Tackling tough topics

When I trained to be an emergency medical technician, this was a paramount lesson: Identify the life threats.

Your patient might be complaining about a sore shoulder, but if blood is spurting from a ruptured artery, deal with the bleeding first. Don’t pursue the problem you understand, like splinting a bone, but fail to see the problem you don’t understand, like inhalation of toxic fumes.

When well-meaning believers want to work on having conversations about tough topics, we need first to see what is truly tough — not the issues that make us squeamish or angry, but the issues that are life-threats: the ones destroying human lives and drawing our neighbors and us into the orbit of evil.

We will disagree on what the tough topics are, but one thing is clear: Tackling the issue we tackled last year just because we know how to have that conversation is a mistake. The point isn’t to get better at having a conversation, but making sure we are talking about the right things.

I know that many want to talk about sexuality, homosexuality and gender equity. Many want to tackle issues of authority, especially the place of Scripture. I agree that those topics matter, But I think there are four topics that matter more and are far more difficult to engage.

Tough topic 1: Truth & honesty. 

Our leaders behave as if truth is optional in a “post-truth age.” That is dangerous and a lie. Without truth there can be no freedom, no fairness and no justice. We must agree th at facts exist, that an inconvenient truth is still truth, that denying truth doesn’t make it go away. Bad people use lies to shatter our values and to divide us.

Tough topic 2: Honor & integrity. 

Many try to live as if all of life is transactional: I am always buying or selling, winning or losing, and nothing makes sense unless it contributes to my personal gain. Honor does the right thing simply because it is the right thing. Integrity is wholeness of the soul, achieved through doing the honorable thing.

Tough topic 3: Wealth & power. 

Jesus devoted an estimated two-thirds of his teachings to wealth and power. Wealth dehumanizes us. Extreme obsession with wealth can make monsters of us. Power tends to corrupt those who wield it. We must be challenged to look at exactly how important wealth and power are to us. What have we sacrificed and whom have we hurt in our pursuit of wealth and power?

Tough topic 4: Freedom & oppression. 

Those who have freedom usually take it for granted. The oppressed usually cannot imagine becoming free. The free need to treasure what we have and dedicate ourselves to bringing freedom to the oppressed. We need to talk about tyrants — from the abusive partner to the dignity-stealing bigot. We are all mingled together, free and unfree living side by side. We need to see each other more deeply.

Let’s put aside well-rehearsed issues and engage with the topics Jesus addressed.

TOM EHRICH is a publisher, writer, church consultant and president of Morning Walk Media, based in New York.