The real moral writer is the opposite of the minister, the preacher, the rabbi. Insofar as he can, the preacher tries to keep religion as it always was, outlawing contraceptives or whatever; his job is conservative. The writer’s job on the other hand, is to be radically open to persuasion. He should, if possible, not be committed to one side more than to the other—which is simply to say that he wants to affirm life, not sneer at it—but he has to be absolutely fair, understand the moral limits of his partisanship. His affirmation has to be earned. If he favors the cop, he must understand the arguments for life on the side of the robber.

John Gardner. His understanding of the preacher is, of course, disastrously wrong (and worse, uncharitable). But I do think there is a vocation, even and perhaps especially within the bounds of a religious tradition, to being “radically open to persuasion.” It’s not about being “open-minded” or “tolerant” or whatever weasel words we can to use for being progressive—it’s about a rich and sympathetic understanding of others, even one that ultimately arrives at other conclusions. For Christians, if there’s a vocation to apologetics, perhaps there’s also a complementary vocation to understanding.