Civil discourse

Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.

As Christians gather around the altar and the bread and wine are consecrated, this centuries old doxology is sung in praise of God and of God’s unifying action in the world. Some Christians may be more familiar with this prayer than others, but as Christians, we celebrate our essential unity in Christ and give God the glory for holding us together.

I bring this up because the elections are near and this year’s political campaigning has been particularly angry and mean spirited. In a world full of division and misunderstanding, it is essential to any community that we engage one another in conversation. This discourse requires listening, introspection, and reasoning. It requires respect for others even when we disagree. It requires safe places where people can be civil with one another.

Given the hostile political environment we are in, our churches —  in fact any religious community — should be a safe place where issues of society can be discussed. If not in our communities of faith, then where? Where will we be able to talk through the important issues of the day and do so in the light of our most cherished beliefs?

Dave and I argue a lot about politics, yet we can retain our sense of belonging to the same community and even our friendship. Though we might disagree passionately, though we may have different visions for the world, and though we might occasionally offend each other, we continue on as members of the same community. We confess that because of our attachment to our own understandings, we sometimes forget that there is a God above who is greater. Recognizing our limitations, we embrace each other, and recommit ourselves to walking together in a manner worthy of the calling of our faith. Isn’t this how it should be in any religious community?

Speaking as a Christian, I believe that it is through Christ and in the unity of the Holy Spirit that we are one. We are not always able to know how to be reconciled, but God knows and this is God’s work. The Gospel writer John expresses this clearly describing Jesus as the good shepherd who watches over the flock; or, again, as the vine to which we are all grafted. Paul uses the metaphor of a body saying that we are all members of one body. Paul “entreats” the Ephesians “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:1-5).

As uncomfortable as they might be, difficult conversations are important to our life together, not only life within our own community of faith but our life together in society at large. Remembering God above and walking humbly, remaining firm in our search for justice in the world, we can continue after Nov. 8 to walk and talk and work together. We pray that the Evil One, the great divider, has no power over us as we engage in civil discourse.

—  Dietrich is the pastor at St John Lutheran Church in Montgomery.