Integrity in the Power to Love Hard Questions

John C. Rankin (2005)

I have a friend who embraces the biblical ethics I pursue, and he tells how the simplicity of the power to give challenges him continually in the pursuit of sanctifying grace in the face of his own trials. As well, the power to love hard questions has enabled him to cross many chasms and communicate with people disaffected with the Gospel who would not otherwise communicate – in this case, with respect to avowed homosexuals. He has transcribed various of my Mars Hill Forum audiotapes, as well as other audiotapes.

Once he called me and said that my willingness to be accountable to the unrehearsed questions of unbelievers in the widest array of situations was the most stringent form of accountability he could imagine. This I believe is the case, and it is one reason why the power to love hard questions embraced in the company of skeptics is such a fine means of checks and balances. It is a guarantor of integrity and humility, and a means suitable to the Holy Spirit’s sanctification process in our lives.

Then my friend inched up to asking a question. He wanted to challenge me on a point of accuracy. Namely, in a seminar I quoted homosexual activist Mel White on an emphatic and dramatic point, referring to a radio dialogue we once had. My friend had listened to the radio dialogue and found that Mel had said no such thing. I was surprised because I had clear memory, so I thought, and so much so that I had written Mel, specifically quoting him in this regard.

But my friend had transcribed the radio dialogue, and the quote I recalled was simply not there. As I investigated it further, I realized that I had conflated some things Mel had actually said, along with some interpretations of his intentions I had made after the fact. Namely, in a public speech shortly after our radio dialogue, I spoke of the matter not as a quote of Mel’s, but as my interpretation of what was lying underneath the surface. Later I recalled my words of interpretation as though Mel had actually said the same thing. Conflation and error.

I speak with so many people, and I have so many conversations from which I naturally remember material which later may serve as examples in my preaching, teaching and writing, that it is easy to conflate details and mix-up important facts. Thus, I write down certain material soon after a given event or interaction, or if I have a moment of doubt as to exact words and sequence, I seek to let my listeners and readers know it.

I thanked my friend deeply. I thanked him for being willing to challenge me with his hard question, and the blessing of having my integrity challenged and thus honed. This is what it means to be members in the body of Christ, that we have gifts to give each other, and we have hard questions to test one another with as together we pursue God’s holiness.