It started out as a typical board meeting with a routine agenda. Within minutes, though, her unscripted comments electrified the room. Everyone readied equally passionate responses.
Who was this rabble-rouser?
A white-haired great-grandmother - a woman who had raised children during the tumultuous '60s, had served dinners to the homeless, sewed banners for peace, and had held many positions in her own church and in this organization. And she had an opinion on this subject. As did everyone at the table.
That week, same-sex marriages had become legal in Massachusetts. She felt our ecumenical organization needed an official statement of response to it. We were teetering on the edge of a highly charged emotional debate.
Many of these women had reached across theological, cultural, and racial divides to establish working relationships within this organization. A common bond of Christian fellowship suddenly seemed extremely fragile. Decades-old friendships hung in the balance.
I was new to this board and felt unprepared to say anything. It was one of those times I just put my hand in God's and asked for all of us to feel divine guidance through this issue.
Most of us must have been praying in that tense moment of silence.
Then quietly and gently, the president simply declined to open the subject and returned to the agenda before us. When pressed by some of the others, she explained that this was a divisive topic that even the dozen or more denominations represented at that meeting were struggling with on their own. She felt there would be strongly held opinions on both sides of the issue, which was understandable, but that our task as a group was to focus not on what divided us, but on what united us.
She reminded us that we were members of Church Women United. Since 1941, this diverse group of Christian women has been coming together under the motto: Agree to differ. Resolve to love. Unite to serve.
That was it. We continued with the meeting, smoothly covering our role in upcoming ecumenical celebrations, a ministry for the homeless, and national efforts to lobby for legislation concerning women and children at risk.
I've thought a lot about the CWU motto as heated debates continue to rage during this presidential campaign in the United States. Its simple wisdom offers a practical approach to the politics of any group or election.
The variety of experiences, outlooks, and opinions that comprise any group of people is precisely what makes it dynamic and full of possibilities. So many points of view. Few of us can agree on the best flavor of ice cream, let alone on the complexity of responses to social and economic issues. What we can agree on is to provide everyone both room and respect to explore all sides of issues and come to individual conclusions.
While this response is deeply anchored in the Christian tradition, it carries a universal tone. The Sermon on the Mount urges each of us to turn the other cheek when we feel wronged, to bless and pray for and do good to our "enemies."
No one said it would be easy.
Maybe that's why it takes resolve - a conscious effort, a deep desire, and an honest commitment to love those whose views so startlingly conflict with our own. It's hard work to keep on top of creeping prejudices and knee-jerk reactions. Human effort alone isn't enough to bridge the passions that would divide us. But a resolve to love carries with it divine blessing.
The early Christian pioneer Paul encouraged his friends toward the harmonious resolution of their many differences. He wrote that "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). God is on our side when we love. That brings with it unquenchable power to accomplish the good work needed in our communities.
It isn't just presidents or senators or governors who are public servants. Love compels each of us to look to our neighbors and see that their needs are being met as well as our own. When divine Love binds us to one another, we feel that deep connection of heart to heart. Common goals and activities emerge. And we find our individual part in it.
Ultimately it is our own words and actions - energized by an unselfish, inclusive love - that can transform the process of any election, local or national, here or abroad.
Opinions can divide, but love unites. Let us resolve to love.
I make strong demands on love, call for active witnesses
to prove it, and noble sacrifices and grand achievements
as its results....
Love cannot be a mere abstraction, or goodness without activity
Mary Baker Eddy
(Founder of Christian Science)