Watching the news or political commentary on television often leaves me shaking my head.
There’s a lot of tension and conflict in our public dialogue; people set up—and quite happy to be so—in opposing corners to fight it out over an issue on the pretext that we are being informed. It reminds me more of Jimmy Sharman’s boxing tent than informed discussion.
This style of dialogue has spilled out into social media and infects our ordinary dialogue; even manifesting from time to time in the councils of the church.
I have thought about what we, as the Uniting Church, can do to change this landscape. One way to approach this is to be who we are, what our name says, and not get drawn into playing the I’m right you’re wrong game. To be uniting. The best gift we can offer is to help people listen to one another. Truth will emerge. Irrespective of whether we like or dislike what the other person is saying, we should encourage people to listen to one another with respect, demonstrating our core Christian virtues like tolerance, forbearance, compassion and self-discipline.
There are instances like Israel Folau, or way back, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton. Public pressure tells us that we need to make a judgement and pick a side. These things emerge and are part of the public psyche and we can easily get sucked into making a judgement. Why, I ask?
Billy Graham is credited as saying “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love”. And to love in this context, I think is to honour, respect and listen. The beautiful thing about listening is that if you do it well, you win the right to speak and be heard.
If we can live that life, we might actually be able to influence our families, or maybe even our communities. We might not change the world, or we might not change someone else’s behaviour, but at least we would be in the space where we are called to be, which is ministers of reconciliation.
Recently I was quite excited when I saw Professor Anne Tiernan was a panellist on the ABC program Q&A. I thoroughly enjoyed Anne’s presentation at Synod in Session so I thought I would tune in. Joining her on the panel were two people who were hammer and tongs at each other, and while Anne acted like the sweet voice of reason, these other two guests were—for the lack of a better word—carrying on. I was disheartened, switched off and went to bed.
So, while sometimes it may be frustrating, and sometimes one may be tempted to be extreme, the most important thing for us is to rediscover and model the classical Christian virtues.
Wherever we live, be it relationships in our communal life, on social media, at church, in the family, listening to people and seeking to understand is one of the most valuable things we can do. We need to be people who are committed to reconciliation.
Now, more than ever, a commitment to being “uniting” is the one of the most important things that the Uniting Church can offer.