Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." Matthew 5:9 (TNIV).

Sometimes I am not sure.

By which I mean: I think there's a downside as well as the (more obvious) upside to peacemaking.

Given a situation where people have diametrically opposed positions, where compromise is impossible, there's still great value in continuing the conversation. I believe this is the way to bring along as many people as possible as we move in a forward direction (even if that means proceeding more slowly). I think it's important not to demonize the "other side," not to polarize the debate.

In the new edition of Newsweek, there's an excerpt from Cass Sunstein's new book Going to Extremes:
"In 2005, Sunstein asked liberals and conservatives to write down their views on social issues (gay unions, climate change). Subjects were then split into like-minded groups for 15 minutes. Almost all became more dogmatic in their views. This is called "group polarization.""

There is serious danger in surrounding oneself with people and information that only reinforces one's opinions. So, yay for the peacemakers who bring everyone to the table, who make people see each other rather than dehumanizing each other.

But on issue where I do see a clear Right and Wrong, I think there's also danger in pretending that both sides are "equal." There really are such issues. Slavery. The holocaust. Women's suffrage. Let's keep going: civil rights (for all races, sexes, orientations, abilities), genocide, ignoring third world hunger and disease, human trafficking, lack of access to quality healthcare.

By not roundly condemning that which is wrong (and thereby shutting off discussion with those I've judged) I am disrespecting and hurting innocent people.

It's a hard decision: do the "right" thing but hamper progress in a global sense, increase polarization, and deepen rifts between people-

Or continue on in discussions with people with whom I disagree, patiently listening and explaining, knowing all the while that by engaging and not condemning I'm lending a certain amount of legitimacy to a position that might be hateful and hurtful to people I love.

There are issues, like gay rights, where I find it easier to continue the discussion, be patient, allow time and tides to pull more people along on our ponderous slide forward. And there are issues that are perhaps more personal to me, like hatefulness toward the developmentally disabled (affecting, as it does, my child who cannot yet stand up for herself) and possibly even misogyny (affecting, as it does, me and millions of other women) where I am more comfortable taking the Judging role. Zero tolerance. You are wrong and this is why.

I understand those for whom gay rights is such an issue. I think there's need for people in both roles on each issue - the trailblazers and the peacemakers - as long as we continue moving forward.


Stushie said...

Well written, Sarahlynn.

grace said...

i was thinking about this exact issue last night when out local news covered the local IKA (imperial klans of america)and the riving of hate groups in kentucky and the u.s. in general. It kind of felt like they were trying to do a balanced view interviewing klan leaders as well as civil rights leaders.

it is good to have the discussion, but let us not present this as balanced topic!

grace said...

wow, i have had a lot of coffee today and that post was unreadable. sorry!

Sarahlynn said...

Stushie, I'm serving on the Nominating Committee this spring/summer/fall, so these issues are very much in my mind. I want our new Session to be representative of the congregation and community as a whole as much as possible, you know?

Grace, yikes! I understood all too well. Yeah, that's a pretty clear cut one.

JezmundtheFamilyBezerker said...

IMO, no Christian/Church going person can claim to be anything but a hypocrite if they don't support gay rights, particularly to marriage...How can everyone not being treated equally not fall under your list with Slavery, holocaust etc?

Sarahlynn said...

Um, it does. "civil rights (for all races, sexes, orientations, abilities)". Structure. I started with a few biggies I thought nearly everyone would agree with. Then I moved on into other issues that are obviously right/wrong dichotomies for me, though I acknowledge that others don't feel the same way.

I have no idea who you are and what your story is, but you're perfectly exemplifying part of what I'm writing about. We need people to say, "This is what's right."

But we also need people to engage in discussion, really try to understand where "the other side" is coming from, explain patiently and with understanding - rather than simply shutting down discussion with harsh judgment and lack of understanding as you've done.

In my opinion, "no Christian/Church going person can claim to be anything but a hypocrite if they" don't see the value in treating all others as fully human, in trying to listen with charity rather than demonizing others whose beliefs are different.

As it turns out, gay rights, including gay marriage, are a big deal for me. I simply couldn't understand how any critically thinking person in good conscience could oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians - until I listened, really listened, to someone I trust who feels strongly about this issue and disagrees passionately with me. (See above: Stushie.) It didn't change my opinion, but it did help me see that there really is more to talk about here, it isn't an issue of "smart" vs. "stupid" or "blind faith" or anything else that's so simple.

I believe that it does far less good for me to brand others as "hypocrites" and refuse to engage with them than it does for me to try to understand where they're coming from and explain where I'm coming from.

Anyone wanting to engage in conversation with me is better served to follow the latter approach. For example, we agree on this issue, yet you've just made me want to disagree with you!