Making sense of situations isn’t always possible. That never stops me from trying, though. I believe that understanding grows with every puzzle piece we add toward the big picture.
I have been deeply puzzled lately by a combination of two phenomena in our culture. The first is the great difficulty churches are experiencing in maintaining their communities. The second is the circus unfolding in our 2016 Presidential race. As I see it, there is a common issue – that being the tyranny of personal opinion and its twin desire to amass majority agreement through strategic influence. In other words, our culture places value in not only having strong personal opinions, but also in having enough charisma to persuade others to agree with that opinion. When we can persuade the coveted majority to our opinion, we achieve celebrity status.
The problem – as I see it – is that all of our tendencies to forge opinions, argue our point, develop allies and enemies along arbitrary lines of agreement and disagreement do nothing to establish or even encourage unity.
It is no wonder we are all so divided. But, there is no doubt that God’s people are being drawn toward repentance for our divisiveness and to search for ways to become an example of true unity.
One piece of the puzzle, as far as I understand it, seems to be the lost art of making decisions by consensus. Here’s what consensus is not: majority vote. Here’s some of what consensus requires:
- Inclusion of all members
- Accountability to the larger community as well as the process
- Ground rules for process
- Commitment to implementation
In consensus-building, levels of agreement still exist. Not everyone agrees wholeheartedly with the final decision, but everyone accepts the decision or else agrees not to block it, for the good of the whole and for the sake of making the best decision for the community involved.
If you are interested in the concept, check out this document developed by the American Heart Association.
Clearly, consensus unifies in ways that voting cannot. Consensus helps us see and honor a continuum of ideas while voting sets us up to think in binary comparisons.
Somewhere along the line, we started believing that we experience unity when we find our particular tribe of like-minded people. There, we all have the same basic opinions and values. Most likely, we all wear the same brands of clothes and drive similar vehicles. We all look and think practically the same way, so this must be unity!
What I’m saying is … that is not unity. Unity is something much more challenging. Unity happens when you find yourself working alongside someone who is quite different from yourself, achieving a common goal and forming bonds of trust and honor. Even love. True community happens in this type of mold-stretching unity.
My heart aches when I see division building rather than unity. It aches because I know it is not our purpose or our calling. I always go back to the Gospel of John, Chapter 17, where Jesus prayed for our unity. Us. OUR unity – with God and with each other.
When we ask God’s will to be done, we are asking for unity.
I beg for it and fully believe it will be reality. On earth, as it is in heaven.