In recent months, people have asked me many times, and I have asked myself, “Given these last four years, and the deep divisions between people, and between people in the same church — especially in the last year and notably since the presidential election last November — how in the world do even begin to move toward making peace with one another?
Can we at least be honest enough to ask: ‘”Do people even want to talk to people on the other side?” One guy put it to me plainly the other day: “Thank you very much. I’ll pass!” That sure wasn’t very satisfying to hear and made me wonder what the Apostle Paul might have meant when he wrote to the church in Rome, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people.”
** This morning I watched an excellent, webinar featuring 5 brothers and sisters within the Vineyard church tribe, discussing this very issue. Given the post-truth world we are living in, each panelist gave his/her take on how to approach some of the deep divisions we are experiencing in our country, in our communities, and in our churches. Two of the 5 featured panelists are some of my favorite people: Rich Nathan, founding pastor of Vineyard Columbus (Columbus, OH) and Geno Olison, lead pastor of the South Suburban Vineyard in Chicago. (Rich has a heart for racial reconciliation. Upwards to half the congregants in the 10,000+ member Vineyard Columbus are people of color. I have watched Nathan’s sermons for years, and followed his efforts to integrate the church. … Geno is an African-American brother, who I met when he was a student at the University of Illinois. Geno has a sharp mind and a pastor’s heart. Still under 40, he is quickly becoming a noted leader within Vineyard churches across the country.)
It was particularly intriguing to hear the panelists address these questions: “Why are people inclined to think the way they think?” “What is the condition of your heart?” “What kind of communities do we choose to join, and why?”
** Today I also read a new piece by Phillip Yancey, one of my favorite writers. The piece is his January newsletter in which Yancey asks: “Can the United States resurrect the lofty goal enshrined at our founding: that of e pluribus unum (“out of many, one”)—rather than the current trend of one splintering into many? For those willing to pursue the goal of civil conversation with adversaries, Yancey gives some great suggestions.” Yancey’s newsletter includes a link to a fascinating and inspiring TED TALK featuring an African-American musician and writer who became friends with the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux clan.
** To my mind, if the different sides come together at all, several things have to happen.
1. We have to take winning off the table. People often enter arguments with the goal of winning, or at least reaching resolution. I think the goal here might just have to be reinstating civility so as so build a common community.
2. Relationships have to be at the center of the discussion, which requires that all parties are truly listening to one another. Everybody has to listen to learn, not to win. The day of winning arguments over who is right and who is wrong is over! That IS NOT WORKING. So let’s quit trying to make work.
3. We have to pay attention to context. After I watched the folks storm the capital building on January 6, among the questions I kept asking myself was, “What is the cultural context that is driving this?” Understanding the presence of culture in any debate or discussion increases many fold the chances of being understood, and ultimately respected. My good friend, a board member in my ministry, and the African-American chief of police in Champaign, IL, keeps reminding me that we have to begin with specific questions relevant to our communities.
4. Vulnerability has to be embraced and part of the discussion. In civic life today, most Americans only engage with circles that confirm their own worldviews. And I think we know why. Because entering the space for this kind of discussion means making yourself vulnerable. Most are fearful to walk into these water and thus we wonder, “What if no one listens to me?” “What if I merely sound selfish and self-serving?” Let’s be honest. Who of us wants to be transparent enough to be truly vulnerable? (And yet, one of the things people repeatedly say at the end of their lives is wishing they had been way more transparent and vulnerable with people instead of holding back and not letting others see them as they really were.)
5. Make room for transformation. A real discussion, one that is both authentic and frank, can be a transformational experience for all involved. Without a goal of winning or even reaching resolution, the best we might hope for (thus the real goal) might be to change how we engage with one another in order to build a community.
This is is hard work, both challenging and messy. But the other alternative is to merely stay in our corner and watch the divide grow even wider. Then we all lose.