By Michael Witmer
I was extremely impressed by the people at my table ten days ago in Marion. I was particularly gratified by the people who pushed back a bit at the process, while demonstrating what Brittany called “commitment to the conversation.”
Brittany’s notion of commitment to conversation entailed more than staying at the table. It meant a commitment to the quality of the conversation. It happened after I tallied up the five winners in our little core value exercise. Britney asked if there was a better way to find the group consensus than just counting the number of people who listed a given core value on their top five list. It was a, “well duh,” moment for me, and the ensuing conversation we shared was far deeper and richer for her having probed a bit.
The lists that came out of the caucuses, of how we’d given offense and received offense, struck me as having a common thread: Each of the things that gave offense had the effect of degrading the civic conversation that was going on during the last electoral campaign. These included name-calling, fear mongering, using meaningless catch phrases that appealed only to emotions, mischaracterizing the other side’s positions, imputing the excesses and ignorance of a few radicals to everyone on the other side, just to name a few.
These are conversational sins, and they undermine conversational justice, whether they’re happening at a table, on the street, or through the mass media as the body politic tries to make up its mind.
One takeaway for me of this last weekend is that all Christians of whatever stripe should stay “committed to the conversation”; not just by keeping it going, but by working to protect the conversation, and to deepen the conversation, and to keep people engaged in the conversation.
I think of it as talk therapy for civilization.
By Michael Witmer
Bill, If you came away from our time together feeling like you were invited to quietude, I’d say we failed miserably in our purpose.
Faith-based reconciliation is no invitation to stand idly by in the face of injustice. It’s a way to anwer violence with something other than violence.
One thing the misadventures of the last 8 years (not to mention the whole last century!) have shown us is how far violence can go in solving our conflicts.
We’ve also seen the limits of legislative and court battles as instruments in building up and healing communities. Sometimes war and coersion are inevitable, but these represent the failures that faith based reconciliation works to avoid.
It’s about giving peace a chance. And another. And another.
By Bill Munn
At what place does quietism take the guise of reconciliation? In the hundred years war of the 20th century, the church has largely stood silent as blacks were lynched and cast into the “otherness” of segregation. Workingmen and women seeking union representation were looked upon as pariahs by the church. Gender equity was only belatedly acknowledged and sexual identity has become the rationale for reaction.
Is this the “Kingdom of God?’ where all manner of cruelty is justified in God name as was slavery in the 19th century? Does any of this reflect the breaking through of God in the daily life of mankind?
Do our efforts at reconciliation represent a true recognition of our status as children of God or is this an effort of an organization’s desperate attempt at self preservation? Is this a “feel good moment” that takes the place of real and sustained effort to address the pressing issues of our time?
The larger problem of “finding the moral center” is that of moral relativism, an accusation fondly hurled by the religious right, but perhaps not without a certain validity from the left. Where was the “moral center” in the Holocaust? Where was it at the march on Birmingham? What was the moral center of the murder of Matthew Shepard by homophobes in Cheyenne, Wyoming?
I suggest that while the impulse may be noble, the application may be considerably less than noble and might in the final analysis be the cruelest fate for those who are singled out as “others.”
Speaking as the rector (head pastor) of Gethsemane Episcopal Church, I was delighted that we could host this seminar. It’s a wonderful thing for my parish to be involved in work like this, and we had several people participating.
We hope to do more reconciliation work in this area. If you’d like to be involved, stay in touch through this blog, or send an email to any of the team members.
I’d be very interested in any comments you may have on the content of the event. Given the election we just had, did it impact your thoughts on our politics?
“Finding the Moral Center” is over, but we hope to keep the conversation going through this blog. Do you have questions about the reconciliation process? Do you have insights you would like to share? Do you have experiences with reconciliation that have transformed your relationships?
Please email your blog posts to email@example.com. Thanks!
Reconcilers of Northern Indiana
Are you writing on your blog about reconciliation or faith and politics? If so, email us and we’ll post a link to your blog.
The seminar facilitators will be blogging about faith-based reconciliation soon!