President Mouw Speaks on Churches and Civility at Pastors’ Breakfast
Churches must “cultivate a spirituality of civil public engagement,” says Mouw
President Richard J. Mouw
How do we develop a spirituality that embraces the “other”—those who are different from us, even those with whom we seriously disagree? This was the topic addressed by President Richard J. Mouw at a breakfast for pastors held Wednesday, March 7, in Pasadena, sponsored by Fuller’s Office of Alumni and Church Relations.
At the gathering of about 40 pastors and friends of Fuller, Dr. Mouw drew on the teachings of theologian John Calvin to claim that engaging issues of justice with civility—or “public manners,” in the words of Calvin—ought to be a central concern of the Christian community and, more specifically, our churches. Pastors must “encourage the people of God to open their hearts to the larger world,” he said, “through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
In these days of political polarization and negative campaign rhetoric, what can churches concretely do to cultivate a spirituality of civil public engagement? They must first be willing to engage in self-critique, said Mouw, referring to Psalm 139’s words of self-examination. As sinful people, according to Calvin, “we tend to assume the best possible interpretation of our own motives, and the worst possible interpretation of our enemy’s motives,” Mouw noted—whereas instead, we would do better to adopt an attitude of “suspicion toward our own motives, and one of charity towards others.” Pastors should invite their parishioners “to engage in a Psalm 139 exercise” of self-examination, he suggested.
Mouw also called on churches “to reflect on the humanness of others—to affirm the common humanity we share with those with whom we seriously disagree” and to pray for them, letting the Holy Spirit work through our prayers. “We must remember that all are created in God’s image,” Mouw emphasized, “and that God cares about each one.”
Seeing the God-given beauty in each of his children is “an exercise in art appreciation,” he further said. Likening this to his own efforts to understand the nuances of visual art, Mouw noted that “art appreciation takes work—but it’s so important that we do that work.” In the words of Carmelite nun Theresa of Lisieux, making this effort “honors the artistic efforts of that great Artist of the soul.”
The most important work of the church is ultimately to proclaim the saving message of Jesus’s death and resurrection, Mouw affirmed in conclusion. But we can use “a kinder, gentler evangelism” as we engage others, and the issues of our day, with civility.