Dear St. Paul’s family,
I don’t think anyone will dispute the fact that we are living in a time when the social fabric of our society is being stressed and torn by disagreement. Not long ago it was possible to disagree over any number of topics and remain in relationship. But in the USA today it’s almost impossible to have a civil conversation with someone who belongs to a different political party. The language of disagreement has become toxic and demeaning: we confuse views with character and dismiss those who disagree as idiots or monsters.
We have largely withdrawn into sub-cultures or bubbles of those who share our views. Social media magnifies this tendency by only showing us what the algorithms say we want to hear.
But the church is different – or should be. We come together, not because of our political views, but because God calls us to one altar, to worship as one body, to be transformed by the love of God in Christ. St. Paul’s is well known as a very progressive congregation, but it isn’t monolithic. Despite what you may think, we have fellow congregants who voted for the current president and would vote for him again. We have fellow parishioners who are not convinced that same-sex marriage is holy or that abortion should be legal.
You may never know the identity of those in very small minorities in our midst, because they will not dare to out themselves, after hearing the contemptuous way the holders of such views are often treated among us. I am not exempt from that behavior and I am sorry for it. But I can confidently tell you that there are good and kind Christians among us with whom I deeply disagree, and I want to believe that you and they would like to be able to discuss our differences within the context of a Christian community. And it seems to me that part of our call as followers of Jesus is to promote ways of communicating that are kind and loving, in the hope that we can make a difference for good in the world.
How might we model such conversations? We can start by moderating our language, in person and on social media, always bearing in mind that we may be hurting the feelings of someone we care about. And we can work on ways to listen to other views, perhaps from the holders of those views or perhaps from third parties (such as clergy). If you are willing to join me in crafting such conversations, please let me know. Perhaps we can find a way to influence our community for good and start the healing of America.
Your sister in Christ,
PS Unless some urgent topic arises, I will be taking a break from writing weekly letters during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Feel free to send me ideas for future topics: the Epiphany will be here before we know it.