In the face of deep divisions and a pattern of alienations among Iowa UM clergy, it is not enough simply to say we need to love one another.
We have obviously forgotten how.
We need to identify a group of our most influential clergy leaders in the Iowa Annual Conference.
We need to afford them the opportunity to attend 9 weeks of classes learning the skills they need to love better-skills which are built through deepening competencies in democracy, pluralism, gender equities, environmental conservation, the rule of law, and human rights. These competencies are the bedrock on which to build language for shared values and civil theological critique.
We need to host this training at a UM owned/affiliated facility in Iowa-camp, college campus or church.
In the classroom, the dividing lines need to be made visible so each of them can start out among their own camp and literally see that there are other camps and who is living in them. This means that the clergy persons need to be honest about the animosities and reservations they have with one another. They have to be willing to own their own feelings related to other clergy in the class.
We need to use a peace education curriculum and outside instructors to promote the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about behavior changes that will enable students to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural; to resolve conflict peacefully; and to create the conditions conducive to peace, whether at an intrapersonal, interpersonal, intergroup, national or international level
We need to do this not to solve our incompatibilities but to show them to be false and to be roadblocks to working together out of values that are held in common.
This needs to happen in the kind of space where the students HAVE to connect with and rely on one another. It needs to be clear that the playground is too small to field another teammate if anybody decides to quit the team.
The teachers need to be people with NO stake in denominational outcomes- parties uninvolved in United Methodist culture whose goals are positive peace and conflict transformation.
The students will then be tasked with bringing their school sense of unity and togetherness (their beginning sense of mutual respect and love) to their various communities to bridge the communal divide outside the classes.
Their job will be to craft and commit to framing the theological, religious and denominational dialogue and behavior in their personal communities-specifically to those other clergy with whom they associate and to those congregations or conference systems to which they primarily relate-towards increasing mutuality, respect, and love.
Maybe, with a few years and sustained commitment to expanding this kind of strategy, love can be what sustains the bridges we’ve built between us.
-I owe some of the phrases and most of the structures outlined above to Dr. Asna Husin in her essay Islamic Peace Education, Changing Hearts and Minds published in “Crescent and Dove; Conflict and Resolution in Islam” (Qamar-al Huda, editor).-
-The definition for peace education comes from a working paper produced by UNICEF Peace Education Working Group-