Dialogue, Unity, and Love

by Rachel Sensenig*

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16-19).

Paul’s words to the Corinthian church give me hope that we can be the people of God in the divided politicized morass of our country right now. What amazing news, that God is not counting our sins against us! The more we can humbly receive that grace, individually and collectively, the more we can actually be reconciled to one another across political divides and work for the common good.

I recently took a lengthy international trip with my Dad that required me to rely on a “third way” beyond the partisan divide. My Dad and I could not be any more different on the political spectrum—he a military man and me an Anabaptist pastor—and we both feel strongly about our convictions. Over the years, we’ve had many heated arguments that highlighted our differences and kept us in opposite camps.

But the more I’ve come to know Jesus, the more I’m called to value the person over the camp. People are more than their opinions, and our basic humanity is at stake here, in keeping with Jesus’s new command to “love one another as I have loved you.

It helps to be father and daughter, but still, the conversation was hard at times as we got into issues of immigration, economics, race, and foreign policy. The issues struck emotional chords and tapped into spiritual convictions on both sides. I realized again why many families often say “next topic!” when the issues come up, or why they don’t get together as much anymore at all.

I’m glad we’re not doing that as a blood-related family or as a church. At Circle of Hope, we’ve renewed our conviction about the importance of dialogue—a crucial Anabaptist value that has become even more vital in our politically anxious times. We need to engage and not ignore one another. Indifference and silence can be just as destructive and violent as loud insults and arguments. We need to talk with each other, even when we might rather avoid conflict. So one of our top three goals this year as a church is to create more opportunities for dialogue that unites us in the radical way of Jesus.

Dialogue is a way to realize our humanity. The fruit of dialogue—when we listen and not just talk— is NOT that we end up agreeing on all the fine points. It’s not that nobody’s feelings get hurt and everybody is completely “safe” in every moment. What happens is that we get to see each other as people,  not just stances or opinions or camps but human beings with reasons for being the way we are: human beings who have gone through hard times and are still learning,  who need community, who are being reformed by God, made into a new creation, even as we come together! We listen to the Spirit in and through each other. Through dialogue we can often at least agree on a way forward and develop a plan of action that allows us to express our gifts to the world.

In the partisan quagmire that produces a lot of INaction, there is a common commitment to capitalist values. I have found it very helpful to recognize the fear of scarcity on both sides as a way to understand what keeps us from unity in Christ. For the “liberals” it is often a fear of rights being taken away, and for the “conservatives” it is often a fear of their resources being threatened. Both feel they have “moral” convictions and even religious arguments to justify their positions.

A racist, sexist ideology still has a lot of power in the United States. But even more than that,  a deep, unconscious commitment to capitalist values has warped our desires. Americans are taught to want the latest upgrade, to know our rights, because we are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So naturally, we must fear and fight whatever threatens our “freedom” to unlimited consumption and self-determination. From Daniel Bell in The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern Worldd:

“Many Christians have failed to see what’s at stake in contemporary ‘postmodern’ life—dominated as it is by a globalized market and the rhythms of consumption —because we still tend to think that Christian faith is an ‘intellectual’ matter, a matter of what propositions we believe, what doctrines we subscribe to, what Book we adhere to. And conversely, we tend to think of economics as a ‘neutral’ matter of distribution and exchange. Because of these biases, we can too easily miss the fact that Christian faith is at root a matter of what we love—what (and Whom) we desire. If we forget that, or overlook that, we’ll also overlook all the ways that the rituals of “late capitalism” shape and form and aim our desire to worship rival gods” (p. 11).

I believe we must look at our desire— what and Whom we love—if we are going to find a way through this political morass. We  have to hear the call to die and rise with Christ, and to love him first. This love frees us to see and hear people as human beings, beyond their parties and affiliations. This  love allows us to build something new and ancient together—the living, breathing body of Christ! This love speaks to our basic need, reclaims our basic humanity, and helps us live into our fullness with dignity. We don’t need to have all of our intellectual arguments intact to make some action plans together. We don’t need to fear what we may lose—whether face or resources or life itself—because we belong to the Lord. The world needs the healing, generosity, and reconciliation that we bring, so I pray for a new movement of the Spirit that unites us in his powerful, suffering, and self-giving love.

*Rachel Sensenig is the pastor of the Broad Street location of Circle of Hope, Philadelphia, PA.