On a recent episode of Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers responded to a viewer’s question about why the United States is so divided. ”Is it because we’re so diverse,” the viewer asks, “or is there something else at work here?”
Moyers does an excellent job pointing out that conflict and disagreement are in no way new. From the Bible’s first family to the early colonists of America – conflict is an integral part of human nature and has been part and parcel of our journey since day one.
Politics, he says, “is an alternative to fratricide but it’s no pacifier of our conflicts over issues that touch our deepest emotions, like: taxes, abortion, immigration, sexuality – you name it.”
Isn’t this also true of the Church? You don’t need to have a doctorate in Church History to realize that our past has been fraught with theological differences, divisions, schisms and excommunications (and, that’s not even mentioning the violent conflict).
“We are a querulous people,” Moyers says. ”Civilization is but a thin veneer of civility stretched across the passions of the human heart. And civilization doesn’t just happen; we have to make it happen. And that’s not easy.”
The issues that “touch our deepest emotions” and cause conflicts within the national political arena don’t disappear when we enter our churches. Nor should they. Conflict is natural, normal and inevitable. It will always be with us. But, it doesn’t have to divide us.
Conflict gives us the opportunity to grow and transform – as individuals and as a community. It gives us the opportunity to learn, listen and seek understanding from those with whom we disagree and, in the process, grow our relationships stronger. Conflict also enables us to go deeper in conversation – to discuss the things that really matter and to share with others what’s on our hearts. As we discuss controversial and sensitive issues in the Church, let’s meet disagreement with love and an emphasis on community and relationship. As Ellen Ott Marshall says, “we must not allow the light of a gracious and loving God to be hidden under the bushel of antagonistic politics.”
To echo Moyers – it is not easy, but we can make it happen.