The Multi-sided Public Square

Truth and mercy have met together. Justice and peace have kissed. (Psalm 85:10)

Christians frequently differ on important issues, and it is a mark of spiritual maturity if they handle those differences creatively rather than engage in damaging verbal warfare.”1 (Raymond Brown)

In rediscovering what it means to live for God and His glory alone, Contemporary Christianity seeks to support Christians and the church to serve their communities at critical points of: cultural contention; communal conflict; and social change. We aim to engage Christian minds with issues in the public square, to inject new perspectives and provoke discussion. Christians often complain that certain views are ridiculed, scoffed-at, and shouted down in the public square. Similarly, churches have often been complicit in shutting-down debate and excluding marginalized voices within their own spaces. By mirroring this behaviour in attitudes to differing voices and opinions within our congregations, how many people are being driven away from church? How then should we handle differences creatively, in a way that is faithful to the Gospel of peace? In his book “Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians” John Paul Lederach advocates the interwoven principles of truth, mercy, justice and peace described in Psalm 85 as central to ensuring interdependent social energies and concerns are brought together and given voices. Truth seeks transparency, honest and clarity. Mercy is concerned with acceptance, compassion and support. Justice is about looking beneath the surface and making things right. Peace seeks to hold people together with security, respect and wellbeing. Public square discourse is all too often framed by division, exclusion and privilege. If we interpret truth, mercy, justice and peace as the four sides of public square engagement, Christians can help to create a dynamic, safer, social space where different perspectives can genuinely meet and wrestle things out. Rather than roping different opinions into a boxing match (along with our own), Lederach writes that: “If we create the social space that brings Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace together within a conflicted group or setting, an energy is crystallized that creates deeper understanding and unexpected new paths leading toward restoration and reconciliation.”2 A recent Irish Independent article by Dr Eoin O’Malley laments the silence of centrists, which has led to a decline in decent debate on a range of moral and political issues. Citing Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s recent book “The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion” there is often “a failure to appreciate the different moral foundations for the other side's beliefs”3 which leads to an escalation in damaging, hurtful rhetoric. Regardless of whether Christians regard their views on moral and political issues as “centrist,” the biblical imperative to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) should be central to how we approach critical points of contention in the multi-sided public square. Furthermore, the potential for Christians to take the lead in transforming the square into a dynamic, safer, social space would be truly counter-cultural. Jonny Currie Chairperson and Board Member of Contemporary Christianity
1Brown, Raymond; The Message of Nehemiah: God’s Servant in a Time of Change; IVP; 1998.
2Lederach, John Paul; Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians; Herald Press; 2014.
3O’Malley, Dr Eoin; “Silence of the centrists kills decent debate”; Irish Independent; 2 October 2016.
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2 Responses to The Multi-sided Public Square

  1. Norah Brown- Davis says:

    I too struggle with this debate, and I find I am often overruled in discussions on the topic. My own ( grown up) children especially have rejected the faith they grew up in because they can’t make sense of it. However, I find reading or writing about the subject helps, and can be shared with others who disagree with what I believe. I would like to publish my memoir for this purpose, and am seeking help with finding a publisher.

  2. Puran Agrawal says:

    A Response to “The Multi-sided Public Square”
    One can hardly disagree with John Paul Lederach’s exhortation to deal with differences on important issues with “the interwoven principles of truth, mercy justice and peace described in Psalm 85 as central for ensuring interdependent social energies and concerns are brought together and given voices.” But from practical standpoint this exhortation leads to a host of disturbing questions.
    Firstly, many Christians disagree as to what the truth of the matter is. Is gay relationship sinful or fully consistent with the Christian concept of love? Does the Bible, especially the New Testament (NT), advocate pacifism or just war? Is targeting a known terrorist with a view to killing him consistent with the Christian teaching of loving one’s ‘neighbour’ as one loves onelf? How are such disputes to be settled?
    Secondly showing mercy to wrongdoers is one the cardinal NT virtues. But does it mean that mass murderers or those who kill innocent people without any qualms be forgiven unqualifiedly as long as they repent? Is forgiving them just?
    Thirdly, “truth seeks transparency, honest(y) and clarity.” Yes, but only by those who have an agreed idea of what truth is. Mercy is concerned with accepatnce, compassion, and support.” But, how is it possible to accept, let alone support, hardened terrorists who are bent on killing you, no matter what? “Justice is about looking beneath the surface and making things right.” Well said. But if someone robs an old lady for the sake of a small amount of money, what does it mean to “look beneath the surface and making things right?” Supposing he is a drug addict and killed the old lady to get money to buy drugs. What does it mean to make things right with him? “Peace seeks to hold people togetherwith security, respect and well being.” Again very noble and laudable sentiments. However, if the husband and wife have reached a stage where they cannot stand each other’s company, what do I do to “hold” them together apart from praying?
    I whole-heartedly agree that “(p)ublic square disciourse is all too often framed by division, exclusion and privilege.” I also agree that if there was some agreement as to what the concepts of “truth, “mercy”, “justice” and “peace” represent, then they can enable Christians “to create a dynamic, safer, social space where different perspectives can genuinely meet and wrestle things out.” Sadly, there is no such agreement between Christians, let alone between Christians and non-Christians. And I regret to say that the centerist position advocated by Eoin O’Malley y, where there are sharp differences of perspectives and values, can only lead to a fuzzy compromise and lasts as long as no members of that compromise begin to question it. When disagreement appears, then the matter is setled by the use of power excerised eithe by a powerful despot or a majority vote in a democracy like ours.
    If what I have said above sounds very negative, even “defeatist” to some of my brothers in Christ, then I seek their forgiveness and say in my defense that I have struggled with those questions almost all my Christian life and yet to find satisfactory answers to them. Further, my discusion of these issues with many of my Christian friends results in similar conclusions. Yet Jonny Currie deserves our thanks for raising a very important topic for the contemporary Christians and I hope and pray that other readers of the PS will seriously reflcet on what he has to say and advance the debate further.
    Puran Agrawal

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