By Rev. Shonda Nicole Gladden, Vibrant Faith C3 Project Coach and Good to the SOUL, CEO
I have always been interested in athletic events. As a former lead pastor in a small town, I am often nostalgic for the experience of the highs of “Friday Night Lights” when the entire community pressed their way to the local high school gymnasium to cheer on their favorite celebrities, also known as the high school basketball team. Students would dress to impress. Administrators and teachers voluntarily extended their school day to be present. Alumni, many of whom were parents and grandparents of the current team and other students would pull out their class reunion paraphernalia and for a few hours on Friday nights, it didn’t matter which part of town you were from, what your current social economic status was, or if your political viewpoints tended towards red or blue or somewhere in between; on Friday nights everyone was rooting for the same team.
The political climate in the United States and abroad oftentimes causes many people to build up walls of difference- even in congregational settings, but when we consider that we are all called by the Almighty to live into a common, hope filled future of abundance, grace and love, being divisive and competitive is far from ideal. So how can congregations work to cultivate a culture of comradery in a society that is unhealthily competition prone?
Beth Silvers is one of the C3 Project congregational leaders at Florence Christian Church; she and her co-author, Sarah Stewart Holland, have written a brilliant work entitled, “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations.” I believe that their book offers people helpful frameworks for getting beyond language that contributes to division and distraction. In their book they suggest that:
“Engaging with other people is never easy, but it always will be worth it. Engaging with other people about politics is no different. Let yourself take that chance. Let yourself rise to the challenge. Your ability to stretch and grow will surprise you, and so will the people around you. Once people see you as a person willing to have thoughtful, curious, calm discussions, you will have all kinds of interesting conversations that seemed impossible a year ago.”[i]
Creating opportunities for people to converse is one way
that congregations can cultivate the culture of calling in their congregations.
Even more, what we are finding in the C3 Project is that there is a rich
generative energy that exists when congregations not only offer opportunities
for conversations within their local context, but when congregations make space
for interchurch conversations among diverse faith communities, they share
ideas, and spark imagination that is mutually beneficial. Consider your calling
to the church around the corner, or the mosque up the street. Share in a time of curious conversation.
Perhaps you will be pleasantly surprised to find an unlikely comrade.
[i] Holland, Sarah Stewart, and Beth Silvers. I Think You’re Wrong (but I’m Listening): a Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations. Nelson Books, 2019, p.17.