Moving from Deadlock to Dialogue

By Rob Barrett

When people disagree, what is there to talk about? When we invite people to dialogue across deep difference, sometimes they say, "What will we do after I say my piece and he says I'm wrong, then he says his piece and I say he's wrong?"

Nobody wants to repeat the same, tired arguments yet again.

Or worse, what about when there is absolutely nothing to talk about? "Evolution is established reality, so stop saying it isn't." "The Bible clearly says homosexual activity is evil, so I'm not listening." End of story. No more discussion. What then?

It's easy to get stuck in these deadlocks, these seemingly inescapable mires of incomprehensibility. But we serve the Lord who demolishes dividing walls (Ephesians 2:14). Crossing the rubble begins by desiring to see things—if even for a moment—through the other's eyes. Or even to feel the weight of what so convinces the other. This moves us toward the truth.

Crossing the rubble begins by desiring to see things—if even for a moment—through the other's eyes.

It is also the way of Jesus, who walked alongside Pharisees, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He brought them life where they were without leaving them there. Jesus invited people into his world by painting pictures of his kingdom that made sense in their world.

Entering another's world demands firm rootedness in my own. "Open mindedness" to others is not intellectual laziness or confusion, but sets myself aside for a moment to care for another. And so we imitate Christ: "Value others above yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).

True dialogue isn't just about transferring information. It's about visiting strange, new worlds where we kindle shared desire for truth, shared yearning for friendship, and shared devotion to Jesus.

"Open mindedness" to others is not intellectual laziness or confusion, but sets myself aside for a moment to care for another.

Since these things are far beyond our grasp, we ask for God's help together. "Please open my brother's eyes…and my heart," we sometimes beg.

Only then can we voice our frustration: "Why do you think the way you do?" An honest question seeking an honest answer. Now we're talking.

There's no magic for entering another's world. It's like any new friendship. We ask each other's story. "How did you come to faith? What kind of church shaped you? When have you doubted? How have you suffered?"

We talk about what we fear will go wrong if the other side "wins." We talk about why we think the other is damaging the church and what we admire about each other. We pray for each other. And, yes, we talk about the complex questions and challenges that divide us.

After we talk, we need to return to prayer. We give thanks for being drawn closer to God and one another. We repent of how we've wronged God and one another. We voice our hope that God will continue to hold all things together (Colossians 1:17).

It's hardly rocket science, but that's the kind of talking across difference that draws us back for more.

Rob Barrett is Director of Forums & Scholarship for The Colossian Forum, a Christian nonprofit dedicated to transforming divisive topics into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness. Their work centers around Christian communities that actually behave like Christ in the midst of conflict, holding truth and love together. TCF brings people together in messy situations to participate in the truth of the gospel, providing hope that even in disagreements, "all things hold together in Christ" (Colossians 1:17).

Apply for Oriented to Love's first people-of-color-only dialogue in Atlanta, Georgia, February 2020!

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