Reconciliation Within

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Brian Ellison

What makes for reconciliation – authentic partnership, visible and felt unity, genuinely mutual care and affection – among people who on the most important questions already agree? Why do they need reconciliation at all?

Much of my work in the church has been focused on trying to build bridges — or at least address the divide — between theological conservatives and liberals. I’ve done that, with increasing openness, as a progressive, and for the last four years have led the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a group that advocates for inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the church’s life and leadership, and more broadly for a church-wide ethos of justice and love for all people. This has involved a lot of conversation with “the other side” — those who identify as evangelicals or conservatives. There’s plenty of discord there to work on.

bridge-bwBut the history of progressive work in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is also filled with accounts of people and groups whose primary interests, theological foundations and long-term goals are the same, but who for whatever reason could not seem to come together. This was true in centuries past among reformist and forward-looking voices, dividing the denomination repeatedly sometimes among the most nuanced of lines. It was true in the civil rights era as a proliferation of agencies, caucuses and causes elbowed their way into prominence, not always on the same page. And it was true in the long struggle for LGBTQ inclusion and equality (a struggle, we should note, that is still underway), when various advocacy organizations vied not merely with their opponents but with each other for how best to fight the fight.

(It is also true, it seems fair to say, among conservative voices, time and again boiling down to a “should we stay or should we go” debate, played out generation after generation and diluting that movement’s impact — or damage, depending on one’s perspective.)

The Covenant Network, for its two decades of existence, has been an exemplar of the consensus-building, take-it-slow, find-common-ground approach to progressive work that is found by some to be comforting and effective and others to be infuriating and painful.

The Essential Nature of Reconciliation Within a Movement

I’ve been thinking about the line that sometimes separates those within the same movement. Reconciliation and mutual understanding among those who share a vision for the church, I’m coming to think, is every bit as essential for the unity of the church. And if it is true that generally more progressive elements are now in a season of setting the general tone and direction for the church’s life, are not those internecine relationships essential for the health of unity across that greater divide, the one between separating progressives from conservative Presbyterians who fear for their church’s future, as well?

To that end, I want to explore how various voices, often in conflict with one another not about the “what” and “why” but about the “how” and “when,” work together in common cause. How do we ensure we are not merely shifting the battle lines to the left, but rather finding a way to do less battling altogether?

I should be honest about my own predispositions: the Covenant Network role suits me. Before this call, I was pastor of a theologically diverse congregation. I have served as a presbytery stated clerk and a Committee on Ministry moderator. I work part-time as a political journalist at an NPR station, seeking to model fact-based and objective evenhandedness in my reporting. I’m a gay man who grew up in a conservative setting that helps me understand that mindset and speak the language; some of my best friends are evangelicals, one might say. That sort of reconciliation work comes naturally.

But I’ve worked with many engaged in struggles for justice and equality far longer than I, who have suffered far more than I, and who have little patience for an approach consistent with my comfort level. There is truth to be spoken, and they speak it boldly, frequently, loudly. Justice delayed is justice denied. When anyone suffers, we all continue to suffer. And now that our views are in the ascendancy, why take a slice, they might ask, when we rightly should enjoy the whole justice pie?

The difference in approach is real, and discord between the camps within the camp with real consequences. Taken to their extremes, one is prophetic and the other pragmatic. One gets things done but compromises; one remains true to self even if victory must wait another day. One might wait to bring others along, while one does the right thing and trusts that others will eventually catch up.

How It Can Happen

Is reconciliation necessary? Certainly at times it is. Sometimes the deepest wounds are the ones suffered at the hands of one’s allies. And even when there is no “friendly fire” injury, there is still the sense that what one group regards as victory, the other sees as loss. Progress for one is a setback to the other.

So as we think about reconciliation among those who already purport to agree (not just about LGBTQ issues but in any common work for building up the church), I invite us to consider a few health elements to guide our time and energy.

Focus on relationships

When Jesus encountered opponents, he engaged them. When he encountered the other, he sat down with them for a meal. When he spoke about addressing conflict or concern, he counseled seeking someone out for conversation. Nothing good comes from us keeping our distance. And the best way to facilitate meaningful conversation in time of conflict is for that conversation to happen organically with someone we already know, have already shared our story with, have already found common ground and interests. If damage has already been done, this may need to begin with confession, repentance and forgiveness.

This is good practice in presbyteries, in congregations and certainly among leaders of groups advocating similar agendas. Relationship isn’t just preparation for Christian work; it is the Christian work. When we show God’s love in relationship, we are living out our mission. When we are able to speak to each other as friends, not merely as fellow laborers, true reconciliation becomes possible.

Translate common commitments to common action

Many problems in the past have occurred when the two groups — appreciative of each other’s position but distrustful of each other’s ideas — have organized separately, developed separate goals and eventually found themselves working at cross-purposes. A way forward includes sitting down together early enough (or frequently enough) that our common ground can be not only around big ideas, but also in specific ways of embodying them.

This involves compromise at times, but perhaps not as much as one might expect. When the coming together happens in the formative stages, the action plan can develop organically and mutually. Both parties have ownership, together with an appreciation for the journey toward the outcome. All are more invested in the project, and none are left to exercise judgment on the goal’s inadequacy or error.

Always have an eye to broader reconciliation

Finally, those seeking reconciliation within a movement must assume a certain attitude toward inclusion. This is a matter of posture rather than specific policy. It is about how to bring the most people on board, including (in time) those across the wider aisle. When our thinking about the future of the church (or any other organization) is systematically geared toward welcoming others in, we find ourselves less inclined to draw lines and more prone to open doors. When we think less about defeating our “opponents” and more about inviting them as guests (or even co-hosts), then we will speak differently, act differently, decide differently. And when we live with an eye to the day when all will be one, then our more modest “internal” differences decrease in perceived importance.

Concluding Thoughts

I have been blessed to see healthy relationships form and blossom, both within diverging voices in my own organization, and between our leadership and that of other groups (like More Light Presbyterians). We have frequently (though not always!) done faithful work to model the hope and care and mutual appreciation we long for in the whole church. My hope and prayer is that all who seek to do God’s work together might similarly tend to their relationships with one another — trusting that each small step of reconciliation will ultimately lead to the reconciliation of us all.


brian-marriage-sermonBrian Ellison is executive director of the Covenant Network, which has worked since 1997 for inclusion of all people and unity among those with differing views in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He previously served as pastor of Parkville (Mo.) Presbyterian Church and as a member and moderator of committees at the General Assembly and Heartland Presbytery. Brian lives in Kansas City, Mo., where he also is a host/contributor at NPR affiliate KCUR-FM, a freelance writer, and an adjunct instructor in preaching.

Finding – and Being – a Person of Peace

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jodi Craiglow

“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.” – Luke 10:5-7 (NRSV)

At the end of October, Don Meeks approached me about contributing a piece for the NEXT Church blog about a lesson I’ve learned in my time as a bridge-builder. And as I thought about what I’d write, these verses from Luke’s gospel came to mind.

tsr_4366_webNow, I know we wouldn’t naturally associate this particular passage with peacemaking within the bounds of our own church. Luke 10 is all about Jesus sending out his 70-or-so protégés for their maiden voyage of cold-call evangelism, isn’t it? Well, yes… but I’m willing to argue that it has broader implications, as well. Follow me on this one.

Recently I’ve been reading Christine Pohl’s book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, and she makes (at least to me) a startling point:

Personal hospitality, in home and in church, tends to be reserved for people with whom we already have some connections. It is hard for us to think of offering personal hospitality to strangers. Strangers that we do invite into our homes are rarely complete strangers to us. Complex educational, socioeconomic, familial, and religious networks reduce the strangeness, the “unknownness” of such people.

In other words, we like hanging out with people that we have at least some familiarity with, some sort of common ground upon which we can build a relationship. So, when Jesus was telling his followers to find and stay with a “person of peace,” he wasn’t just kickstarting a first-century Airbnb. He was telling them to keep their eyes open for that person God had already been working on (and through), who could serve as their cultural liaison. Jesus told them to hunker down with this person, so that their relationship could deepen – which then, if they played their cards right, would create common ground with that person’s entire cultural group. These visitors wouldn’t be “complete strangers” anymore; their “unknownness” would be reduced by the fact that they all now had a mutual friend.

So, why bring this up here? Well, my own experience has taught me that in a lot of ways, the factions we current-day churchgoers have forged ourselves into have made us “strangers” of one another. Because we choose not to interact with “those people” who don’t agree with us theologically, politically, socially… you name it… we have little to no idea who “they” really are. (This year’s election cycle, anyone?) That’s where a person of peace comes in. If God is calling you to a ministry of bridge-building, I’d wager my eye teeth that God’s already working on somebody within that group you’re being called to connect with. It’s your job to keep your eyes open for this person.

What should you look for? In my experience, these “people of peace” are relatively well-connected within their representative groups. They’re well-versed in the culture of their own group, but often have at least a little working knowledge of where you’re coming from. They tend to be good listeners, and like to get as full a picture of a given situation as they can before drawing conclusions. They’re usually the type of people who love people, and they’re willing to lend you a little of their social capital so that you can navigate your way through your new environment. (In other words, they’ll risk some of their reputation to boost yours.)

If you just read the previous paragraph and thought to yourself, “Hey – that sounds like me!” maybe God could be calling you to be a person of peace. I’d encourage you to keep your eyes open for somebody outside your “tribe” who might be interested in getting to know you. Build a relationship with this person, and then broaden that relationship out to others within your group. (And, if you’re feeling really feisty, let that “sojourning” person be a person of peace for you as you get to know the group they come from.) And, before you know it, the bridge is building itself.

That’s what happened for me… come find me, and I’ll tell you my story. And if at any point you’d like me to be your “person of peace,” all you have to do is ask.


Jodi CraiglowJodi Craiglow is a Ruling Elder at First Presbyterian Church in Libertyville, IL. She is a PhD student in Educational Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and serves as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University and Trinity Graduate School.

Belhar: A Reconciliation Place for the Sake of the World

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Quinn Fox

belhar-ga

Allan Boesak addressing the 222nd PC(USA) General Assembly

I had the blessing to have been in the room of all the G.A. committees that had anything to do with the Confession of Belhar’s journey into our Constitution (all four times committees voted as well as the final recommendation for inclusion in the Book of Confessions). Between 2008 and 2016, my role changed. I began as committee resource coordinator (2008 & 2010); I was asked by National Capital Presbytery to serve as overture advocate (2012) for a reconsideration of the narrowly defeated overture. In 2014, I moderated the Committee on Theological Issues that (again) recommended adding Belhar. Last June in Portland, as an observer, I witnessed the final GA committee vote to recommend the inclusion of this remarkable confession in our constitution. Remarkable primarily for the context out of which Belhar proclaimed the central gospel message of reconciliation.

To change our Book of Confessions requires the majority vote of three General Assemblies, the recommendation of a special committee appointed by a G.A. moderator, and a super-majority of presbyteries. It’s the most difficult constitutional change to make, because the Book of Confessions is our foundation.

The basement, or foundation, is sometimes forgotten about or taken for granted when there is lots of activity going on upstairs. In recent years we’ve been remodeling our PCUSA “house.”

Remodeling work is chaotic; it can be all-consuming. During those “remodeling” years most Presbyterians didn’t think much about the basement (we were squabbling about where there should and shouldn’t be walls in our Book of Order). A few went down to see what they could find to make a case for what they wanted to see happen upstairs, but that was the extent.

One is unwise to change a foundation hastily. It takes time and significant consensus, especially in the Presbyterian house.

After eight years of process, our denominational basement has an addition—a fortification and amplification of our core Reformed theology, articulated to engage issues we face in our 21st century context. After decades of divisive debates about the upstairs remodel, we have also voted to change our foundation. Now there’s a basement room dedicated to reconciliation and justice. Of course, we have a 50-year-old justice and reconciliation room that calls prophetically for the abolition of racial discrimination—a voice of reconciliation in the public square. Perhaps more circumspectly, no doubt less ambitiously, our “Belhar room” calls for reconciliation within the church … at a time when our culture is deeply divided (and lacking in justice). And not only our culture. Hundreds of congregations are seeking to depart. Our ecclesial strife is inseparable from the larger cultural divides.

Belhar attests: the gospel is fundamentally about reconciliation. Our world, our nation, our local communities desperately need reconciliation and justice. Christians know something about this… the reconciliation God has given us in Jesus Christ (as individuals, as God’s people and as God’s covenant community). This message of reconciliation is desperately needed in a world of over 65 million refugees and displaced persons, in a country polarized by vitriolic political campaigns. Belhar tells us that the church’s message is reconciliation; Belhar also tells us that we need to hear the message ourselves! Will we?

We have rich reconciliation resources—not only in Belhar but in our larger Book of Confessions. I invite you down to the basement for a look around. It’s a very cool place once you leave all the hustle and bustle going on upstairs. It’s my favorite room in our Presbyterian house.


quinn_foxQuinn Fox, associate pastor for Discipleship at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., attended Fuller and Princeton Theological Seminaries before earning his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in the history of Christian thought. Prior to this, he served as Associate for Theology and Director of the Company of New Pastors in the Office of Theology & Worship. 

Building Bridges, Allowing for Hope

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Roy Howard

There are bridges that need to be repaired. Some are too worn out to depend on; yet everyday we do. They must be replaced sooner rather than later. Of course, I’m not only speaking about the infrastructure of our country’s highways, which we know is in dire need of repair. I am talking about the moral infrastructure of our common life in civil society. The relational fabric of our lives is in deep need to repair, restoration and rebuilding.

The damage of the election cycle is serious and deep. Now that Donald Trump has been elected and Hilary Clinton defeated, there will be a great need to construct new bridges and repair existing ones. The Church that is sustained by the crucified God whose reconciling love for all people was manifest in Jesus Christ can be a witness in these turbulent days, and not by speech alone. Bridge-building is necessary not only in this country but around the world, and it is certainly not the work of Christians alone. The work belongs to all people of faith and good will. One such group is Interfaith Partners for Peace, an organization to which I belong, that brings together Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders as partners for peace in local communities and on behalf of Israelis and Palestinians.

roy-middle-east-groupEarlier this month, I traveled to Israel and Palestine with 23 other pastors and rabbis from across the country who are partners in their local communities. Never have I experienced as much hope for the possibilities of repairing relationships as I did on this trip. I cried frequently in response to what we heard. My partner was Rabbi Greg Harris of Congregation Beth El, with whom I’ve shared mutual ministry for years. The goal of our visit was to listen and learn from Israelis and Palestinians – Jews, Christians and Muslims – as they share their multiple narratives that compete and collide. We especially were seeking examples of people who are building bridges that foster new narratives that allow for hope in the face of despair and paralysis.

It was an extraordinary experience that revealed stark despair, anger and fear countered in stunning ways by people of hope daring to take some risks. I must say, in all candor, no one we met in Israel or the West Bank is optimistic. Yet we met people who are hopeful in the face of the facts. This true hope that runs deeper than sentimental optimism is what gives them courage to do such bold things. It also challenges me to do the same across barriers that are much less daunting.

Here is one example.

Shaul Yudelman is a Jewish teacher and settler who experienced the fear and anger of his local communities as they bury their dead from suicide bombings. He has joined with his enemy, Ai Abu Awwad, a leading Palestinian activist and non-violent freedom fighter, to establish a center in the West Bank near a particularly violent checkpoint, where Palestinian and Israeli families share meals and their stories. They do programs attempting to build relationships with people who both belong to the land that is holy. Neither has abandoned their people’s narrative, but both are trying to build a new story; one of reconciliation between avowed enemies, of friendship and compassion.

I found it an astonishing example of God at work for good. As one Rabbi said, “Tonight I stood in front of a man who identified himself as a terrorist and I looked into his eyes and I acknowledged his humanity and he acknowledged mine and I wrapped my arms around him and I felt guilt. I will go back and preach that story and remind people that every human being is capable of redemption, becoming greater than what they are.”

They are under threat for doing such work. This is hope against all odds.

Jews call this work, tikkum olam, which means to repair the world. This kind of bridge building calls me to do the same.


roy_howard_04_webRoy Howard has served for 16 years as pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian in North Bethesda Maryland. During that time his congregation has traveled to Israel-West Bank with their partner Jewish congregation and participates in regular interfaith activities. His recent book, Walking in Love, describes his 543 mile pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. 

Lessons From an Unfriend

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Joe Duffus

The surprise election of Donald Trump exposed a social media truth: people who are intimidated into silence, or who don’t feel safe sharing their politics, won’t. They avoid tipping their hand, lie to pollsters and harden their opinions in response.

Arguing politics or theology on Facebook is always fraught with risks. Who will see me at my political boiling point, judge me for opinions that might outrage them? Will speaking out threaten my job?

facebook_laptopWhat about my friendships online and off? I meet and befriend people on Facebook I may have met through work, school, church or some other shared interest, because they lived on my street or just that our children played together on a sports team. Friends may come into your life for “a reason, for a season or for a lifetime,” as the poem says.

Faced with these risks, many people avoid such topics and engagement on social media. They hold their tongue and scroll, scroll, scroll. Others may comment upon a friend’s post, but avoid posting something political themselves. Very dramatic people may preemptively command anyone who would dare disagree with them to “JUST UNFRIEND ME NOW!”

And when is Facebook finally going to offer that “sarcasm font” that everyone seems to want?

I have carried on lengthy political debates over Facebook with all sorts of friends. And I have felt the silent sting of having been “de-friended” by some friends who must have concluded I was a temporary friend “for a reason,” as the poem says,

“Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end… Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.”

It’s sad to lose a friend this way, but the poem gives us license to risk it if we feel strongly enough about our beliefs. As long as I have conducted myself with dignity and respect for those who won’t agree with my position, I willingly take that risk when I hit that “reply” link.

I am fortunate to have some friends I always disagree with about politics, or who don’t share my religious faith. Their differences from me always weigh in my mind when I discuss politics, whether online or off. But online it’s so much harder, because you can’t hear their tone and conviction. You won’t detect the quaver in their voice. Even a gifted writer cannot convey through plain text why a certain perspective clings to them, and in these discussions logical argument may only go so far before the knives come out.

What has served me well in vigorous debates over the Internet is restraint in words. I learned painfully that with or without its own font, sarcasm rarely works and is interpreted as cruelty. That’s tough for a native New Yorker to say, since sarcasm is just part of conversation there. I’ve learned that, at best, sarcasm can be sparingly used on ideas. But never at people.

In our political discussions these days, we tend to listen only long enough to form a reply, not long enough to understand. Humility through understanding is essential before engaging in political discussions: You’re unlikely to change any minds, but you may learn something useful from your adversary that will humble you to why they feel as they do. And “feel” is critical.

Writing this article, I reached out to an “unfriend” to ask why he dropped me. We had a nice chat. He’s still a friend, just not on Facebook. He told me I had gotten sarcastic in an exchange long ago and he simply decided that he didn’t wish to engage me or my posts any more. Neither of us could even remember what the discussion was, of course. We remain “unfriends” on Facebook still. It’s a mutual parting. He taught me to hold back, to focus on issues not people, and to know when to let others have the last word.

There are many supporters of Hillary Clinton this week who are despairing not only of the election, but of their fellow Americans “out there” who could have turned on them so viciously.

But my larger lesson from apologizing to my “unfriend” was that when I do engage online to remember the stakes are higher than politics or moral stances. What’s at stake is civility, forgiveness, forbearance and community spirit. What’s at the finish line, when we re-learn how to value those stakes, is reconciliation.


joe-duffus-headshotJoe is a digital news and communications professional and occasional blogger at Christian Post, writing about Presbyterian church matters. He shares his home in Gainesville, Virginia with his wife, two sons and a brown dog.

Faith and Public Policy Ministry Group as a Means of Reconciliation

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Emily Berman D’Andrea

Lewinsville Presbyterian Church is located just outside of Washington, DC in McLean, Virginia. Members are from Northern Virginia and work in all areas of government, while some work in the private sector and others for non profits. Most are immersed in the political hype and the political give and take of the Northern Virginia region. One unique aspect of the Lewinsville congregation is that it can not be pigeon-holed as leaning one way or another politically. When you think that you can label the congregation as left or right, you meet someone who defies the stereotype you have given it and you go back to the drawing board. When you think you have got the feel and flavor of the congregation figured out, you meet someone who then makes you question your thinking about lumping everyone together in the same political category. We’ve got folks who are interested in socially responsible investing and we’ve got folks who negotiate large defense contracts. We’ve got folks who are active in Republican party politics and we’ve got folks who work in the current Democratic administration as political appointees. We have Clinton supporters and we have Trump supporters.

lewinsville-presSome might say this mixture of members in one congregation just outside of Washington, DC, is a liability because you don’t know where the church stands on political issues. It can be labeled “wishy-washy” or “lukewarm” on political issues, and, so the reasoning goes, “it stands for nothing.” I think this mélange and mixture of political viewpoints under one PC(USA) roof is actually unique and invigorating – and I don’t think I’m alone in this thinking. Our congregation has set up structures in our church community in order to give voice to and positively accentuate the divergent opinions in the church community.

I’ll tell you about two structures we have set up that give voice to the divergent viewpoints at Lewinsville. First is the Lewinsville Forum. The Lewinsville Forum is an annual 6 week adult education class on current events co-led by a Republican who served in the Bush administration and a Democrat who served in the Clinton administration. The co-leaders decide which six issues they will take up and then they, in an up-front way, let class participants know their professional background and where they are coming from personally on the issue of the day. They lay out the issue and open it up for discussion. The question at the forefront of the class is: how does our faith impact this issue? Put another way, what does this have to do with our faith? In class there are 40 or so folks who gather for sometimes lively discussion on that day’s topic. More often than not, the discussion is civil and nuanced.

The second structure in place at Lewinsville that allows for divergent opinions in the congregation is the Faith and Public Policy Ministry Group. According to the Faith and Public Policy Ministry Group charter, this group was established at Lewinsville “to enable church members to engage public policy issues as faithful Christians and to provide a forum for open and respectful discourse about social justice and public policy matters.” The principles outlined in the charter for the group are: “discerning God’s divine command; grounding in Christian love; seeking balance and integrity; and building community by practicing community.” The charter states, “the group shall be co-led by two members who hold diverse political views that reflect a majority of the congregation’s political interests.”

Where else written into a group’s charter is it explicitly stated that the leaders must hold differing political views? I think this is how the kingdom of God works. I think reconciliation happens when people with differing political viewpoints can sit in an adult education class and feel safe saying their viewpoint without fear of vilification and ridicule. I think reconciliation happens when people with different political viewpoints can worship in a space they believe is sacred. I believe reconciliation happens when people can look across the sanctuary aisle at someone who sits across the aisle in the House of Representatives or Senate, and embrace them during the passing of the peace. I believe this is the beginning of reconciliation.


dandrea-emily-180x180Emily Berman D’Andrea serves as the Associate Pastor for Christian Formation at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in McLean, VA where for fourteen years she has worked with the church’s small group ministry, Stephen Ministers, mission programs and contemplative ministries. She enjoys reading novels, playing tennis, watching her children play soccer and black licorice.

A Challenging Task

Preachers and church leaders had a challenging task this week, in the midst of division and disconnection in our country, to preach good news. Here is a short list of what has been said from Presbyterian pulpits and messages more broadly. In collecting these, we have attempted to give attention to a variety of contexts, but also recognize this list is in no way exhaustive. We hope you will add links to words you found inspiring in the comments. May we learn from one another and be encouraged by each other.

  1. John Wilkinson, Third Presbyterian Church of Rochester, NY.
    Sermon: Future Tense
    “‘It will be all right,’ because God is God, but that word can ring hollow if it is not accompanied by other words and actions.”
  1. Lisle Gwynn Garrity & Sarah Are, A Sanctified Art.
    Post-Election Prayer
    “When it feels as if the darkness might overcome the light, and that we may never get it right, remind me that you have me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to love.”
  1. Anna Pinckney Straight, Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg, WV.
    Liturgy and sermon using Isaiah 65: 17 – 25
    “Today is the day to take a step toward true unity, one that begins in faithful foundations and flows into everything that we do.”
  1. Mindy Douglas, First Presbyterian Church of Durham, NC.
    Letter to the Congregation
     “We stand together as God’s people, seeking to right wrongs, love with abandon, and bring hope to the hopeless. We will not stop working. We will not stop loving. We will not stop hoping. We will not stop working for peace.”
  1. Denise Anderson, PCUSA co-moderator from Temple Hills, MD.
    Blog post: The Message to the Margins
    “We can no longer trust in ‘love’ and ‘goodwill.’ Love and goodwill should have never made this a possibility. Love and goodwill should have demanded better of this child of God and strongly condemned the vitriol that came from his mouth. Instead, that vitriol was validated.”
  1. Andrew Foster Connors, Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD.
    Sermon: Where Do We Go From Here?
    “The church has to set the table for a different kind of politic than the one we’ve been repeating. One where we engage people who we find offensive, even scandalous in real relationships, standing with the most vulnerable among us – personally and politically.”
  1. David Renwick, National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.
    Sermon: In Power and Out of Power (sermon begins at 26:28)
    “Jesus said elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount: No matter what the political situation of the world we live in, easy or hard, like it or dislike it, we are always called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And being salt is most important when life to you seems to have lost its taste.”
  1. Christopher Edmonston, White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC.
    Sermon: The Beginning and the End
    “For today please don’t forget this: each of you as members of the church and the people of Christ have a calling to be peacemakers, justice-seekers, reconcilers, and what the Bible calls ‘repairers of the breach.'”
  1. Brian Paulson, First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville, IL.
    Sermon: From Ugliness, a Beauty Emerges: Greater Love (sermon begins at 43:32)
    “Let us not taunt each other. American is split right down the middle in American politics. Today, there are members of this congregation who are in a place of deep pain, and even fear…. If you don’t feel this way, please bear compassionately with your neighbors. There is a place for lament in the vocabulary of faith.”
  1. Pastors at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, IL.
    Letter to the Congregation
    “Together, we seek a better and fairer world not just for ourselves, but for any people who feel overlooked, dismissed, or worse, hated because of who they are.”
  1. Katie Baker, Central Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI.
    Sermon: The End is Near
    “There is no hiding under a rock, no matter how beautiful the stone, and pretending that all is well because everything, in fact, is not. This conversation amongst Jesus and his disciples is convicting because it calls us to trust God in untrustworthy times.”

For God So Loved the World

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jessica Tate

Early in its life, NEXT Church sensed a call to be a place within the Presbyterian Church (USA) where we could build bridges across the divisions in our lives and in our church. The divisions are many —

theological differences

urban or rural or suburban or small town distinctions

larger churches, small churches

generational divides

rich or poor or somewhere in between.

Our culture is one of increasing division. We see it writ large today as the final polls suggest a presidential election – and a country – fairly evenly (and often bitterly) divided across party lines.

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

As many of us go to the polls to shoulder part of our responsibility as citizens in a democracy, the 1946 Book of Common Worship for the Presbyterian Church in the United States offers this prayer:

Almighty God, who dost hold us to account for the use of all our powers and privileges: Guide, we pray Thee, the people of these United States in the election of their rulers and representatives; that by wise legislation and faithful administration the rights of all may be protected, and our nation be enabled to fulfill Thy purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Does our vote — the best of each person’s wisdom, experience, conscience, and faith teachings — count? Yes.

Does it matter who wins today? Yes.

Will the next president and city council member and senator and school board member enact laws and policies and nominations that will effect our daily lives and the lives of our fellow citizens? Yes.

Will winning or losing mean life as we know it is over? No.

The reality is that regardless of how the votes turn out, we still have to live together on November 9th and 10th and 11th and into December and January and through the next year and the year after that.

The division and anger we have seen around this presidential election is significant. We have been quick to demonize the other candidate, the other party, the other supporters, the other voters. And yet, truly, there is no them. There is only us.

At Montreat Conference Center a few weeks ago, Melissa Harris Perry quoted Maya Angelou saying, “You can never say of other people that they are monsters. Anything that another human can do, you can do. We are all capable of greatness and of horror.”

That sounds familiar. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. 

Against that backdrop of human goodness and sinfulness – our capacity for greatness and horror – Jesus commands us to love our neighbor. Indeed, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. My friend and colleague Don Meeks says be very careful who you label an enemy, because the second you call someone an enemy, you are compelled to love that person.

I pray that on November 9th and 10th and 11th and into December and January and beyond, the church will help us find a way forward as a country and as communities. We are well poised to do this — not only because of our Lord’s command to love one another — but because of the kind of community we are called to be.

For the church gathers NOT around a particular issue that aligns with a particular political agenda, but around a foundational belief in the transformative power of God who has the power to transform us individually and collectively.

We gather NOT out of convenience or likeminded-ness, but because of a deep commitment that we belong to each other – that our salvation is bound up in the salvation of others.

We gather NOT around identity politics or ideology or age. Rather, we’re one of the last places in our society where people gather across generations and differences and seek to create together the beloved community.

We gather NOT as a social club or professional organization, but as a people who are seeking to know and follow Christ in our daily lives.

Go vote today. And in the days ahead let us commit ourselves to the long, slow work of loving our neighbors and loving our enemies and seeking together the common good for the sake of Christ who was sent because God so loved this world.


JessicaTate270Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC. 

A Repairer of the Breach

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by LeAnn Hodges

“We want to have our child baptized,” a visitor said to me after worship one Sunday. He held his son in his arms, and his wife stood back, looking a bit uncertain. “Well,” I responded, “how about we find a time to meet and see if this is the church you would like to join, and then we can go from there?” At that point, the wife chimed in that she would meet with me, but that she wasn’t sure she would join this church… or any church, for that matter.

leann-fontIn the coming days I met with the young couple and listened to their story. They were both from the same African country, but the wife was brought here at a young age through what her family thought was a chance for a western education. But it turned out to be a ticket into slavery in the metro-DC area. She was held captive until her late teens, when she was liberated by the help of a lesbian couple.

Given what she had experienced, it was no wonder that she hesitated when she stepped over the threshold into the church. The miracle is that she was able to set foot in a church at all!

In her upbringing the church was expected to be a safe space, and yet the church had provided a source of legitimacy for those who had forced her into slavery. In her upbringing, same-gender love was considered an unspeakable evil, and yet a same-gender couple became the agent of her liberation.

Over time, she watched as the congregation embraced her son with love and affection. She began to share her story with other members from the same region of Africa who had no idea of the scale of human trafficking that originated in their home region. And she shared her story with those who grew up in the metro-DC area who had no idea of the scale of human trafficking that enslaved people from all over the world here, in our own back yard.

In many ways, this incredible child of God has become a “repairer of the breach” in our congregation. She has opened our eyes to our own complicity in an unjust system that capitalizes on the abuse of human lives. This is no longer someone else’s problem. And through her powerful and gracious way of being, she has invited us into deeper conversation about what it means to be a congregation of uncommon diversity where African and gay sit at Christ’s table together.

We are a congregation that is all over the place in how we view the world, and how we understand the meaning of discipleship. Our individual moral absolutes are often at odds with the person in the next row on a Sunday morning. And yet, through the witness of this unlikely saint, some of those invisible walls that divide us have begun to crumble. The creation of safe space where we are able to testify to God’s work in our lives has confronted our easy assumptions of “the other” and required us to do the much more difficult and life-giving work of holy community.


leann-hodgesLeAnn Hodges is the pastor of Oaklands Presbyterian Church in Laurel, MD. As a pastor, her favorite part of her job is hanging out with people, learning their stories, and if possible getting in a good belly laugh at least once a day. And from those stories, she learns more and more about the depth of God’s love made known in Jesus Christ. In her free time… oh, wait… LeAnn has three sons, ages 12, 6, and 4… but when she used to have free time, she enjoyed gardening, knitting, reading mysteries, and watching sci-fi shows with her husband of 22 years (who happens to be a high school physics teacher). 

Can the Center Hold?

by Don Meeks

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

(The Second Coming – W.B Yeats)

These immortal lines, penned nearly a century ago in the tragic aftermath of the first world war, seem eerily prescient of our current moment in American culture. Things are falling apart in front of our very eyes. Or so it seems.

Racial injustice. Income inequality. Theological division. Political acrimony. The list could go on.

Can the center hold? Can we bend just a little further without breaking? Can we find our way through this wilderness? Can we bridge what divides us?

Or even more modestly, can we even talk about all this?

ncp-open-spaceA few of us in National Capital Presbytery have begun a project that is far easier said than done. Aware of the many divides that impact our churches, we have asked ourselves one simple question: Can we talk? That is to say, can we reach across one of the aisles that divides us – the theological aisle – and actually have a meaningful conversation as evangelicals and progressives?

Can we honor each other, in the name of Jesus Christ, as sisters and brothers? Can we listen deeply and attentively to one another? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own?

The catalyst for this conversation came from an event hosted by one of our sister churches in the presbytery during the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. The event featured a panel discussion on Christian civility between Richard Mouw, then president of Fuller Seminary, and Ross Douthat, columnist for the New York Times.

Mouw noted in passing the common practice in political conversation for one camp to put their very best up against the worst of their opponent. Naturally. This is how the game works. In short, demonize your opponent and you never need engage in substantive debate on the issues.

Driving away from that event, I wondered aloud to myself, “What would happen if we turned this thing on its head? What if I chose to openly acknowledge the worst of the evangelical tradition and practice, and chose to affirm the best of what I see in the progressive tradition? And…can I find a progressive to join me and do the same?”

I call this a “thought exercise,” for it requires a fair amount of thinking. Some hard thinking. Some counter-intuitive and counter-cultural thinking. (Trust me – it gets easier).

In time, I posed the thought exercise to one of my presbytery colleagues, Jeff Krehbiel, and thus began what we now call a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience.

Jeff and I have co-moderated an on-going Open Space dialogue prior to presbytery meetings for the past two years. We modeled this conversation at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta last February. And most recently, we led a panel-discussion and officiated communion in presbytery plenary meeting.

Can the center hold? Can we find others to join us in this modest and gracious conversation?

Jeff and I have been asked to curate this month’s NEXT Church blog in hopes that we might widen the conversation and bend it toward reconciliation and bridge-building across the theological and other divides. We invite you to join us as conversation partners and ambassadors of reconciliation in Jesus’ name.


don-meeks-headshot-2Don Meeks is the senior pastor of Greenwich Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia. He is active in the Fellowship Community within National Capital Presbytery.  His vision for ministry is to invite people to experience and express Christ-likeness in all of life. He is an avid golfer, psalmic intercessor and songwriter.