What does it mean to be opened, to find oneself changed and transformed, maybe even stopped in one’s tracks by the touch of Jesus? Certainly, the touch of Jesus as described in the gospels is an expression of a great love. Love is more than an abstract thing. It is felt by the giving and receiving of it as in our Three Great Loves Campaign–Love of Neighbor, Love of Children and Love of Creation. There are so many ways to love our neighbor. We can feed them and house them and clothe them and welcome them. Another way to show love is to show respect for each other especially when we disagree.
While divisive conversations may seem like a product of the 21st century, Ben Franklin (signer of the Declaration of Independence) thought his own age to be quite uncivil. He organized discussion groups in which moral questions, politics and philosophy would be debated with an eye for truth and civility. These groups began with his friends in 1727. his friends were a scrivener, a joiner and two cobblers–not, as you might think, erudite folks from Harvard or Yale, but working people who met with him every Friday evening at a Philadelphia “alehouse” to discuss issues of morality and politics. That was Franklin’s answer to incivility in his day–structured discussion with a diverse group of friends.
Churches today in the UCC are figuring out ways to have civil discourse about things that matter to our world. Among those have been churches who have embarked on loving discussions about LGBT inclusion in the life of congregations. At Rocky Hill UCC in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, they developed a Covenant that would order these conversations. It says: Our purpose is to promote understanding. We will treat each other with caring and respect, as God’s beloved children. We will take time for prayer. We will speak in the first person “I”, and from our own experience. We will speak one at a time. We will listen for understanding, especially when we seem to disagree. We will speak and seek the truth in love. We will allow each other equal “air time.” We will ask questions for clarification, not for judgment.
Rocky Hill UCC understood themselves to be a diverse congregation theologically but they still embarked on a two-year conversation based on the above Covenant. At the end, they voted overwhelmingly to become Open and Affirming. Loving one’s neighbor can be about a process as much as a result.