I struggle with the concept of Christian diplomacy, largely because of my exposure to the diplomacy of human governments. Rather than seeking to build bridges between disparate political, social, cultural, or economic populations, human diplomacy has always seemed to me to involve a language designed to allow “plausible deniability.” In other words, we recognize our need to talk with one another. But just in case someone tries to pin us down on an actual communication of meaning, we can object that “we didn’t mean it that way.”
Diplomatically Rejecting Diplomacy
At the heart of Christian diplomacy, there must be a commitment to “speaking the truth in love.” And doing so as clearly and unequivocally as possible. This is why I agree so strongly with the discussion of such clarity in Paul Louis Metzger’s most recent post, “Thank God for the Dalai Lama.” And yet it also influences me to state, knowing the likely controversy among my Buddhist friends, that I do not thank God for the Dalai Lama. My early impressions are not overcome by Dr. Metzger’s emphasis on the points of agreement, largely because I don’t know that those points will withstand scrutiny over time. The “popular Buddhism” of celebrities mirrored that of the Dalai Lama for too many years for me to expect clarity and consistency in the position of any Buddhist. The variations on key themes are too many and too frequently shifting to foster a detailed discussion of actual belief and practice. The Buddhism that has thus been portrayed to me is essentially a spiritual Lego™ set. Interchangeable parts that may be arranged, discarded, and/or added to on the whims of the individual practitioner.
“Why so annoyed, Bill?”
I do thank God for Dr. Metzger’s post, and for the discussion that the Dalai Lama sparks. But the impossibility of a clear discussion of belief and practice in Buddhism merely fuels a smoldering dissatisfaction with those in my own faith tradition.
Dr. Metzger points out that in Jesus’ teachings, “one cannot help but see belief in an immortal God, heaven and hell, and eternal judgment of our souls as central to Jesus’ ethic.” But he introduces that statement, properly, by noting that this view is only clear, “apart from dismissing that this text conveys Jesus’ voice, or distorting its meaning.” And yet, so often, I find that my conversations with Christians involve their willful rearranging, discarding, and/or adding to whatever portions of Jesus’ words and deeds they choose.
As with pots and kettles in their blackness, the obfuscation of doctrines and polity, beliefs and practices, or even the boundaries at which the discussion shifts from biblical or theological to political, cultural, and/or socio-economic, leaves me wondering. What is it that we fear so greatly about open and honest dialogue that we must use “diplomatic language” (in the worst sense of the term) in order to ensure the “plausible deniability” that allows us to pretend to have actual relationships with others, even though we cannot bring ourselves to speak the truth?
I suspect that it has to do with our attempts to build love for one another on an agreed-upon truth. What scripture seems to me to suggest, however, is a mutual seeking for truth, based on the indispensable prerequisite of having decided to love one another. Thus, finding shared truth must be accomplished by first accepting our shared concerns as human beings. Not the other way around.