In any community, there will be times we find ourselves among people who don’t see the world the way we do. How do we hold on to our relationships with one another in such times? We teamed up with Friends General Conference and brought together several Quakers to share their thoughts on preserving a loving spiritual community in the midst of profound political discord.
Maintaining connections with others is important, even when we don’t agree with them. “I can’t know everything,” Jean-Marie Barch says. “If I really believe in continuing revelation, and I do, then I have to be willing to keep those doors of connection and communication open because in doing that there is space for me to grow but there’s also space for the other person to grow.”
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Barry Crossno: Spiritually, I think it’s very meaningful to be in relationship with people that you also have some conflict with. Parker Palmer, a Quaker author, has said that conflict is where the relationship begins, and I love that phrase because so often I think we view conflict as the place where relationship stops and instead I think it’s an opportunity for us to say how can we go deeper?
A Spiritual Response in Times of Division
There are those times when we’re in community, especially spiritual community, with people that we’re not going to see the world in the same way, and the question is: how do we continue to move together as a body and to be in relationship individually in circumstances like that?
Marcelle Martin: I believe love is more of a choice than an emotion. It’s a choice to treat other people as we’d like to be treated. It’s a choice to be compassionate toward others. It’s also a choice to feel into that deeper spiritual oneness that connects all of us with each other beneath the different appearances.
Jean-Marie Barch: I think holding on to connection with others, whether I agree with them or not, has to do with the way in which I root myself, and I think also it’s a recognition of the fact that I don’t know everything. I can’t know everything, and if I really believe in continuing revelation, and I do, then I have to be willing to keep those doors of connection and communication open because in doing that there is space for me to grow but there’s also space for the other person to grow.
Political Divides Within a Community
Barry Crossno: My experience of Quaker meetings, and I think it’s true of most religious bodies, is that the political identification of the people in the room is often more diverse than people assume, and in Quaker meetings, especially those who are affiliated with Friends General Conference, I think it’s really important for us to reach beyond that assumption that whatever side of the political divide we may be on, to reach beyond the assumption that everyone in the room shares our perspective. And so I think for us to encourage mutual love within our worshiping communities, we need to have this shared understanding that there are going to be differences in our life journey.
George Lakey: And community is not actually based on conviction. It’s a big help, it’s a big assistance if we happen to agree on this or that or the other thing, but community is way deeper than that. It’s heart to heart, it’s the fact that we have a common father (if you use that terminology for God or for Spirit), and we need to assert that.
Preparing for the Presidential Election
Barry Crossno: It seems like everyday there are people who contact me who are worried about the upcoming election, and I’ve been contacted by people with very differing political beliefs. I think there’s a tremendous amount of fear that this election cycle could escalate to deeper divisions and potentially even violence.
Marcelle Martin: When we act violently as a response to crisis, we actually escalate the crisis. We create more and more trauma in the human psyche and in the collective psyche and it doesn’t lead us toward peace and union, and even though non-violent responses may seem to take longer, in the end they’re actually much more effective and efficient because they decrease the collective trauma; they help to bring us back into connection with one another.
Jean-Marie Barch: and I think being available to listen openly and honestly, to encourage people to look for those values that they share, to recognize that we do not profit by caricaturing or demonizing one another– something which we as humans are very good at. I think that one further piece has to do with the centrality of community and how it is that we think about community and how it is that we create that blessed community. I think it has a great deal to do with having a vision of the kinds of interconnectedness that we speak of often, and recognizing that that interconnectedness isn’t just about people we agree with because our understanding of who we are doesn’t work by just looking in the mirror; it works far better by being able to see multiple different aspects of ourselves in other people and of other people’s way of reflecting Spirit.
- 1) How do you respond spiritually to social and political divisions in your life? Does your spiritual response differ from your physical or emotional response?
- 2) Can you think of a time when you constructively engaged someone with whom you deeply disagreed? How happened? What was the resolution, if there was one?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.