Last month, in the Faith in Community Workgroup meeting, we joined in taking ChurchNext.TV’s class “Faithful Dissent” led by Stanley Hauerwas and Ed Bacon. The introduction began by stating, “In this course, Stanley Hauerwas and Ed Bacon explore the idea of the Church’s, by necessity, existing in a state of dissent from the world.” Along the way in presenting four lessons, Ed and Stanley modeled for us how to have differing understandings of the faith while at the same time dissenting in a healthy manner. We sought to broaden our understanding of dissent as a necessary, and even, helpful aspect of our interfaith work at Greater Birmingham Ministries. What did I take away from this class?
First, I was reminded to see God at work even in the midst of dissent among the people of God. God’s work is not dependent on us all reaching the same conclusion. God will accomplish God’s purpose of justice in the earth even when our steps falter. Part of the challenge is how we see those with whom we disagree. If each person is a creation of God, how do you find God/the Holy in people whose values seem most contrary to your own? Even when we disagree, we are accountable for caring for those with whom we disagree.
Secondly, I was challenged to evaluate my faith tradition’s relationship with the State and whether we can over-identify with the State as opposed to standing as a prophetic voice to the State as people of faith. Because we serve a God of compassion and love, we can test our dissent by making sure that our actions and positions are consistent with these ultimate values. When we live into our call to be prophetic in our witness, we can challenge institutions as well as individuals to be compassionate in their decisions and actions.
Thirdly, I was encouraged by the call to witness with our walk not just our talk. This means that fulfilling our mission as communities of faith includes “resisting the world’s actions when they are out of sync with the values of God. Bearing witness to God can mean standing publicly as representatives of God against the powers of oppression, injustice, and sin in the world.”
My final takeaway was regarding the way in which we dissent. They emphasized love-based dissent rather than fear-based dissent. When we dissent in fear or out of fear, we lean towards coercion, shaming, being judgmental, and condemnation. That benefits no one, especially not God. Love-based dissent, on the other hand, “is about whole-making, reconciliation, redemption, community, and healing. Love-based dissent never shames, blames, attacks; is always accepting of the person, of the being, while critiquing the doing, the thinking.” It is possible for us to critique the lines of thought that lead to policies not rooted in love and compassion without attacking and demonizing those with whom we differ. In the tense political and cultural climate in which we currently live, I take those words to heart more now than ever before.