By DAN WEISS
Critical Race Theory.
Do you feel tension in your body yet? Do you have any emotions welling up inside of you? Do you want to talk about any of it?
There have always been controversial topics, issues and trends in our world. It seems the presence of social media, along with a tendency to access information from a small set of sources, have caused more of these issues to reach the level of national conversation. Every day we see and hear reports and opinions about multiple controversial issues.
How often are we talking to other people, face-to-face, about these kinds of things? Do we listen to people who have different opinions? Do we respectfully share our perspectives? Are we willing to learn from others?
By now nobody is surprised to learn that media companies report stories in a way that will appeal to their audiences. After all, one of their goals is to make money and so the audience often dictates which stories are told and even the way they’re told. With that in mind, if we take the stories only as they are delivered to us, there’s a good chance we’re not actually getting the whole story. Nearly every issue is far too complex for media outlets to offer complete coverage, even if they wanted to.
Our preferred media outlets should not be our only source of information about trending topics. We should, at the very least, try to find other outlets who are telling the story differently. Beyond that, we should seek out conversations with real people who have opinions on those topics. Most people know a little bit about a lot of different things. Very few people are experts on any of the current controversial issues. If we try to combine the little bit that each of us knows, we can increase our collective understanding.
Engaging in face-to-face conversations can have many positive effects. First, we tend to be more tolerant, gracious and empathetic when we’re looking someone in the eyes. Rather than imagine the worst possible version of someone who disagrees with us, we’re forced to accept the reality of the person in front of us.
Sharing our own opinions and beliefs in proximity to others can also help us refine our position. When we have to make our case out loud in front of people, we tend to measure our words more carefully for the sake of accuracy. After all, nobody likes to be misunderstood. This clarifying process can help us realize facets of the issue we had not considered before.
So, why aren’t we talking about controversial topics? What are we afraid of?
Have we forgotten how to disagree with someone without being offended? Have we forgotten how to be offended without wanting to get revenge? Have we forgotten that relationships are not free from conflict, and conflict can actually be a good thing if we are committed to humility and loving one another?
There are divisions within the Body of Christ that started as simple differences of opinions. There are groups of Christian people who despise other groups of Christian people because of different perspectives on controversial topics.
If we remain surrounded by people and media sources who always agree with us, we limit our opportunities for growth. Even if we’re absolutely convinced of our position there is still value in considering other perspectives. If we truly hold the correct position, then such a conversation should only affirm where we stand. But if there are any cracks in the foundations of our belief, hearing a differing opinion can reveal the areas we need to work on in order to stabilize our position. Either way there is a benefit, and that benefit is almost always mutual.
What if we weren’t afraid of disagreements, conflict and tense conversations? What if we didn’t try to avoid the strong opinions of others? What if we actually listened to each other in order to learn rather than to prove ourselves right?
We have experienced these types of conversations at Transformation Ministries. For the past few years we’ve been hosting various groups to talk about a variety of topics like race/racism, poverty, violence in our community and real or perceived injustices. Each of these topics carries the weight of controversy, potentially offensive language or behavior and no shortage of opinions from the participants in the conversations.
We brought people together in the same room (real or virtual), agreed to some shared values (honesty, respect, confidentiality, etc.) and gave everyone a chance to share their thoughts. The results were incredible! Participants struck up friendships with others who they had never met before. Often, people whose paths would never have otherwise crossed realized they had common ground and continued the conversation outside the group setting.
A new group will gather in January at Transformation Ministries. This group will meet on the first four Monday nights of 2022 to study and discuss a new book called Subversive Witness by Dominique Dubois Gilliard. Gilliard will be featured on the next episode of We All Need Each Other which releases on Wednesday, Dec. 15. Everyone is invited to join the book study group! If you’re interested, open this RSVP form for more details and submit your response by Monday, Dec. 27 if you want to join.
So, we’re ready to have a conversation with you. Are you ready?