Holding Tension between Charity and Clarity

Charity is a value I hold dear. In 2020, I spent a large portion of time thinking, writing, and preaching about the virtues of charitable thinking. Take this sermon/interview with Will Richy and Alejandro Perez:

Thinking charitably is a virtue we could all stand to gain a little more of. This is especially true as we come out of a season of heavy vitriol, where we define and label people based on ideology and political stance rather than on their dignity as human beings.


I find myself thinking this week of the ways in which this can go wrong. In my mind, charitable thinking is something I often am required to hold in tension with clarified thinking. When I am charitable, I am trying to train myself to think of all the ways I could be wrong and another person could be right. I am looking for places where my foundation differs from another person’s, and I’m searching for legitimate reasons why someone might think differently than me.

The danger here, in theory, is my own thinking becoming muddled and unclear. In other words, if I am thinking charitably, does it also mean that I must relinquish the foundation upon which I stand? Sometimes. But perhaps there ought to be times when I can think charitably or generously while also remaining firm in my own conviction.

This is an uncomfortable spot for me. My own inclination is to fly high, get a birds’-eye view of things, and enjoy the landscape. I want to see where everyone is coming from and remain neutral in the process. This doesn’t require clarity of me — only charity.

But when we come across incompatibilities — morally, theologically, philosophically — these are the times when we may be required to hone in on what it is exactly that we believe, and why. And if we’re very practiced in thinking charitably, clarity can feel uncharitable.

Charity and clarity are in tension.

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