Formed to honor our adversaries
This week, we turn to what has been called "our least favorite" confession, the Canons of Dort. Why "least favorite?" Well, even if you agree with all its theological statements, it's hard to love -- at least, love in any simple way -- a document whose main purpose was to be a theological smackdown. Even acknowledging the different time and culture in which the Canons of Dort were composed, I am reluctant to offer this document, as a whole, as a shining example of how we should be formed in our approach to those who differ from us today.
And yet there is something compelling tucked into the conclusion of the Canons – literally, the last two pages. Here, at the end, the authors finally reveal why they’re arguing so hard. What do you do when you are no longer the suspect, oppressed minority, but are now dominant, powerful, and accused by a new upstart minority as being intellectually and morally lazy, complacent, and dangerous? In the Conclusion of the Canons, while still delivering the smackdown that I mourn for today, the writers also extend a kind of generosity, even if it is a harsh generosity: they urge both sides to consider one another’s views and take the time to carefully explain what they really mean, how they have been misunderstood, rather than basing their judgments on rumors and nasty accusations.
Here's a link to an online version of the Canons of Dort maintained by the Canadian Reformed Church, one of the several church bodies that seeks to live by this confession. http://www.canrc.org/?page=32 I'm delighted to see that this church body seems to agree with me about how important the Conclusion is! -- on their website, they put it front-and-center as a kind of introduction to the rest of the text.
As you linger with this selection – maybe even reading it out loud with someone else! – you might ask yourself: if we were to live by these words, would they help us to better honor our adversaries? What would it look like, how would we be formed, if we did this? How might we be formed in ways that are more responsive to God, more hospitable, more connected?