My heart aches for the polarization we have in our country and our church. Really I don’t mind the diversity of perspectives. In fact, a little part of me does a happy dance inside when people engage in respectful discourse. We need more of that because we need each other.
But do we know this? Do we know how much we need each other? I’m afraid we don’t. And the reason why I think we don’t know how much we need each other is because I hear more shouting than meaningful discourse. I see more protests than meetings of minds. And that is why my heart hurts.
What is at stake?
I wrote before about how I am on the fence about a lot of things. And it was sort-of a “woe is me” for being so misunderstood for seemingly not being able to take a stand. But really, I’m sorry for all of us because we’re missing out on what everyone has to offer when we draw lines, and take sides, and demonize everyone who is not and in our camp.
It’s that demonization, that dismissal of the other, that hurts everyone. Sometimes it’s mild enough. “I don’t really like what she says so I’m not going to friend her on Facebook.” Fine. We don’t have to be Facebook friends with everyone. But if we never listen to any of her ideas with an open mind–with a respect for her as a person who has a unique perspective because of where she’s been, who she has known, what she has read, if we dismiss her because something she said once turned us off, then we’re missing out.
Of course, there are more blatant ways that we demonize one another. I’ve heard Christians on
both sides of the marriage issue accuse opponents of not really reading their Bibles. The implication on hot topics is, if you really love Jesus you’ll see things my way. Pick a topic, any topic in which people are deeply divided, and you eventually hear an insistence that those other guys hate God.
But then, we hope to move forward to set policies and make laws. We try to gather enough power to steamroll the infidels in our way. Then, when we get our way, a remnant rises up on the other side. We fear them because what if they gain enough power to undo what we worked so hard to accomplish?
What Else Can We Do?
If we would listen to each other about these things, then our lives would be enriched, and our policies would be enhanced. Our opposition would be our allies and implementation would have widespread support.
Think I’m dreaming? Dream with me!
Last year I was on a task force for my Deaconess community to improve understanding of our decision-making process. A few years ago we took a bold step to stop operating by majority rule and instead to make decisions by consensus. And it is messy. Really messy. And we didn’t know what we were doing and sometimes people got hurt. And the more we did it the less we understood about how to do it well. But I had the stubborn conviction that it mattered very much that we learn to do it better. So I joined the task force and I studied my little head off about it. I’ve learned there are ways, good ways, tried-and-true methods of finding common ground and moving forward in an organization even when there is division.
The fundamental principle in the process of finding common ground is that each person is valuable. The experience and insights of everyone in the group should be honored. And we need to listen most and best to those whose opinions are least like our own. Special deference is even given to those whose ideas are most on the fringe of the group.
We need more of that kind of approach to issues where there is conflict. We need to value each other more than our own agendas. For instance, what might happen if we stop arguing about who should be allowed to get married and instead listen to each other’s wisdom? On the left, a gift you bring is the insistence that gay people are people, worthy of respect. and you make sure we know that their orientation should never be reason to cause them harm. On the right, a gift you bring is the reminder that there is something very sacred at stake–our bodies are temples. And even if you have to concede on something you’ll remind us that, regardless of orientation, promiscuity and infidelity hurt people.
These are gifts! And maybe the gift of people like me who are in the middle is to get everyone talking about how our gifts can inform our policies. I already hear widespread agreement about the points I mentioned. No one I know personally, on either side, says that gay bashing is okay. Also? No one I know personally promotes the idea that promiscuity or infidelity are healthy life choices.
So, what might we be able to agree upon that respects the gifts on each side? Let’s talk more about that because we need each other to move forward in a way that more of us can feel good about. I don’t know what that way forward would look like exactly because I don’t think we’ve ever quite had the discussion framed that way.
Dream with me.
But it’s not just the definition of marriage, there are lots of big issues that divide us. What would happen if we would pick an issue that we’re passionate about and set aside our agenda to see the gift that the other side brings? We’re not sure what that gift might be? Let’s have a loving, gracious, conversation with someone who disagrees. Let’s listen more than we talk. Let’s receive the passionate objection as a gift. And if the person is open to it, we too could share about the gift that we bring. Let’s talk together about where we agree and see where that gets us.
What might happen in all of our relationships if we listen to each other like this? We all have gifts to bring–and we need each other.