Pastor Hargraves: On Beginning a Dialogue

I attended our Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in June and like most years am often surprised by the legislative item that stands out with controversy. This year in my naiveté, I again found myself again caught by surprise. That surprise came when we debated a piece of legislation written to encourage our local United Methodist churches to begin to have conversations about gun violence.

Gun violence conversation is the topic, nothing more. Yet even now, as you read this, you may have already shifted to one side or the other hearing gun rights or gun restrictions. The fact is that the legislation (W.PA United Methodist Church only) is about gun violence and not at all about gun rights or gun restriction. More so, the legislation is about conversations about gun violence. Conversation, which we at Annual Conference didn’t really do well because the debate was heated from my perspective.

I want us to say/read this word slowly: C O N V E R S A T I O N

We, United Methodists, that were at our Annual Conference pretty much looked a lot like the rest of the country when it comes to having a conversation about gun violence. We dug in, planted our heels, staked our claim, pitched out tents on the side we represent and generally speaking did not want to hear one word from those other people (said with an air of disdain). We skipped over “conversation” and went right for the debate and argument. The murmuring happened. The social media happens. The positioning happens. The conversation does NOT happen. Yes, I intentionally changed the tense there. The conversation did not happen and does not happen. Fortunately, the voice of authority, our Bishop, told us what we are voting about, period.

In three of the gospel accounts, this authority tells us “it is said a house torn apart by division will collapse.” (Matt. Mk. Luke) In my house, the understanding is, “if momma ain’t happy, no one is happy.” This doesn’t mean I get my way. This means we work together to build up, work together, maintain so there is no collapse. This requires we converse and not just those that think like us, rather we converse with others, those that do not have the same thoughts and perspective as us. That we have diverse points of view in the conversation.

This means that self-awareness of our position on any sensitive and hot topic be desensitized so that the emotions that drive us to a fight or flight mode do not come in to play. Then a conversation can occur. Why is this a good way? Well, I don’t know about you but I’m not always right, so clearly, I should be in conversation with someone else other than one who thinks just like me.

And conversations don’t have to hurt where gun violence always hurts or worse.  

Isn’t it better to converse than to fight and be divided? Even the winner of a fight walks away with busted knuckles. Talk need not be cheap.

Written by Pastor Dawn Hargraves for Pennsylvania Bridges