Give less offense, take less offense, don’t pass along offense, says Robert W. Henderson


The Rev. Robert W. Henderson, senior minister at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., delivers his sermon “Out of Step” Sunday, July 18, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

In a conflict, what moral and ethical framework you use is most important. “Conflict is more about which moral framework you use,” said the Rev. Robert W. Henderson at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday, July 18 ecumenical service of worship in the Amphitheater.

Henderson’s theme for the week is “We Make Our Way by Walking,” and the Sunday sermon title was “Out of Step.” The Scripture text was 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt, describes human morality in terms of a frame that includes six dichotomies: care vs. harm, fairness vs. cheating, loyalty vs. betrayal, authority vs. subversion, sanctity vs. degradation and liberty vs. oppression.

Henderson said, “Not only do each of us lie somewhere on the continuum of these moral frameworks, we also choose which frameworks play a leading role in our worldview.” 

He continued, “Do we care more about loyalty to family and faith, or is the freedom to think and grow and change more important? These issues are writ large on the political stage, but they also play out in family, church, marriage and nearly every other association. What moral or ethical framework takes priority? It’s an important question because the conflicts we face are often less about morality itself and more about which moral framework takes priority.”

In his book, Haidt offers three ways to help lessen a moral conflict.  

Henderson said the first was to give less offense. “We can choose not to attack or demonize others when there is a conflict. I was working with an organization to understand the role of religion in its work. Before we could even put forth a proposal, we were attacked by men who accused us of malfeasance and moral turpitude. As a board we tried to give less offense by listening, asking questions and taking notes.”

The second response was to take less offense. “I wish I had known that earlier in my life. Offense is more often taken than given. It is not personal, it is not about us. But when the boss walks by and does not speak, it feels personal,” Henderson said.

The third response was to not pass along offense. Henderson said, “don’t pass along gossip, rumor or suspicions. I try to curate my social media so there is plenty of humor. I recall one meme that said, ‘Life is short … make sure you spend as much time as possible on the internet arguing with strangers about politics.’ ”

Henderson quoted President Ronald Reagan: “The person who agrees with you 80% of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20% traitor.”

In 1 Corinthians, the church in Corinth is arguing about many things. First it was about who was the best preacher. They argued hard and long because so little was at stake, Henderson said.

In Chapter 5, they argued about the church’s favorite subject, Henderson said. “Was it justice, generosity, grace? Oh, that’s right, it was sex, apparently the church’s favorite topic. Even in the first century, they were arguing over sex — which, if you’ve been around the church for the last 25 years, is sadly unsurprising.”

When you get to Chapter 6, Henderson told the congregation, the Corinthians are suing one another. “Paul’s vision was that the community should resolve conflict with respect and compromise,” he said. “In verse 7 of Chapter 6, Paul tells the Corinthians that a legal dispute is a defeat for you as it tears the fabric of the community.”

He continued, “To choose to fight is to choose to lose. Being a Christian is about being in community with God and each other. We should share that message through the way we live, walk and talk.”

Paul thought it was better to be defrauded and cheated than to go to court. He told the Corinthians that they did not have to worry about sinners inheriting the kingdom of God. Many of them used to be sinners and were not far from that status, so “they should get off their moral high horse.” Paul told the Corinthians to settle disputes among themselves because they still had to live with each other.

Henderson’s goal for his series of sermons is to share some walks that have shaped his faith.

He told a story of Martin Luther King Jr. on a walk through Chicago. King and the marchers were being called racist names and being pelted with rocks.

One rock hit King on his head and, as he wiped the blood away, he saw a group of teenagers who had thrown the rock. King got away from his security detail and went under the ropes along the road. He approached the teenagers and said, “You are so smart and so good looking. Why did you stoop so low as to throw that rock?”

Henderson said to the congregation, “Why would he approach and compliment his persecutors? King believed they were made in the image of God and that love was the only force in the universe that could conquer hate. We have to live with the people we defeat; they have the same power of citizenship as we do. We have to see the potential in those with whom we disagree.”

Henderson then told a story of a young couple who seemed full of promise. They married and had two daughters but went through a difficult divorce. They lived in an uneasy truce until the mother got engaged to re-marry. 

“I was very nervous as the day of the wedding arrived. I got to the church parking lot as the father arrived with the two daughters,” Henderson said. “The girls were beautifully dressed and their hair was nicely done. The father knelt and looked at them and said, ‘This is a good day for you and your mother. I am happy for her. You have a great time.’ ”

Henderson continued, “He found a way beyond his pain and focused on the good of the mother. He gave less offense, took less offense and did not pass along offense. He was constructive. Paul understood that, now we can, too.”

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president of religion and senior pastor for Chautauqua, presided. Sony Ton-Aime, The Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts at Chautauqua Institution, read the Scripture. The organ prelude, performed by Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and is director of sacred music, was “Sicilienne,” from Suite, Op. 5, by Maurice Duruflé.  Members of the Motet Choir sang “IF Ye Love Me,” by music by Philip Wilby and words from John 14:15-18, for the anthem. For the offertory, they sang, “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace,” by Moses Hogan. The postlude was “Toccata,” from Suite, Op. 5 by Duruflé. This week’s worship services are made possible by the Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy and the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy.

Tags : 1 Corinthians 6:1-8Ecumenical Servicemorning worshipRobert W. Hendersonthe righteous mindWe Make Our Way by Walking

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.