No one rose above the exchanges. The moderator added barbed comments between speakers. His promise to listen openly faded like the setting sun. Further comments from the floor took his tack. Lines of alienation became firm. When the event concluded, like-minded clusters formed in the hall and the parking lot. Only alienation had been achieved.
Was this a church gathering? The sad fact is that it easily could have been. Instead it was a town meeting debating a development proposal. Likely there were church members in the assembly, but no Christian influence was apparent. Conflict in civic life and in the churches has little to distinguish it. Testy exchanges, rancorous public hearings, recriminations, and eventual recourse to lawyers are common to both. Christians fight like everyone else.
It is not scandalous that Christians disagree. The readiness to stand apart from one another is scandalous. Professions of unity and charity vanish; an urge for vindication triumphs. In the end there are no winners.
Conflict’s sources are easily understood. One element is the extent to which theological, as well as political, correctness is prized. The vindication of one’s ideals is the goal, not common good. Those who disagree are anathema.
The other element, turning church gatherings into combustible mixes, is the presence of difference. American pluralism – religious, cultural, and political – has become extensive and obvious. For many in the churches, the world is foreboding. Difference is threatening.
In every generation the church must recapture its intention. Belief and practice must be gauged not by like-minded purity, but by love of God and love of neighbor.
William L. Sachs