Change the conversation

Back in November, in the wake of the presidential election, I reconnected with a college friend. Not an Episcopalian, he’s a person of integrity and has a deep desire to give back. He has traveled all over the world helping nonprofits serve their mission more effectively.

“Are your churches talking about this?” he asked.

“Churches are one of the few places where people who might think differently from each other still come together in America. What’s your church doing to help heal the divide in this country?”

Undoubtedly you’ve noticed the change in the national conversation about gun policy. The latest horrific school massacre, followed by the mobilization of teenage survivors who have called for specific policy changes, is changing the conversation around gun laws, mental health care, and teaching in our country.

What’s the role Christians play here? What are we called to do?

Surely many of us are busy advocating with our elected officials for the changes we long to see, across a spectrum of approaches. Just as surely, many of us are preaching, organizing, and responding to the pain gun violence causes around us. There’s urgent, holy work to do here.

And, alongside all that: Followers of the way of Jesus have a role to play in holding ourselves and our conversations and relationships accountable to love.

The utter polarization of the gun policy conversation in our country has set up the false idea that there are only two sides here, and demonized both, holding all of us hostage. The story is that there are only two diametrically opposed camps, and that each believes the other is amoral, untrustworthy, and ignorant.

To believe this narrative not only cuts off opportunities for productive conversation and innovative policy; it also denies the promises we make at baptism. We have a faith imperative to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. We who follow the way of Jesus have committed to a higher standard than political dehumanization of those who disagree with us. We are people who are called to tell the truth in love, to listen even when it is hard, and to seek the long, holy work of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Our Anglican charism of via media is a gift here too. Being people of the middle way doesn’t mean that we stake out a meaningless midpoint between poles. Rather, it’s the practice of holding the prayerful tension between opposing viewpoints in real human relationships. Part of the story of our birth as a denomination is that, in the midst of bloody conflict, Anglican Christians found a way to come together in worship. We have this strength in our DNA: the willingness to be present in relationships where issues of the deepest import create life-or-death conflict.

Love and justice are two sides of the same coin, and our Anglican Christian heritage calls us to both. Nonanxious love for the other and clear-eyed conversation about sensible policy can go hand in hand. The way of Jesus points us to seek both. We’re called to change the conversation with our neighbors, co-workers, and family — and to commit to love, listening, and truthfulness in those conversations, as we seek a just and peaceful way to live.

Looking for more about this? A recent blog post, What we talk about when we talk about guns, has a few resources that can be helpful in holding love and justice together in this crucial conversation.