Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Formation, and Evangelism Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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This post gives me a chance to synthesize some of what I have been learning over the past couple of weeks through my travels. I have recently traveled to both the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and the Presbytery of Northern Kansas to facilitate the marriage study published by the Office of Theology and Worship (which is a key part of my ministry area). This study is explicitly designed not to drive participants toward consensus or toward problem solving, but rather toward allowing everyone who participates to hear the others’ points of view, so that they gain empathy and understanding.
Hold that thought while I tell you about “Leading Vibrant Faith Communities,” a four-day intensive course at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. I look forward to blogging much more about what I learned there in the days to come, but briefly it brought together twenty leaders in a variety of Christian and Jewish contexts for a mini-business school covering topics like team management, effecting change, negotiations, and strategy.
One of the most interesting topics was Polarity Management, which is contrasted against problem-solving, conflict resolution, or compromise. Polarities are two opposing viewpoints which are strongly held, such as traditional vs contemporary worship. The marriage study is an attempt to manage the polarities between those who would like the definition to remain “between a man and a woman” and those who would like it to change to “between two people.”
Polarity management, according to professor Donna Markham, entails the following:
Polarity management is not a methodology for decision-making; instead it enables people to communicate, to strengthen connection and community, when they do not agree.
I am very grateful that the General Assembly (perhaps unknowingly) had the wisdom to look at the issue of marriage, which creates so much tension between so-called progressives and conservatives, not as a problem to be solved, but as a polarity to be managed. The marriage study, divorced from any votes or a need to drive to resolution, enables us to talk together about difficult issues without seeking consensus or compromise.
I have led the marriage study in 8 different contexts, and my experience is that this process of engaging the issue does indeed foster mutual understanding and enables people to communicate, strengthen connections, and build community across differences (all of which are goals of polarity management).
It doesn’t mean that upcoming conversations at General Assembly will go easily. But I trust that those presbyteries and churches who have participated in the study will be able to vote on the issues with more trust than they would have without participating in the study.
Is it time for your church or presbytery to engage this polarity?
You can find the study, and all sorts of other resources, at www.pcusa.org/marriage.