If we want war, we have it

My favorite blogging DS, Sky McCracken, has added to what is a growing genre of blog posts appealing for more Christian discourse in the midst of our differences. Several other Methodist bloggers have weighed in on this topic recently.

McCracken writes, in part:

If we want war, we already have it. But if we want to be people of peace who truly embrace Jesus – we HAVE to sit with each other. Talk. Build relationships. Pray. Desire to have a heart that is at peace rather than at war. Listen. Quit labeling. Quit looking for “code” words. Long before we had any books on conflict resolution, we had Jesus modeling all of these things.

In my seminary classes, we use a book by Marshall Rosenberg called Nonviolent Communication. In it, he argues for a form of communication that is oriented toward observing facts, naming our own feelings, taking responsibility for them, and making requests of one another. (A one page summary of the model is here.) The goal is not to persuade but to understand. Rosenberg argues that we should put down the tools of persuasion and rhetoric and the seductive power they provide.*

Needless to say, this is not the kind of discourse we often see on the Internet. It may not be a form of communication possible in a disembodied medium like this. But reading the book again this week for class does bring home the contrast between Rosenberg’s ethic and the strategic rationality (to use a term from Jurgen Habermas) that dominates our discourse.

It has me pondering what I might do to change things. Please note, I am intentionally turning my gaze inward here. It is easy to say what everyone else should do. But — as I learned in family systems theory — the only part of the dysfunctional system I can change is myself. And so, I am thinking about that today.


*For what it is worth, I am not giving a blanket endorsement of Rosenberg’s book. His theological base assumes all humans are by nature good and compassionate, and he finds talk of sin and moral guilt life destroying. With some revisions to account for fallen humanity and redemption in Christ, much of what he says is both helpful and instructive, but I do not embrace his theology (largely unstated) or anthropology (explicit from the first sentence).

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6 thoughts on “If we want war, we have it

  1. Thanks, John, for the post. I affirm the value of understanding one another and respecting one another’s opinions. At some point, however, there needs to be a decision made on many issues (not just moral ones). At what point is it appropriate to move from understanding to persuasion?

    1. Great question, Tom. It makes me think I need to go re-word part of the post. I think laying out a position and why we support it and inviting others to join us is a great thing to do. The kind of persuasion I find less helpful is the kind we see in culture around us that is just a soft kind of power: labels, loaded language, appeals to peer pressure, social isolation, and the like.

      Also, please don’t take what I wrote as an argument against church discipline. That was not my intention.

  2. I just preached on conflict (in marriage but also in other relationships) this past Sunday. One of my points was that we don’t “fight right” when we fight to win. Fighting to create winners and losers is wrong and sinful. Instead we should fight for resolution. Fight to find an end to the conflict. The conflict is what needs to end… not the other person or their disagreement. The problem I see with the approach of more conversation in the UMC is that when there has been decades and decades of conversation there never seems to be resolution. There doesn’t ever seem to be an end. And so the fight has devolved into fighting to win. Fighting to injure. Fighting to wound. Fighting to change the other person so they can no longer win. Unfortunately because those who have come before us didn’t settle this with proper resolve we are now in a situation in which there will be winners and losers. It will be a bloody battle to the finish. Either that will come through the courts or through a slow death. Regardless, even in family stems theory, there comes a point when separation is the best and only way forward.

    As an aside, we are still talking about the wrong family system model when we always compare the current battle to a couple getting a divorce. When we finally realize this is a family battle over Grandma’s will while she’s on her death bed… only then will each side figure out how to best move forward. Get that will worked out before both sides lawyer-up and it has to go to probate.

  3. I finally got around to reading Sky McCracken’s blog (thanks for the link, John). He’s lecturing us a little and maybe we deserve it. That’s fair. But I must agree with Tom Lambrecht’s riposte, that “many issues” (like what’s tormenting the UMC) can’t be resolved by evading decision. The Bible is replete with calls for decision! And the divides are often sharp. I don’t think moral evasion has merit.

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