Common Consents in a Divided Age?

Let’s risk a dialogue. By no means a new challenge, but rather a new season…so let’s risk.

These days we hear how Americans have grown so divided we cannot possibly work together toward shared goals. Evidence for disunity appears by the hour, while efforts to create common ground apparently lose ground at the same rate.

Similarly in the faith community, when followers of Christ come together, the left and the right continue divergent in many arenas. On what might we agree in order to have fruitful conversation?

In the spirit of the apostle Paul’s challenge to the Ephesian church to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (Eph. 4:3 NIV), I humbly propose the following (not very original) draft communion, welcoming all thoughtful comments toward a final covenant of sorts. Seems like a mature pursuit right?

Dive in. It’s a draft and the comment section is open. Let us know your ideas to make the following seven consents better. Tell us why a point should be excluded, why a different point ought to be included, or how to change the language. You might even tell everyone what you like. People of faith and not-faith…all are invited to participate, and we’ll post more content around each of these consents over the next many weeks.

Seven Consents (Draft)

  1. We hold in common a respect for TRUTH based in fact and evidence. Party allegiance should not get in the way of insisting upon truth—or calling out lies.

  2. When we inject faith and scripture into our conversations, we avoid arguing as if we hold the only possible interpretation of the tenets of our faith. We avoid eisegesis (the process of interpreting text in such a way as to introduce one’s own presuppositions, agendas or biases.) We avoid phrases like, “God told me…” and “The Bible clearly says…”.

  3. If we stand for religious liberty, we also stand against religious discrimination. Political ideology should not impede any of us from speaking out against flagrant ‘anti-people group’ declarations.

  4. We agree that obscene and careless use of language poses a genuine obstacle to honorable politics, basic decency, and a well-functioning government. Words matter.

  5. We resist political commentary that sees deception, bigotry and casual malice as a courageous form of “disruption” designed to bring down “the establishment.”

  6. We avoid arguing from the premise of “what-about” or via the “projection” of one individual or party’s error onto the other, in order to make a counterpoint. We stay on topic.

  7. We grow our capacity to hold competing truths. For instance, we embrace the necessity of repentance to lay the groundwork for reconciliation and restoration (e.g. “the prodigal son”.) We hold down truth and love, justice and mercy, accountability and unity, and the many more dualities that mark our journey toward maturity.

5 thoughts on “Common Consents in a Divided Age?”

  1. Thanks, RC Bingham, for initiating the process of developing a community agreement! I hope The Gathering models how to wrestle fruitfully with life’s deepest questions. I think one more point of “consent” to consider is: we encourage personal introspection about how our social statuses create and/or leverage earned and unearned power and privilege. For instance, as a Black woman, I experience race and gender discrimination. At the same time, my upper-middle-class profession (college professor) and income mean I have tools for navigating systemic racism and sexism that many Black women do not.

  2. As I recently commented to Angie Simms, member of The Gathering, every few years I feel like the scales fall from my eyes on an issue I thought I had well in hand. Lately, my conversations with Angie have had that effect. Read her blogs! And then there is Lindsay Thompson. Did you read her blog on moral repair?
    Likewise, I often tell my students that my entire career has involved repeatedly finding that what I had assumed, or thought I knew, was wrong. Often, my views are transformed my work as an ethnographer/qualitative researcher. Up close, things rarely look the same as they do at a distance.
    These days I find that I like discovering that I am wrong (at least most of the time), but I had to get in practice of holding my views lightly, due to the knowledge they may well be overturned by some new insight or encounter. I’m wondering whether we can include something that gets at this in our consents? Not all beliefs need to be on the table. I believe in the basic tenets of the Apostles’ Creed, for example, and will keep on believing them (though shades of meaning will no doubt be transformed by my walk of faith). I wonder, can we agree to hold at least some of our views lightly and be open to changing our minds?
    Kathryn Edin

  3. Thank you Bob for putting this out there. Let me break my silence by confessing that I’m gravely concerned about the proliferation of cancel culture, and fear it getting far worse in the coming months and years. I hope I’m wrong about that, but your post is a step in the right direction.
    I wouldn’t differ with any of these, though in #1, to “facts and evidence” I would add “the whole counsel of God as stated in his Word.” Or something about the sufficiency of Scripture as in 2 Timothy 3:16. The Scriptures must be the lens through which our experience is evaluated—we’re not to interpret Scripture through the lens of experience. God’s Word is objective.
    John wrote in his gospel “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
    In that verse we see three things—(1) the veracity/authority of Scripture, (2) the person/work of Christ, and (3) the way of salvation. A church is on its way down when one or more of those three things is deemed no longer necessary. Make no mistake, in a misguided effort to be more “relevant”, a great many churches deny or downplay these things.
    All that to say, so long as we’re in full agreement on the three things John gives us there, I can extend the hand of Christian fellowship—politics and background notwithstanding.
    And I have some great friends who don’t hold to those views—I just don’t call them Christians.

  4. Thanks for jumping in John – so appreciate your thoughtfulness! I wonder if your suggestion about the sufficiency of Scripture belongs more to #2 in the “Common Consents?” After all, we not only read the Bible, we must interpret it accurately as well, and this always involves tension and a dialogue. In this particular grid, it does not always seem to involve the same lens as “facts and evidence”, though I join you in embracing its authority.

    Here are some thoughts as to why I lean towards including your thoughts more readily under #2 in order to keep the robust injection of Scripture in our future conversations.

    Translation is the first step for the non-Original Language reader, and this is exacting work, reflected by the many different choices made by great translators.

    Secondly, a simple observation of the contemporary church reading the same Bible makes it clear – that what is plain to one is not equally plain to all. There is the ongoing danger that one will often read one’s own ideas into the text, and make God’s Word into something never intended by God. So we acknowledge the nature of the reader be taken into account.

    And finally, the dual (divine and human/historical) nature of Scripture itself demands interpretation, so that we must bring historical, literary and textual tools to the task of good exegesis.

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