This post is the second in a 3-part series pondering what it means to be in community with people we disagree (particularly in congregations). The previous post laid the groundwork, and today we start to tackle the questions of how and what this looks like.
How to Live in Diverse Community
To engage and live in a diverse community takes intention. It takes a willingness to risk offending one another in order to be honest and authentic. It also takes a risk both on your part, and others, to enter into relationship. If there is no interest or effort to create a relationship, no matter how hard one tries, community won’t emerge. Community is not a one-directional thing, rather its a multi-directional thing. Like friend and adviser Dr. Terri Elton reminds, “its messy,” especially when in the midst of congregational communities.
One of the ways that can be helpful to living and co-existing is to have some sort of promise, covenant, or even ground rules. The more formal the community, the more likely that there can be actual rules or ideas that are adapted and held by a community. The less formal the community, the harder this is to do. It may not be necessary, but it could help. It is especially helpful for when within a community engaging in a difficult, controversial, and altogether divisive topic.
Here’s an example. In the year following the ELCA Churchwide Assembly and votes in August of 2009, my home congregation engaged in a discussion and time of conversation around concerns, hopes, etc. This was not unlike many other congregations. There was a wide range of viewpoints expressed, and it was obvious that not everyone agreed coming into the conversation and certainly not everyone agreed when the conversation ended. (I would add, to this day not everyone agrees.) I don’t think this is atypical. But the act of being able to have a mostly civil conversation in the midst of anxiety, worry, emotions, faith and faith questions provides some hope about how to have community in the midst of differing opinions and perspectives. Out of that conversation came some compromises and stances which I myself might not have agreed with, nor agree with now (like that of “bound conscience“), but I recognize that’s what happens in community.
The sign of a healthy community is that it is willing to live into that tension and paradox and not run away from it. Another sign is a willingness or an ability at least to revisit these tough conversations and ideas down the road and reevaluate the communities’ perspective in light of that. And, to admit when perhaps it was wrong and to be able to come together, admit that and then change course based on their communal discovery and discernment.
Along these lines, in order to live in diverse community there needs to be safety to ask questions. (This is one of the reasons the Discourse series exists actually). This is both for evaluation and reevaluation purposes, but also in the sense that true relationship can only happen when people are free and able to say and express what they are wondering about, thinking about, hoping for, afraid of, etc. If people do not feel comfortable expressing these things that are weighing on their hearts and minds, the community is not a safe place but its also not its fullest potential. More cynically, if community is not this, its really more just superficial which leaves many people wanting and perhaps looking for something else more fulfilling, rewarding, safe and open to wonder and imagination. Perhaps this is a generational thing, but I have seen this to be especially true among millennials. If they don’t feel the safety and ability to be authentic, they are not apt to get much out of or invest in a community for the long-term.
What do you think about these ideas and perspectives? What have been your experiences? What are some helpful tips for living in diverse communities? Or, for living with people you greatly disagree with?
The third post in the series offers some theological perspectives on this conversation, and I hope you will check it out.
Image Credit: Diverse Community
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