John Stumbo Video Blog No. 68

March 12, 2019


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John focuses this month on four principles for public discourse he’s discovered. These shape his thinking and behavior on when to speak and when to remain silent in our world’s “cauldron of cultural conflict.”


Hey Alliance family. I’m back again for another video blog. Excited today to share a couple of updates and then to dive into the theme of the day. First update is . . . Council 2019 registration’s open and is going strong. I not only get to update us on what’s been taking place within The Alliance, but also launching a two-year conversation that the Alliance family is going to be conducting. I want you to hear the reasoning behind that—help shape that from its earliest days so that over the next couple years as we’re discussing some core things that influence who we become that you’ve been part of from the very beginning. I want you at the table.

Second announcement is . . . if you’ve been following these blogs closely, [you] know that in November I came on camera and said, “I’ve got a leadership challenge.” We have more international workers—vetted, prepared, eager to go, feel called by God—than we’ve had in recent history. But we started the fiscal year a million dollars behind, so we had this leadership challenge—Would we send? Would the Alliance family rise up to the moment? And I have to thank you, because the Year-End Offering was double what previous years had been. So that was a loud statement from the Alliance family that you’re behind us in this effort.

The Board of Directors, in the last two meetings that we’ve had, have stepped forward in faith. We’ve now approved 50 of those 60 workers that are eager to go, with another meeting coming up in May. This is a step of faith because we don’t have all the money in hand. We don’t have all of that shortfall addressed. But it’s been a strong enough response that it gives us courage to move forward, believing the Alliance family is once again saying, “This is who we are. We’re a sending family. We’re a Great Commission family,” and so we’re going for it. And so at Council there will be a huge commissioning service that will be part of the joyful celebration.

As you receive Great Commission Day materials coming into your box in the near future, please, Alliance leaders, would you give priority to letting the message be known that the extension of the gospel is once again going further through the Alliance team? And we get to be part of that through our prayers and financial giving.

It’s good news, but it’s not a finished story. We still need full participation in this.

Now let me share with you some of the things that have been rumbling through my soul in recent days. When do we speak, and when are we wise to stay silent? When do we address an issue, and when do we let the flurry of verbiage swirl through social media without us? When do we engage in the conversations that are making headlines in blog posts? And when do we set our own agenda for the issues we feel that are more vital for us to address? These are the kind of questions I would hope every Alliance person would ask. But as the president of our Alliance family, I ask them on a regular basis.

It seems in my five years in this role there has been a constant whirlwind of public debate. Media headlines race from topic to topic with increasing speed—racism, gun control, LGBTQ rights, global warming, and sexual misconduct of leaders—just to name a few. We barely have a chance to catch our breath in between. The recent rulings of the state of New York further liberalizing abortion laws have fueled more social discourse. And again, the question surfaces. When do I engage and encourage the Alliance family to engage in any or all of these debates?

As I wrestle with this question, a few principles have arisen which shape my thinking and behavior. I recently wrote of them, and I’m choosing to use this blog to again reinforce this theme. You might call them four principles for public discourse. Now, please family, understand I’m not trying to address every possible scenario that viewers of this blog may face. Context and calling impact our responses. For example, if you have a position that forms public policy, this list should be nuanced. However, for most of us, the questions we may be asking are: How should we use our pulpits, or social media accounts, or personal influence for good? How do we be salt and light in a culture more often marked by venom and darkness?

Knowing that no list can be all encompassing or apply to every scenario, knowing that I could be misunderstood, but feeling the need to help shape the conversation, I venture into this cauldron of cultural conflict.

Public discourse principle number one: Just because everyone else is talking about a subject doesn’t mean that I need to. If we’re not careful, our agenda can be completely controlled by CNN, Fox, Facebook, or whatever media source happens to catch our attention. Never before in my leadership have I felt such subtle pressure to make a statement supporting or decrying the issue of the day. There’s a time to speak. There’s a time to remain silent.

I’m giving myself permission for both. I would hope that our Alliance people would receive the same permission. Our pulpits must not become the puppets of the news media. But they must instead reverberate with the full counsel of the Word of God. Our conversations should rise above the common clamor, making sure that the hope of the gospel rings sweetly and clearly over the clanging noise of public rancor. Don’t let others choose your topics for you. Keep the gospel—the good news of Jesus—central in everything we do.

Public discourse principle number two: If I do feel that it is time to speak, I must be as aware of my tone as I am of my content. I often find myself agreeing with what another Christian said, but felt grieved by the manner in which they said it. In the flurry of debate, many Christians lose perspective. The heated exchange of opinions and ideas is hot enough but then is further fueled by media, which increases its income by engaging our emotions. Caught up in the froth, as Christians we soon sound no different from the world.

Our content may be different, but if the tone is the same, we’re just swirling in the same whirlpool as everyone else. So when speaking about matters of our faith, the apostle Peter instructed us to do so with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously about your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3: [15b–16]). Before we hit send on the email, or post the social media comments, join me as I ask some trusted friend, who isn’t emotionally engaged in the issue, to review what I’m about to say. Both the message and the spirit of the message I’m trying to communicate have often been shaped by calmer spirits and sharper minds than my own. If our content reflects our Christ but our tone does not, we’ve become another resounding gong or clanging cymbal.

Public discourse number three: Our primary calling is for the Church to be holy, not the world to be reformed. Now I’m very aware that this is a controversial point, but I make it because I believe it’s an under-discussed issue among us. Countless Christians have spent countless hours telling the world how it should live. I don’t believe this is our calling. Undeniably, we are called to be the world’s salt and light by our behavior (Matthew 5). We’re called to share the hope that we have in Christ and invite people into a life-giving relationship with Him (1 Peter 3). Fundamental to the entire Christian faith is a call to go and make disciples (Matthew 28). Love for everyone—a winsome, spirit-enabled love is to be our most notable characteristic.

I’m not advocating for an enclaved-fortress form of Christianity that fails to engage the world. But our primary engagement with the world must be loving evangelism, in deed and word, over public reform. Our calls for holy living, when authentically matched by a holy life, are calls that should be directed to the Church more than to the world. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul gives repeated calls to holiness. As he does, he makes an essential but often overlooked distinction. He inserts not at all meaning the people of the world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case, you would have to leave this world (1 Corinthians 5: [10]).

I understand Paul to emphasize that our holiness standards should not be compromised in the Church, yet not assumed of the world. We should expect the world to act worldly. We shouldn’t be surprised when the laws, leaders, and leanings of a secular society reject scriptural principles. We’re saddened by it. We vote to the contrary. We live above the low standards established by culture. But as believers, let’s stop wringing our hands when the next cultural move is away from what we hold dear.

And with that, I hasten to public discourse principle number four: Those of us who have a voice should find appropriate times to use it on behalf of those who do not. I have a position of leadership, which gives me opportunity to influence. It’s very likely that you do as well. The Proverbs instruct us to speak up [on behalf] of those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31: [8–9]).

My statements under point three about “It’s not our commission to be reforming the world as much as it is our command to be holding the churches holy.” . . . that needs to be held in juxtaposition to point four. Throughout history and today, many peoples find themselves voiceless. They have little or no ability to speak on their own behalf. Others must arise to do so for them.

Allow me to list just a few as a sampling of the voiceless. Jews during the Holocaust, slaves in early American history, sex-trafficked children and women today, the Rohingyas of Myanmar and other such displaced people, the world’s poor. That list could go on. But keeping in mind the principles above, those of us who have pulpits, votes, media outlets, and other forms of influence should use these to advocate for the voiceless, which brings me back to where I started.

At this moment in time, voices need to rise again on behalf of the unborn. The trajectory that the New York law takes our nation is another major blow to the womb and the life therein. May the Church find the tone and the message to speak on behalf of these precious lives who cannot speak for themselves. Yes, we care about the mother who found herself in a difficult situation. Yes, we’re an advocate for adoption and other means of addressing this complex issue. But it just brings me right back to what I’m trying to say—when to speak, how to speak, being good citizens, being the holy Church.

My few points don’t settle everything. But I present them in the hopes that they’ll point us on a good trajectory of when and how to engage in public discourse, whether it’s through our pulpits, our Facebook posts, our dinner conversations, or the conversation across the cubicle at work. May God guide us and be glorified in all that we do.


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