Nuance ≠ relativism.

I was just quoted in the Christian Post for an article about the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s ordination of their first openly gay minister since changing their policy to allow partnered gay clergy.

I was pleased to see that the CP got my point about the importance of nuance and listening to both sides on this issue (even if they did inexplicably change the word “nuance” to “nuances” in one place). It’s so rare that we hear much nuance on this issue, and it’s important to me not to simply take sides but to seek to create loving Christian dialogue.

One of the first posted comments on the article, though, highlights why this kind of nuance is so difficult. A reader named Gerry responded to the article with, “The slow glacial slide into moral relativism continues. Sad.” It’s the kind of thing I hear every single day.

It’s not clear to me whether Gerry meant that I was endorsing moral relativism or that the Presbyterian ordination was an example of it. I think it’s likely that he meant both. Either way, though, it’s not a fair accusation.

I am certainly no moral relativist. I believe in right and wrong. I believe in absolutes. I believe God cares how we live our lives, and that God’s opinion is not dependent on our own.

But I also know that as human beings, we’re fallible creatures. Math has absolutes, but that doesn’t mean I never make a mistake when adding figures. And even if I’m 100% sure that I’m right and you’re wrong, that doesn’t mean that I no longer need to consider your feelings or try to understand where you’re coming from.

Nuanced dialogue is not moral relativism. Dialogue is working to understand each other so that we can treat each other lovingly as we work through our disagreements. I’m not saying we’re both equally right; I’m saying we’re both equally convinced we are. One of us has to be wrong. But even the wrong one of us is still acting out of a sincere desire to do what he or she thinks is right.

Of those Presbyterians who voted for gay ordination, I’m sure there are some who could be accurately classified as moral relativists. But there are many, many more who believe that there is an objective right and wrong, and that by voting the way they did, they were moving their denomination away from the wrong and into the right.

You don’t have to agree with them, or with me. But you do need to realize that you can’t just dismiss them as relativists. If you care about the issue, you need to engage with those who disagree with you.

I’m relatively certain of that.