The Necessary Partnership of Truth and Charity
How the concept of the ‘via media’ might help us restore civil discourse.
My close friend, Nathan, is one of my favorite people on earth. He and I have intractable and substantial theological disagreements, but we love and enjoy each other. We discuss ideas and occasionally collaborate on projects. We both wonder, though: If we had met now, as opposed to as college students in the late ’90s, would we even have become friends? The cultural pressure to sort ourselves into ideologically pure and homogenous cliques is strong—much stronger now than it was 20 years ago when we met—and it’s eroding our ability as a society to seek common ground and common friendship.
There is a growing cultural assumption that the world is neatly divided between good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats. This unimaginative calcification forces many of our cultural and theological conversations into a stalemate—every event produces thousands of takes that are boringly predictable. The lines are drawn clearly and brightly and there’s nothing left to do but shout at each other.
As we see this intense polarization in politics and theology—and in the heightened and heated rhetoric that social media inspires—some public figures sound renewed public calls for moderation. Others denounce “moderation” as a strategy of the privileged that ultimately protects the status quo. In her Washington Post piece earlier this year pointedly titled “Centrism and Moderation? No Thanks,” historian April Holm rejects the idea that attempts at moderation are virtuous. “The logic of calls to prioritize civility in public exchanges and of the insistence on seeing moral equivalence on both sides of every debate . . . are available only to those who are not, themselves, …