Talk to Your Enemies
The retired South African Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu is quoted as saying, “If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” A powerful reminder that peacemaking and the forgiveness that must come with it can only happen when those who are opposed are willing to come together in dialogue. When we speak with friends about our grievances often what happens is that our opinions and feelings become entrenched.
We see this at play within the dominant culture and the world which we are a part. Whether it is the rhetoric from the leaders of North Korea and the United States or a dispute between neighbours. When we are unwilling to come together, when we only confide in those who share our ideology, then we remain apart. Worse, the gulf which divides us gets wider.
A physical reminder of this occurred several years ago when I had the opportunity to visit Vimy Ridge in France. In addition to the monument, many of the trenches and tunnels that were built during the Great War still exist. As we travelled to the trenches I walked to the German lines and my friend to the British lines, we were 50 meters apart. Yet that 50 meters represented an ideological and national divide that would prove difficult to surmount.
I often feel that within society today we face similar divides. South of the border we are witnessing a rift that is playing out in professional sports. Whether to kneel or stand at the singing of the national anthem. An aside about this debate, prior to 2009 teams in the NFL didn’t take the field until after the anthem had played. However, today the issue surrounding kneeling or standing is being equated to being a patriot or a racist. Of course, the issue is far more complex and nuanced than this, but people have become rooted in their beliefs and ideologies. The debate has become binary and one wonders if any good can come of it. My hope and prayer is that dialogue on race relations will forward in a positive manner.
Another issue which is a hot topic within the church is the approach to LGBTQI individuals. Some denominations have dealt with this issue already, some such as my own are currently embroiled in the discussion and still others have not had a full discussion. What I have witnessed is a division based on theology and understanding of scripture which has in many ways has paralyzed the church. In speaking with a colleague the other day he commented that one of the larger churches in his area was not even willing to talk about the issue. A sad state of affairs when we cannot even have a conversation with one another.
I bring these issues up because at their heart they deal with how we relate to one another and live with one another in community. Both as communities of faith and the wider communities where we live. What I believe most people want is to live in peace and to enjoy the goodness of God. However, we all have different ideas about how that should happen. We all express different attitudes about what a fair approach would be.
I am reminded of the parable about the Workers in the Vineyard. Various workers are hired throughout the day and at days end all are paid the same wage. A metaphor about how God’s grace is equal and available to everyone. However, the parable is also divisive as it offends our sense of fairness and justice. Which is in my mind the most powerful teaching it offers, that we are too easily divided and set against one another.
In all your disputes, in all your arguments, in all your disagreements I would urge you to listen to the other side. Listening and engaging does not mean agreement, but it does signal a desire to work together and find a better way forward. I pray that way forward is accomplished through the love of God expressed in the unity of the Holy Spirit.