By Art Wright
January 28, 2020
During the month of January I have been co-leading a series at Huguenot Road Baptist Church called “Learning to Listen: Christian Ethics in an Age of Polarization.” Our weekly discussions have centered around the need for churches to play an active role in healing the partisan divide we feel acutely in our nation, in our churches, and in our families today. It has been a wonderful series so far, and I’m sharing here in hopes that other CBF VA churches will follow suit in being proactive about this kind of discussion.
The tagline for the series is a quote by Paul Tillich: “The first duty of love is to listen.” It has reminded us that our love for one another and our desire for unity compel us to listen to one another and to try to seek understanding, even in spite of our differences.
We started the series by listing a number of divisive topics we encounter in national politics and in churches: sexuality, gun rights, healthcare, women’s rights, climate change, interpretation of Scripture, and so forth. It’s not hard to prattle off a whole host of topics that are polarizing. There was a sense, however, that just by naming them aloud and acknowledging honestly that we would never agree on everything, that we were taking a step in the right direction.
We looked at data that suggest that we really are living in a hyper-partisan era, and that the divide between the “left” and “right” only continues to widen. Many of us feel first-hand the anxiety that this polarization creates: in conflict we have with family members, on social media, and in national politics, which seem to have reached a boiling point.
Scripture study pointed us toward pathways for growth: we discovered that it is often when we move together into the liminal space between two opposing sides that healing can begin to happen. Finally, we looked at practical ways we could begin to close the divide: by listening to one another’s stories, by getting to know one another more deeply, by seeing the value in diversity, and by moving beyond “I’m right and you’re wrong” thinking.
In a time where churches are struggling to be relevant in our culture, this is a pragmatic and vital way for churches to take leadership. Why not be a witness to what it looks like to live together in unity and love, in spite of our disagreements? Churches are an ideal place to have these conversations. I’d be glad to serve as a resource in this process. We must all engage in the hard but good work of building bridges together.