Consensus is work!

In Jacques Ellul’s spirit of making a statement and then quickly arguing three sides of it that seem contradictory, my last post on Consensus built largely on a popular notion of what consensus is, namely, a majority rule. Brian Grover reminded me that that’s actually what consensus is not. Since yesterday I have been reading On Conflict and Consensus: a handbook on Formal Consensus decisionmaking by C.T. Butler and Amy Rothstein. You could consider it an alternative to parliamentary procedure, namely Robert’s Rules of Order. Does this sound boring? I mean—who likes meetings?

Consensus is a decision making process. Every community and every church have decision making processes, but what Butler and Rothstein’s book address is the fact that many needed people get left out of that process. What quickly becomes apparent however is that in order for people to be included they have to want to be included.  Consensus relies on the assumption that we all have an important voice with matters to be considered. Herein lies the problem with politics in America.

Instead of believing that as citizens we each have a voice capable of thoughtful political discussion, we are a society of people content with uninvolvement. We get angry about the war or angry at people who are angry at the war and we clam up and turn on Fox News or MSNBC (sorry Jon) and fill our brains with rhetoric rather than formulating actual positions. Do you all know what polling places want to see on election day? What they would say is a good day? 50% of registered voters.  And then we have theorists who say, “This demonstrates a healthy democracy. People are satisfied with the economy and our system of checks and balances. That’s why they don’t vote.” Now that is something to be angry about!

Real consensus is hard to achieve because as Americans and as Christians we are not adequately equipped with resources necessary to formulate real dialogue. I know for instance that in church calling a large meeting to discuss the war would have a lower turnout than if we handed out fifty dollar bills and assigned seats in a van to go and collectively get root canals at the dentist! (In fact I think a lot of us want those!) Why? Because as a society we’ve been trained to feel helpless on international issues. Now isn’t it the church’s job to empower people? To let them know that Christ’s Kingdom reality can change the world? Yes, but I would argue that this must happen one person at a time, and you know what? People forget. People revert to old bad patterns of thinking. People are sinners. Yes, consensus is work.


1 Comment

Filed under Community, Conflict resolution

One response to “Consensus is work!

  1. grover

    50% seems like an exaggeration. usually the 40% range is considered
    fabulous turn out for an election, typically it’s closer to 30% of people
    who are eligible to vote (i think this number includes people who meet
    the requirements even if they haven’t registered). S, in the last few elections
    we got a President with the support of about 15% of adult Americans.

    If nothing else this shows that the notion, made popular in the hippie days,
    of boycotting elections has absolutely no effect and ends up further empower
    the minority ruling class.

    The citizens of the USA are incredibly apathetic. This is one area where the
    church and politicians are in step with each other. The solutions offered
    by either end typically are either vilify problematic people or just throw
    money at a problem. Sadly, it’s rare to hear people even talk about getting
    involved in people’s lives and walk through the problems with them, not
    to mention actually doing it.

    Jesus was willing to be with lepers to heal them, dine with sinners to gain
    their trust to be able to lead them to truth and freedom. Jesus got his hands
    dirty with the work of entering people’s lives. He didn’t simply condemn people
    as sinners or toss material goods on them from afar. We are called to love
    as he did. Apathy is the absence of caring.


    p.s. thanks Chris for allowing me to create my own blog via your comment area!


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