I do not go looking for challenging conversations. But I don't run from them when they find me. I have come to realize that discomfort is an indispensable element of growth. We generally realize that being stretched is a good thing, even though few revel in the stretching.
I have been reminded of this during the Church Leaders Justice Tour this spring. Together with Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada, and Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of Canadian Council of Churches, when the tour is done we will have been to ten events in five cities listening to citizen concerns and aspirations regarding poverty and climate justice. The conversations have been reinvigorating and challenging.
I have been encouraged by the gentle but bold aspirations expressed for the church. We have been reminded that the church should be the voice in the desert. The church should not be constrained by lack of popular support. The church needs to be prophetic and should not be dissuaded by initial resistance. It is reinvigorating to hear people articulate a clear role for the church. It is challenging to hear people articulate a clear expectation for the church.
In Saskatoon we were reminded that our congregations contain those opposed to the fossil fuel industry and those dependent on the fossil fuel industry. "It becomes very uncomfortable to have any conversations," stated one participant. In Edmonton we heard a pastor push back at claims that the oil industry is globally impacting climate, stating emphatically "My people working in the tar sands do not want to kill children in Africa!” And in the heart of mixed agriculture in Kitchener we heard a passionate call to abandon meat and dairy products to become vegan.
These are not comfortable conversations.
But the church needs to be a place where uncomfortable conversations can occur. The church is a community of people committed to one another; a commitment that does not require agreement. The church is a community expressing love to one another; a love that does not require assent.
Perhaps this is our best witness in a secular society becoming more volatile in disagreements. Showing that disagreement does not negate our love for one another may be the strongest Christian witness the church has today.
As communities of faith we must resist the temptation to shut down uncomfortable conversations. As communities of faith we must resist the impulse to avoid difficult conversations. These conversations are the context for growth. These conversations are the context for a compelling display of the love of Christ at work.
The Justice Tour arrives in Montreal on May 12, and makes its final stop in Ottawa on May 13.