On Heretics and Adversaries

I don't know exactly how these dots connect but I've been thinking all day that they do. Today is Galileo's birthday. According to the Writers Almanac, "though Galileo was tried and convicted by the Church for heresy, he was never tortured or excommunicated as the dominant narrative goes—in reality, he remained a loyal Catholic his entire life."

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My theology professor, Shirley Guthrie, won my respect in seminary for speaking a good word on behalf of heretics. He strongly cautioned us against dismissing them altogether. “Heretics generally go way too far in their arguments,” he said. “But you should always give them a hearing. They are usually emphasizing something that is being ignored in the tradition. They are pointing out some aspect of theology that the dominant voices have disregarded.”

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One job of the clerk in a Presbyterian congregation is to report to the rest of the session (church council) the official correspondence the church has received. Our clerk scans these documents and sends them electronically to all of us. He scans every last piece of it, even the stuff he finds objectionable. At our last meeting, he drew our attention to one of these documents in passing. "I don't agree with what this group stands for," he said quietly. "But somebody spent a lot of time and care putting this document together, so I pass it along... and it's up to you to decide for yourself what you think."

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Last night I dreamed I was moderating one of the presidential debates. I was very aware that the opinions expressed by the candidates were dramatically different than my own. I was also aware that as the moderator, I would be on camera too. All of my reactions---an eyeroll, a cranky retort---would be broadcast on national television. I would be judged on my ability to give the candidates an opportunity to express their point of view.

Some of them went places in their rhetoric where I could not follow with integrity. But some, like Guthrie's heretics, were expressing values and attitudes that they felt had been lacking in our country over recent years. That, if nothing else, was at least worth a hearing.

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