The elections result watch parties are over, and our nation exhales with a wearied sigh. The phone is quieter, and we don’t have to mute the TV quite as much. The mid-terms are over — except for a few races where there may be more votes to count. Language about winning and losing is rampant, and the cycle resets for 2020. Oh my! as they say in Kansas.
Soon we will gather at tables laden with Thanksgiving’s feast, and we wonder what we can really talk about. Many families split the ticket in their political commitments, and we can only comment on the selection of pies and the texture of the gravy for so long. Politics will come up!
Actually, it will be a shame if we cannot have a civil exchange about what matters to us. The kids will be listening, too.
Polarization prevails, yet there is much legislative work to do for the common good. How might that happen? Some suggest that gridlock helps the stability of the stock market; others contend that the expected stalemate between the House and the Senate not only wastes money and effort, but it erodes any sense that we are all in this together. Nevertheless, we are.
“What are the prospects of aligning for a shared social contract as one America?”
Pundits touted the election as a clash between two Americas, a frightening specter. What are the prospects of aligning for a shared social contract as one America? It is essential if we are to honor the founding vision of our nation, care for the most vulnerable and create a context where all can flourish. Christianity actually can be an instrument to foster this rather than being a source of division; of late, some have chosen to cozy up to power, becoming a caricature of what Jesus truly beckons.
Early in our tradition an almost insurmountable conflict arose. Could a different ethnic people participate fully alongside the original people of God? Gentiles were responding to the good news of the resurrection and the forgiveness of sins. They were not a part of God’s prior covenant, which entailed circumcision, and they brought certain practices with them that the Jews found objectionable, especially concerning the issue of table fellowship.
Acts 15 narrates the process of integrating these newcomers. The church in its varied contexts was struggling to fulfill the vision of Pentecost. It was apparent that the Holy Spirit had come upon Gentiles, and the marks of the Spirit’s work were evident in their gatherings. Luke Timothy Johnson has written at length about the Jerusalem Council and commends the “theological process” that determines how the church understands itself as an inclusive body, thereby expanding what it means to be the people of God.
This text does not condemn contested opinion; rather, it welcomes protest and debate as a way of refining God’s new claim. We do not know the temperature of the rhetoric, but we do know that ultimately James, a wise leader, concludes that the Jews should not make it more difficult for the Gentiles to participate fully, and that the Gentiles should abstain from eating food offered to idols, refrain from sexual immorality, and avoid meat not prepared by kosher means. The latter would be a major stumbling block to sharing a meal. Everyone had to accommodate the perspectives and sensibilities of others if the Christian movement went forward.
“It is a powerful thing to be taken seriously by one who holds an antithetical position.”
Another example of conflict transformation is offered through the “Negotiating Intractable Conflict” method. Nearly two decades ago as the foes and advocates of abortion faced off, a group of religious sisters instituted this approach that could foster constructive dialogue, thus moving persons closer together. Commonly called the “common ground dialogue process,” it seeks to “reduce the polarization that prevents the two sides from recognizing shared values, and to help advocates from working relationships around shared interests.” The dialogue encourages persons to articulate how they came to hold their views so as to break down stereotypes, to reveal individual complexity and to foster trust and empathy.
Active listening to those with whom one differs is essential to finding a place of commonality. It is a powerful thing to be taken seriously by one who holds an antithetical position.
I have participated in this process when American Baptists adopted it to talk about human sexuality. It was an enlightening and creative way to move beyond a fractious epoch. We learned how not to interrupt with a rant and denunciation of the other’s perspective; we learned how to articulate our own position with less certitude.
Ingredient to a more courteous exchange is accenting shared values. When I consider what American people have in common, despite partisan affiliation, I include: safety for children; protection from lawlessness; capacity for national self-defense; access to health care; religious liberty; regard for the dignity of all persons; and hope for a more just society.
Perhaps we will have something to talk about over the turkey!