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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Simple Solution?

Written by: on February 27, 2020

In his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt attempts to explain the reasons why those on opposite sides of political and religious issues seem to hate one another. He writes, “The answer is not … because some people are good and others are evil.”[1] From the standpoint of social psychology, Haidt seeks to build a framework that can help people better understand why and how people become divided.

The book offers an in-depth analysis based in experiments and studies, but offers little in the way of practical solutions. However, in a TedTalk interview in November 2016, Haidt suggested how Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People still holds up as a primary resource for making connections with others, especially with those who might have an opposing point of view. He also suggests that an antidote to the disgust that some harbor for those who believe differently can be found in a simple four-letter-word, love.[2]

Haidt’s book also references a website, CivilPolitics.org, as a resource for practical ways people can engage in behaviors that might transform the rhetoric into relationships based in mutual respect. Ravi Iyer writes that the beginning point in this process is to “improve interpersonal relationships.”[3] It may sound simplistic, but once again it seems that the followers of Jesus could be leading the way in transforming the divisive nature of our political and social institutions. I dove into these waters a bit last fall in a sermon:

Just before the Apostle Paul wrote about the “excellent way” of God’s love, he wrote a passage with the imagery of a human body as a metaphor for the church, the Body of Christ. He said, “the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. … The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!” … Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”[4]

The passage goes on to talk about different spiritual gifts that are necessary in Christian community. But Paul is saying more here than just making sure each job in the church gets done. This passage helps us to see the value and inherent worth in others and to understand how our differences can be our best asset, especially when we learn to come together for a common cause.

I identify as politically independent and theologically moderate. In other words, I tend to make conservatives and progressives equally angry at times! I belong to what one US Senator from Texas once called, “The Mushy Middle.” Ted Cruz means that as an insult to those who are not ideologically pure. Some even see the middle as worse than the opposing side, because a purist can at least identify with the passion of another purist, even if they hate each other’s ideologies. I believe the middle exists to hold the tension between opposite sides. The middle helps keep people at the table by seeing more than one view.

The reality is that conservatives need progressives and progressives need conservatives. If Paul were writing to the Church of the 21st century USA, he might say, “The body is not made up of one part, but of many. If a woman should say, ‘because I’m not a man, I do not belong to the body,’ she would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if Republicans should say, ‘because were are not Democrats, we do not belong to the body,’ they would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.”

In the body of Christ…
              a man cannot say to a woman,
                             I have no need of you
              a child cannot say to an older person,
                             I have no need of you
              a wealthy person cannot say to a person with no permanent home
                             I have no need of you
              a teetotaler cannot say to an addict,
                             I have no need of you
              a progressive cannot say to a conservative,
                             I have no need of you                  
              a Texas Longhorn cannot say to an Oklahoma Sooner
                             I have no need of you
              one who prefers traditional liturgical worship cannot say to one who prefers modern worship
                                     I have no need of you
              a straight white male cannot say to an African-American transgendered woman
                             I have no need of you
              a Republican cannot say to a Democrat
                             I have no need of you
              a pastor cannot say to a lay person                                                    
                             I have no need of you
              a citizen cannot say to an immigrant
                             I have no need of you                                               
              a Baptist cannot say to an Episcopalian
                             I have no need of you
                                           …not. in. the. body. of. Christ.

Some might say that’s just not how the world works. They aren’t wrong. But the Church of Jesus Christ was never supposed to work as the world works. The Church is an extension of God’s Spirit unleashed, seeking to try and close the gap between what the world is and what God dreams for our world. The Church, with its many different people and expressions, with its many different gifts, is supposed to show people what God’s love looks like. So that our world might be united in our common identity as children of God, created in God’s image, with a hope and faith that God loves the world and wants to be in relationship with it.

Paul said, “you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” We are beloved children of God and our gifts are meant to work together for God’s work in the world. We are better together. When we stand together, we stand on holy ground. And when we are together, God will do wonderful and amazing things in and through us.[5]

Honestly, I am not sure if the world could handle the kind of love revolution that it would take to repair the deep division that exists today. Will our propensity for tribalism and use of reason to justify our beliefs keep us locked in these patterns forever? Or can we learn from ourselves and each other, step out in faith, and begin to see others (and their wonderful differences) as parts of a greater whole than we could ever be on our own?

[1] Jonathan Haidt, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion,” (New York: Vintage Books, 2012,) 370.

[2] Jonathan Haidt, interview with Chris Anderson, “Can a Divided America Heal?,” filmed November 2016 in New York, New York, TED video, 20:17, http://www.civilpolitics.org/.

[3] Ravi Iyer, “Two Evidence Based Recommendations for Civil Disagreement,” CivilPolitics.org, March 5, 2016, http://www.civilpolitics.org/content/two-evidence-based-recommendations-for-civil-disagreement/.

[4] 1 Cor 12:12,21,27 (NIV.)

[5] excerpts from John McLarty, “Better Together: How Common Ground Becomes Holy Ground- Gifted by the Spirit,” Sermon, First United Methodist Church, Wichita Falls, Texas, October 20, 2019.

About the Author

mm

John McLarty

Husband. Dad. Pastor. Play a little golf.

12 responses to “A Simple Solution?”

  1. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    John,
    Love. What an easy and complicated solution. Even how its defined is complicated. It would seem if Christians were loving others well, our world would look very different. I keep thinking through our evangelical history, and how division after division happened over and over. We all exist in our own little bubbles. We either can’t or won’t reach out to the “other” Christian to bridge the divide. I feel certain Christians must lead the way in bringing about unity and healing. The question is will we? How do we begin living like we all belong to the same Body? Is there a way to mobilize the middle? If so, how?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      This is the piece that has been so frustrating over the past 6-7 years of my pastoral ministry. I think it was Stephen Colbert who said something like “we’re a ‘Christian Nation’ who won’t take seriously Jesus’ words to care for the hungry, sick, stranger, etc.” It still boggles my mind how angry church-going “Christians” get when they hear passages of Scripture that seem to conflict with their politics. (And I’ve got the emails to prove it!)

  2. mm Jer Swigart says:

    “Followers of Jesus could be leading the way.” I was thinking the exact same thing as I read both Hunter and Haidt. We admire a Jesus who said some pretty dangerous things about love. But do we follow that Jesus beyond “neighbor” love to “enemy” love? Is our understanding of love a entity that requires sacrifice, is costly, and demands creativity? Or, is our understanding of love simply a feel-good means to our own personal gain?

    In my view, followers of Jesus are not leading the way, generally speaking, with regard to forming interpersonal relationships. Perhaps its because we’re not following…merely admiring? What do you think? How did we go from following to admiring and how is it that we’ve duped ourselves into believing that admiring is following?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      See my reply to Darcy for more, but I’ll confess I’m getting more and more pessimistic about the Church (in its present state) being able to do anything to untangle itself from the forces of politics, economics, culture, etc. But…perhaps a few folks in local congregations could covenant to explore more deeply. The world might not change, but maybe we could create some space for those who are ready to start engaging more thoughtfully.

      • mm Jer Swigart says:

        Good stuff here and to Darcy. I empathize with your pessimism, my friend. If your optimism is growing, in which direction is it taking you, your imagination, and your leadership?

  3. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    I applaud the bold preaching. Doesn’t seem like you’re wearing a muzzle to me!

    • mm John McLarty says:

      Thanks- except this message was still fairly generic. I didn’t dive into the issue of children in detention centers at the border, the people who want us to allow openly carried guns in the church so we’ll feel safer, how it used to be churches (not governments) that stepped into the gaps regarding health care, education, and aid to the poor, etc. I’ve got a collection of emails urging me to keep politics out of the church, even when all I did was read a passage of Scripture. It’s a fun time to be in local church pastoral ministry!

  4. mm Steve Wingate says:

    the openness to learn has been a bit challenging for me where I currently serve. Only challenging because I ashamedly learn about the biases I have within me.

    So much resolution can come from learning each others story.

    • mm John McLarty says:

      We definitely bring our own biases with us in the places we serve. Some of that is wisdom and experience that the congregation needs from us, but you’re right, it starts by learning their story and building relationships of trust.

  5. mm Dylan Branson says:

    John, I was reminded of The Beatles song “All You Need is Love” as I was reading through your post (See? I have some culture 😉 ). Love should be what binds us, but like you said, I’m also not sure if the world wants that when the bitter rivalries we create tend to give us a sick sense of joy and satisfaction. I always half-jokingly say something to my family about this right after Christmas when UK plays UoL. Just a few days before, families were loving one another at Christmas and now they’re down each other’s throats as the cultic worship of college basketball demands their allegiance.

    You’re spot on about the issue of tribalism. It’s both interesting and sad how we so easily divide on issues. On the one hand, it shows us our propensity for forging communities so we aren’t alone. On the other, these communities are formed out of angst and hate rather than out of love. When our communities become “us” vs “them”, we lose sight of the other’s humanity.

    Come Christmastime, if you haven’t already seen it, the movie “Klaus” is a great representation of this.

    • mm John McLarty says:

      I almost made that the title of my post! And you’re right, nothing gets the gloves off faster than our sports rivalries!

  6. mm Greg Reich says:

    John,

    Great word. I find it interesting that when pastors say anything about politics they are condemned but when politics say something about God they are cheered. Life is a double edged sword. Though I am not pessimistic about the church I am concerned over much of what I see. What do you think it’s going to take to open our eyes to see how truly intertwined we are as people?

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