This summer I taught two weeklong courses, one in western Canada and one in the American Southwest. Both were titled "Who Speaks for God," and they were each heavily populated with clergy and lay leaders from across the whole theological and denominational spectrum. We had 27-year-olds and 87-year-olds, pastors, professors, doctors, nurses, lawyers, union members, community organizers, business people, economists, homeless shelter directors, computer programmers, school teachers, retired people and students, mothers and fathers, longtime activists and new explorers.
A recurring theme in both classes was the hunger for new "dialogue," for "bridge-building," and for new relationships across former dividing lines. People are just really weary of the old liberal-conservative debates that have turned the churches into warring factions that dont even know each other. Class members came from all of the old sides but shared a community of sorts for the week in a residential setting, and discovered that they have more in common as Christians than their divided churches have been able to find.
The growing unity on the issue of poverty that Call to Renewal is finding across the country was evident throughout the week, and the prospect of new partnerships back home in their local communities was particularly exciting to many. But we didnt shy away from the hot topics either. We also talked about abortion, family values, and homosexuality. After a whole morning session on abortion in Canada (where the issue is also very divisive and controversial), one of the clergy in the class remarked, "Ive never been in a better conversation on abortion. Nobody walked out and people didnt even start yelling at each other. We all listened for a change. It was really amazing." Both the sanctity of human life and the rights of women were held up and held together.