Yesterday (June 5) Wisconsin had a recall election. Since being voted into office, Governor Scott Walker has brought to the surface like no other individual the deep division between union and non-union, Republican and Democrat. At issue is a law that ended collective bargaining for most public employees and teachers. Since the law’s passing just over a year ago after Walker came into office, it has been a fiasco of union and labor seeking to gain back what was lost, while others who insist the Governor was acting out of necessity to balance the state budget and save jobs.
I certainly have my thoughts and opinions on the performance of Governor Walker and the political issues at hand. I was part of the nearly 60% who showed up at the polls to back up those opinions. Yet, my greater concern here is what I believe to be a deeper issue of people not knowing how to talk to one another in this state. What most news reports cannot accurately depict is how family members refuse to interact with each other without a fight, how neighbors and friends of years no longer relate to one another, and how even church congregants sit on opposite sides of the aisle believing that their thinking on the subject of Wisconsin politics is the right one.
The problem is that no one seems to want to listen. People have become so passionate about the way they think things ought to go or not go that any kind of genuine conversation or dialogue isn’t even possible. The wisdom of the Apostle James from two thousand years ago still holds up as sage advice for today: My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. The Church ought to be taking the lead in demonstrating how to converse with each other over the significant issues that face all people. And it begins with listening. There can be no understanding of why a person or group of people is so up in arms about an issue like collective bargaining, or gay marriage, or immigration, or a host of issues unless there is the commitment to understand. Without this most basic of human commitments to each other, there will be a constant presence of demonizing the other while the devil himself gets off scott free as he sits back and eats popcorn watching a lack of grace unfold.
So, believers in Jesus Christ, it is time to step up and practice what we affirm to be true: that people, all people, are created in the image and likeness of God and on that basis alone deserve the dignity and respect of a proper hearing without being run out on a limb for their views. We are to be ministers of reconciliation, as though Jesus himself were making his appeal through us. Let us redeem our talk by listening first. That doesn’t mean we avoid talking altogether for some nebulous notion of just getting along. Let us instead pursue substantive dialogue because God’s agenda has reconciliation in view. Working together is our only option because we all share the human condition. The way that working is done is up to you and me.