I don’t know how many of you listen to the podcast “On Being” hosted by Krista Tippet (shout out to Bree who introduced me to the show and also highly recommend if you don’t listen already) – but one of the things she talks about a lot, and the show seeks to foster, is civic engagement and civil discourse.
These sound like really big words, but it basically actually talking to one another about the politics we hold – and remembering our manners while we have that conversation.
On Sunday, I held the second of our four-week study talking about Just Mercy, a book by Bryan Stevenson about prisoners on death row in Alabama. We have two groups – one after each service. The makeup of each group is different, and the conversations are really interesting.
On Sunday, we got into a bit of hot water. As you may imagine, talking about the death penalty, the racial injustice of our legal system, and what all of that means to our faith, can get pretty heated. Political ideologies begin to be expressed, whether we realise it or not. In my second group, there was a moment where I could feel the tension rise – there were some differing opinions, here – some strong convictions being challenged by the nature of the material.
And then, the most wonderful thing happened – the two who were beginning to get into a disagreement actually talked TO one another. They didn’t talk at one another – they didn’t fall into side conversations with the people next to them – they genuinely wanted to hear the other out, and to find common ground. Neither one dug their heels in unnecessarily, or got rude or snippy. No one else in the group jumped in to escalate, just stayed engaged with the process.
It was one of the most beautiful witnesses of Christian community I have seen. Ever. Some would argue that politics must stay out of the church – but I think part of our being, and being in this world, is political – so keeping it out of church all together is not offering a full welcome. Some would say that churches should strive towards political engagement, constantly talking about and advising members on the votes they should cast.
What I saw on Sunday was neither and both, at the same time. I think churches should be a place where we learn how to be civil to one another – where we are welcomed in the fullness of our ideologies and beliefs, challenged, and invited to grow. There isn’t an end goal – to get everyone to vote one way, but rather there is an invitation to be engaged with the process. To actually listen to a differing opinion, and to offer your own as well.
I pray for a world where we know more of this civility.