Sunday, January 24, 2021

How About Unity of Purpose Before Unity of Opinion?

 This was posted first on Facebook and has been copied here.

Can we talk? Of course, I can only speak for myself.

I’m not anxious about conservatives. I’m not one, or at least not one in ways that would be acknowledged by most folks who call themselves “conservative” these days. But, the thought that someone presents as conservative doesn’t automatically put me off.

That takes me back to a conversation I had some years ago. I was at perhaps my first clergy conference in the Diocese of West Missouri. Being Episcopalians, there was social time after the evening activities. Being Episcopalians, there was beer. And, being clergy (pretty much of any tradition) there was a lot of conversation.

I found myself in conversation with a colleague from a congregation down around Springfield. Folks who know Missouri will know that the general environment around Springfield is notable more conservative than that in Kansas City. He was also more conservative than I. We have a long and thoughtful discussion about poverty and how to address it. We didn’t come to a conclusion (who could imagine we’d have enough time to talk that out in one evening!), but I do remember that we came to important agreement. We agreed that poverty in American society was a real problem; that it caused real suffering; and that it was worthwhile to work on ways to address it. 

And once we’d agreed on that, we had plenty of reasons to keep talking, and even to find common ground. He was definitely more conservative than I, but he did realize that there were some problems that should be addressed through government because only government involves, and also is accountable to, all of us. I was more progressive than he but I agreed that we needed to have some expectations and requirements of folks who were being helped. Sure, we didn’t come to a final conclusion, but we definitely found grounds on which we could work together.

As I still think about it, I still feel the most important thing about that conversation was that we agreed that there was a real problem and real value in addressing it. We have a number of problems like that. We’ve been talking about infrastructure problems for years. and roads and bridges have continued to age. We’ve seen all too clearly in the pandemic that the gaps of economic poverty vs stability, and of urban vs suburban vs rural make for tremendous issues in health care. It seems to me there is a lot we might do if we can first agree there is a problem that is worth fixing, so that we can then put our collective minds to how.

These days “unity” seems to be the theme of the day. A lot of folks want it, but some at different ends of the spectrum seem committed to the idea that “unity” can come only when it means “everybody comes around to my way of thinking.” To me that sounds like a pretty cerebral, pretty academic sense of “unity.” Maybe we would get more done if we started finding our unity in agreeing on the problem to be solved and in committing our efforts to solving it. To me that seems a pretty conservative idea, really, even coming from this progressive.

Of course, I can only speak for myself.

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