Over the past five years, political frictions, social issues, and a lingering pandemic have taken a toll on their unity. You’re either with one or the other faction. Some have definitely aligned themselves, but most haven’t. Those who haven’t tend to believe it’s just another blip in their 160-year history as an independent congregation that will pass. They’re wrong; this is no blip. This is a genuine four-alarm fire ready to burn the church down.
Mr. Alberter, or “Mr. Joe” as everyone calls him, has attended this church longer than most everyone else in the church has been alive. He was there when John Kennedy ran for president in 1960, and the question about the role the Pope in American politics rattled the church. The draft during the war in Vietnam bitterly divided families of those in the armed services, those who went to college after high school, and draft evaders who went to Canada. The Aids epidemic, both real and perceived social inequities, the gap between the haves and have-nots, and a host of other issues hit Mr. Joe’s church just like the rest of society. He was proud that it has survived them all as an independent congregation. However, he is currently concerned.
The present attack on their peaceful existence as a congregation is different. The longer it drags on, the more bitter it’s becoming, the more resolute its supporters grow, the more difficult it becomes to find any common ground, and the gap between them grows. Lies, innuendos, and implausible claims and promises that are never kept have become the stock in trade. There are angry extremists on both sides, personal accountability is at an all-time low, and as a result respect for the truth deteriorates a little more each day. The majority of parishioners may lean to one side or the other, but they remain open to more than an either-or option for the future of their church. However, the intimidation efforts of the fanatics have effectively silenced them. The threat of being labeled this, that, or the other thing combined with open hostility and vitriol has allowed the radicals to dominate.
Because he always makes the coffee and provides the donuts for all of the meetings, Mr. Joe is privy to what’s going on in the church. From multiple perspectives, he’s developed a broad view. What he has seen in recent years has reinforced his belief that if you can’t be open to both sides of a discussion, you may not really understand either well enough to have an informed opinion. Instead of being a knowledgeable participant, you may just be another person with an unfounded personal view.
Mr. Joe has long observed that on important questions, there are always folks who can be radicalized. They’re easily swayed by almost anything they hear. They’re effortlessly swept up by lies, false claims, and innuendos. They’ll believe nearly any promise that could potentially benefit them. Anyone speaking to their fears, their prejudices, and their sense of right and wrong captivates them. Once taken in, they become disciples. As disciples, information that contradicts what they’re told to believe has to be false. Changing their stance becomes impossible, because that would be admitting they were wrong, and they’re not good at that.
Near the end of yet another meeting dominated by the church zealots, he had had enough. With the pastor’s permission, he inserted the following in the bulletin for the next Sunday.
I’ve been listening to you folks for more than two years now, and I have some suggestions. It’s time to dials down the agenda-pushing speechmaking and find some common ground. You keep chasing each other around meeting after meeting, and you get nothing done. I’ve stood in the kitchen preparing food and heard people say things that hours or days later they vehemently denied having said. I’ve heard some things said that only a fool would believe, or only someone desperate for any form of proof of what they want to believe would accept as credible.
Those of you who aren’t yet steeled by a particular way of thinking or so hardened by emotion that you’d sacrifice our church just to get your way need to get involved. If you don’t the radicals among us will continue to dominate, and you’ll have effectively lost your voice. Only when the will of the congregation, the whole congregation, is welcomed can our best interests be fully represented. For that will to be realized, you need to speak up and hold the bullies, the distorters of the truth, and the most aggressive among us accountable. Then and only then will the radicals be realistically viewed as a part of our church’s voice rather than the only voice of our church!