Not Listening

Luke Bretherton argues (Christianity, Democracy and the Shadow of Constantine) that “For the church, listening is the constitutive political act” (71). This is true in part because “Through listening and responding to the Word of God, the Church is assembled as a public body—the ekklesia—out of the world. This initiatory act of listening forms the body of Christ” (71).

It’s true also because listening is “a primary form of faithful witness within political life.” By listening, the church affirms that there is a “common life” since “no listening takes place in contexts of violence or social atomization.” By listening, the church “points to the reality that in Christ all things were made and all things are reconciled and therefore a common realm of meaning and action is now possible” (71).

When Christians listen, we deal “with the world as it is. In listening, one must take seriously who is before one and attend to the situation rather than predetermine what to do in accord with some prior agenda, ideology, or strategy of control. When I listen to someone I encounter them neither as a statistic or a stereotype but as a human being, as one who bears the image of God with all the density and complexity being human entails” (72).

It’s a moving appeal, especially in our current political climate of shrieks and counter-shrieks. It’s also dangerously one-sided. Is it possible that our recoil from some voices is “predetermined” not by agenda, ideology, or control but by principle? Are we to listen with equal sympathy to everyone? (Play Hitler card here.) Or, if our ears are open to the Word of God, must they, for that very reason, be closed to some other voices? 

Moses thought so, and in Deuteronomy stressed the virtue of not listening to prophets, dreamers, and necomancers who seduce us to hear a Word other than the Word of the Lord (Deuteronomy 13:3, 8).

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