Lately, I have been having quite a few conversations, theologically and politically with fellow pastors.
It would be fair to say that my current colleagues are more conservative than my colleagues in seminary or college. And what amazed me was the fear that "liberal" colleagues expressed 8 years ago over the Bush administration are the same fears being expressed now, under a new administration by my "conservative" friends. In both places, I heard words like "facism" and "homeland security" being thrown around with fears that their rights to the things they hold most dear would be stripped away. Each is afraid that their most important values will be tossed to the side.
In that same conversation, we also talked about the differences in how we recieve God's grace in each tradition. In United Methodism it's through the means of grace - which include works of piety and works of mercy. In the Lutheran tradition, it's through the word - in preaching, study, baptism, etc. In the Reformed tradition God's grace isn't limited and yet there was a strong hesitation to say that grace comes through works.
All of these things together - both the political and theological conversation - have me feeling like we aren't even talking the same language with one another. We are looking at the exact same thing: political decisions on one hand and God's grace on the other, and we interpret each in completely different ways. After our conversation we got to a place where we could agree to disagree theologically - but we didn't really even touch the political difference (well, we did debate torture for a bit).
I don't know that I have ever wished for full unity within the Christian tradition. I understand that there are important theological differences in what we claim to believe. We can agree on the fundamentals, but how those fundamentals are played out - woah. VAST differences. Same with the political landscape. The idea of a one party system would be a terrible plan... in fact, I would be in favor of lots of political parties, each articulating clearly their perspectives.
Debate and conversation are important (in United Methodism, we call it conferencing). They help us to form and reflect upon our beliefs. They call us to know our own positions well enough to speak for them. But they also call us to listen and to be aware of when our positions are in need of reformation. That's where the Holy Spirit comes in... to help us reach a consensus... to help us reach God's will... in the midst of our vast differences.
That last piece of the puzzle isn't happening. In politics and in the church, we hear what we fear from the other side. We interpret the actions of the "opposition" as being tactical moves to wipe us out. And especially when we throw around labels like facism, we are invoking the idea that we need to stand up and fight back - not have a conversation, but stage a full out rebellion. I was there and listening to those points of view in 2001, I am there and listening to those points of view now in 2009. I'm hearing those same arguments in the church around our constitutional amendments right now. And it doesn't work. It creates dissension instead of making room for the Holy Spirit to move and perhaps change all of us. Fear and unwillingness to listen only makes us more rigid in our points of view and more ready to see subtle differences as vast gulfs.
Jon Stewart had a guest on earlier this week, Cliff May, and they discussed torture. And I mean discussed it. They both spoke clearly about what they believed in an informed and articulate manner. And they respected each other. That doesn't mean that neither made mistakes. But at the end of it, they both understood one another better.
I pray that we might all do this. We might all listen more and fear less. That we might ask questions instead of making assumptions. That we would be willing to look at our own positions through the eyes of another. And then, if after we have done all of that, we still have fears - if we still believe that the foundations of our beliefs and values are crumbling around us - YES! stand up and speak loudly and be the prophet you are called to be. But listen first.
And... fyi - I'm extremely disheartened by the Pew Research Center poll (altho it was a small sample) that going to church - especially a mainline church - makes you more willing to support torture.