Tag Archives: consensus

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.

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On seeking consensus

A friend of mine here at JPUSA has brought to my attention that there are quite a few people who think that my leftist (his term) views, particularly on the war in Iraq, are the official voice at JPUSA. Well, let me set the record straight. I do not personally speak for JPUSA, and neither should anyone ever think that my politics are the result of a majority consensus. With this in mind, let me open a huge can of worms and say that I believe consensus to be a dangerous thing.

The Christian Church has quite a rich history that can inform this matter of seeking consensus. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s quite messy. In Jesus’ name Christians too often have sought to be “on the same page” politically, socially, and doctrinally in a way that left many people ostracized, shunned, and yes—dead. St. Augustine’s position on the Donatists and Luther’s position on the peasants and the Jews is one example.

Here at JPUSA I am proud of the fact that we don’t stipulate that members must share a particular position on the War in Iraq. I am far less proud that I don’t have more open conversations about it. I have too often sought the path of least resistance. Sometimes that’s been good and sometimes that’s wrong. God knows far better than I where I stand in that regard.

I came to Chicago from Southwestern Missouri.  I think of Chicago, and my neighborhood in particular, as a bubble politically. I feel safe to speak my mind politically without fear that I’ll lose my job or be shunned by my family. I know that’s a luxury that not everyone has. It is possible for me to surround myself with an alternative “progressive” faith that affirms everything I want to hear. I don’t have to listen to SRN news or Prime Time America with Greg Wheatley on mainstream Christian radio stations (which I consider propaganda) I can pick NPR and the BBC for my news. Jim Wallis can be my new little pope as an alternative to James Dobson, and together we’ll pride ourselves on the New Christian Left, using revival language to snare people who like Jonathan Edwards (sans the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon). But I also know what this is—it is building for myself a little safe camp of consensus, a world of 24/7 agreement where I get to hear, “Oh you’re so smart Chris! And look at those fools, they’re so dumb!” This makes me think of the episode of Spongebob where Squidwerd finally finds a town where everyone is just like him (anal). And you know what happens? He hates it!

Lack of consensus is painful. Someone always feels left out, alone, and yes resentful. There are those who chide us at JPUSA because we won’t come up with a clear statement on issues like the war, or who the next president should be. They argue that lives are at stake. You know what I say? I say that my life is richer because of my brother or sister who disagrees with me. That guy I stand in the dinner line with is more important to me than a position paper making some of us right and some wrong. It’s true that a refusal to join the Left or Right is an invitation to get shot at by both sides. It is a divestment from power, and it makes me think of the kenosis in Phillipians 2.

2:1  If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,
2  make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
3  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
4  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
5  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6  who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
8  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.
9  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
10  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11  and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12  Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
13  for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14  Do all things without murmuring and arguing,
15  so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.
16  It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
17  But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you–
18  and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.

Regardless of where our country heads politically this year I will be on the losing side—intentionally. Why? Because I care about human beings more than being right. Because I refuse to be any demagogue’s patsie–be they left or right. And because I believe in those Scriptures that call the Lord judge over all the earth, the real Ruler.

Now, on Iraq, I am against all forms of military occupation. The economic sanctions destroyed Iraq and killed countless civilians long before Bush ordered one bomb dropped. The US has proven itself a biased and illegitimate broker in Middle East peace under both Clinton and Bush. (Israeli settlements grew least under George H.W. Bush!) Find me a candidate that will say that!

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