Guest Column: Private truths and public trust

July 1, 1993

Guest Column: Private truths and public trust

By Dr. Robert R. Kopp

I’ll never forget debating manger scenes on public property at a meeting of rabbis and clergy in Cranford, N.J. about 24 years ago.

Paraphrasing Bob Seger, I was a lot younger and bolder than I am today.

So I started, “Let’s be honest. We have an irreconcilable theological difference. We believe Jesus is God and you don’t.”

An older orthodox rabbi stood, smiled, and said, “My young Christian friend is right, and I’ll be damned if he’s right; but I’m betting my soul that he is wrong just as much as he is betting his soul that he is right.”

It cleared the air.

Though we never resolved the issue, trust was established by maintaining not masking our differences.

Instead of publicly pretending we agreed on everything like those spineless peace-at-the-expense-of-principles-professional-holy-people-who-agree-with-the-last-person-they’ve-talked-to then returning to our respective ghettos to banter, moan, and belittle each other, we told the truth as we perceived it.

The result was enough trust to cooperate on common goals.

Simply, trust is established when we tell the truth about who we are and what we believe. Nobody trusts anybody who hides what they’re really thinking.

For example, clergy are often invited to invoke God’s presence to bless town meetings, fall harvests, strawberry socials, beauty pageants, car races, ground breakings, Little League games, and other public events with explicit instructions to stay private about personal beliefs.

Specifically, clergy are told not to mention Jesus in their prayers.

Parenthetically, it’s hard for a Christian to omit Jesus from vocabulary; especially considering Paul’s directive: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

Asking a Christian to pray without mentioning Jesus is like asking Britney Spears to wear clothes while singing.

Please don’t get me wrong.

Lots of clergy have no problems parading ambiguity.

I think of two fellows in deep dialogue. One says, “I don’t know who I am or what I believe anymore.” The other comforts, “Don’t worry about. Our preacher is going through the same thing.”

A conversation with Dr. Wolfgang Lowe in Heidelberg, Germany back in 1973 comes to mind.

Trying to brownnose my way to good grades with my left-leaning professor, I started using a lot of Marxian terminology in my papers and oral examinations. Dr. Lowe called me to his office and scolded, “Mr. Kopp, I know you’re studying to be a Christian professor or pastor. So stop talking to me like some Marxist or I’ll never be able to trust you.”

Here’s my point.

You can’t have trust without truth.

It’s the only way to discover what you’ve got in common.

Now I may be wrong, but I think what we’ve got in common can keep us so busy that we would be too tired to fight when we got around to our differences.

Dr. Robert Kopp is the pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church, Loves Park.

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