The Apostle Paul was a tent builder. Many Christian leaders today are tent shrinkers.

Their greatest concern seems to be avoidance of those with different views. It has gotten to the point of ridiculous.

For example, the leader of the Assemblies of God, George Wood, asked to have his name removed from a statement calling for Christian leaders to model civility when dealing with disagreements. It was not a doctrinal statement, but one solely dealing with constructive behavior.

According to Religion News Service, Wood’s spokesperson said: “The problem is the tent has grown so large on the signatures of this that are including people who are supportive of gay marriage and abortion rights. He just felt that he could not become a part of a large tent.”

How does someone reach the point where a broad call to deal with differing opinions in ways that are civil, moral and constructive is equated with sharing the doctrinal positions of all joining in that call?

Such fear of being tainted by those who might have points of disagreement makes the Pharisees that Jesus bumped up against look flexible.

This Fundamentalist fear — and arrogance — is widespread in much of evangelical Christianity today. And it doesn’t help in any way.

Showing civility when disagreeing with someone’s political or theological perspective doesn’t lessen one’s doctrinal or partisan commitments. It simply shows that there are helpful and destructive ways of handling debate.

Doctrinal distinctions are not diminished by a large chorus calling for civility. Surely that tent could cover more than a few heads.

Current Southern Baptist leaders are notorious for this kind of stuff. In an attempt at nicety, one told Cooperative Baptist Fellowship leader Daniel Vestal, a former Texas Baptist pastor, that he liked him but was concerned by the people he associated with.

Vestal replied: “Thanks, I believe that’s what they said about Jesus.”

It is much easier to spend time and energy trying to keep oneself doctrinal pure — like the Pharisees — than to engage constructively in a culture full of diverse thinking.

But then, who wants to run the risk of discovering a blind spot and learning something from someone you are sure is dead wrong?

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