, and where Christ is, so is unconditional love for the other that works for their good. And even further, the gospel of God’s love creates more than some kind of “obligation” to serve our neighbor with decency; it creates the desire inside of us - to do so.
I’m grateful that the good and salutary work of Christ is being done through all of you, and I encourage you to experience the joy that comes as the fruit of this work as we continue to do so.
+Bishop Thomas Aitken
Pastoral Message from the Bishop:
Jesus, the Golden Rule, and Politics
Bishop Aitken Articles, Letters and Statements