A worship song, titled “Together,” written by Nathan Grieser, has a line that says, “Difference is a place where God is found.” Oh, how we wish we in the church could understand that.
Today’s world is polarized by political divisions every day and unfortunately, the church is following culture’s pattern. Christians are dividing over issues where we can’t agree rather than bearing with one another in love, as we are taught repeatedly in the New Testament. We have been working backwards, mimicking cultural trends of division rather than witnessing to the uniting and patient love of Christ.
Our holy text is filled with instruction on not passing judgement, bearing with one another, not allowing divisions and living in harmony together. The church is called to be a witness to a different way of living, as Christ shows us. Colossians 1:17 says, “In Christ all things hold together.”
The church is called to be a witness to a different way of living, as Christ shows us. Colossians 1:17 says, 'In Christ all things hold together.'"
We have forgotten that truth, though, and too quickly leave the table of conversation, assuming our differences will never allow us to live together peaceably. It’s easier for each denomination, each congregation, each member to work independently.
This move to isolation, however, limits us as a church. When we remain in conversation, respectfully listening and sharing with one another, we open spaces where the Holy Spirit can be present and transform our hearts and minds, renewing us daily to the image of Christ.
One of the places where we as a church have had a hard time staying at the table in healthy conversation is on the topic of violence related to guns. Talking about this violence requires us to be willing to move away from our stereotypes, perpetuated by social media memes and bumper stickers.
Even RAWtools, an MCC U.S. partner organization whose mission is focused around healing the nation’s patterns of death and fear, had to deal with stereotypes as its organization was forming and its staff and volunteers were learning to forge guns into garden tools. (The organization’s blacksmithing project is inspired by Isaiah 2:4, which talks about a time when people “will beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.”)
RAWTools photo/Coe Burchfield
When RAWtools started in 2013, the nature of turning guns into garden tools made it easy for folks to pin RAWtools to an anti-gun agenda, without further dialogue. At the same time, RAWtools staff had to make an effort not to stereotype the person who was teaching them how to blacksmith. His opinions were different from RAWtools, yet his eagerness to teach helped make those stereotypical walls disappear.
“I saw his bumper stickers before I met him, and I had to take responsibility for the stereotypes I owned of him and others like him,” says director Mike Martin.
Through the blacksmithing relationship, however, the trainer and trainees shared a constant dialogue that allowed each to learn from the other. RAWtools staff and volunteers learned that he came from a deep respect for guns and the Second Amendment, and he has an authentic Christian faith.
“The blacksmith respected RAWtools project of turning guns into tools, even though he joked with us about turning a good hunting rifle into a garden tool,” says Martin. “But when we told him it was used in a suicide, the conversation changed.”
... he joked with us about turning a good hunting rifle into a garden tool. But when we told him it was used in a suicide, the conversation changed."
- Mike Martin, RAWTools
While RAWtools and the blacksmith approached the issue of gun violence from different places, they found similarities and common ground in the midst of some disagreement.
Martin says, “We told our stories to each other and respected the experiences that formed our opinions. Because of this we were able to have civil, thoughtful, and sometimes even jovial dialogue around gun violence, policy, gun safety, hunting and trauma.”
These healthy conversations can take places in congregations and between churches, as well. Recently, MCC Great Lakes staff member Krista Dutt was asked to lead a conversation about gun violence in a church Bible study that meets regularly. She passed around five different written perspectives on the topic to be read aloud. Then the Bible study participants divided into small groups to have conversations about what each perspective brought to the table regarding violence prevention.
The hope in using this approach was that the participants would sit with each perspective long enough to know that each has value and each might help reduce the number of violent deaths in this country.
The result was overwhelming. The planned one-hour activity turned into an energized and enlightening conversation that kept everyone engaged past midnight!
You can download "A loaded conversation: An invitation to talk about guns" to get your conversation started.
The resources used in this church dialogue are available for anyone’s use. MCC and RAWtools, have created a simple conversation guide that offers various perspectives on gun violence and facilitation tips on how to lead. We hope that this resource gives enough space and structure to have a productive and faithful dialogue about the many views on the subject.
When it comes to preventing violence, many people have different solutions on how to reach that goal. Some work to reduce violence through gun control policies and others by arming “the good people.” In our divergence, however, we must remember that we do agree violence is a problem and that life is valuable. Although viewpoints may differ, it is important that we all commit to engaging in conversation with those who don’t share similar opinions and work to collaborate.
So let’s start where we agree. Let’s unite to make progress toward violence prevention. Let us not lose steam or the inspiration; through healthy dialogue we can make change.
Find seven more ways to help people learn about violence related to guns.
Cherelle Dessus, legislative assistant and communications coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office
Curtis Book, peace and justice coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee East Coast
Jes Stoltzfus Buller, peace education coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Krista Dutt, Chicago Program coordinator and church relations associate for Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes
Mike Martin, director of RAWtools