By Harrison Bell
KINGSPORT, Tenn. (Feb. 1, 2017) -- On Saturday, January 28, First Broad Street United Methodist Church did the unthinkable: They tackled issues most Christians would rather not talk about, especially in church.
“The Conversation Matters: How to Disagree in Love” was held to help the Kingsport community begin to intentionally have difficult conversations about subjects that are deeply divisive.
John Wesley was a strong advocate of such things. He encouraged his classes and bands to ask the hard questions of each other so they might follow Jesus more closely -- a practice he referred to as “Holy Conferencing.”
First Broad Street recognizes that itself, along with many churches and the larger United Methodist Church, are deeply divided. The congregation also recognizes that when Jesus prayed for the current church in John 17, he specifically asks the Father that the church would be “one.”
The Jan. 28 event carried the assumption that God would have our churches be unified in essentials, show liberty in nonessentials, and in all things, show charity and love.
The seminar began by teaching participants important facets to use when engaging in difficult conversations, including empathy, vulnerability, humility, active listening, and forgiveness. Leaders reviewed ground rules and modeled appropriate behaviors and responses. Then participants were released to gather in small groups and engage in difficult conversations over topics of their choice. Topics included racism, sexual orientation, immigration, gun control, abortion, and capital punishment.
The participants all answered specific questions about each topic that had them share about personal experiences, where they saw their faith speaking to the issue, and how Christians can remain in unity over said issue. Energy was high and people who adamantly disagree with each other were able to join hands and figure out ways to build bridges on even the most difficult topics.
First Broad Street hopes this effort will be a springboard that has equipped participants to facilitate difficult conversations in their own communities with family, friends, co-workers, Sunday school classes, and small groups. First Broad Street also hopes this event will serve as a model to the Holston Conference and the greater United Methodist Church on how we can have healthy conversations that honor God.
The Rev. Harrison Bell is associate pastor of First Broad Street United Methodist Church.
Kingsport church aims to help people 'disagree in love' (Kingsport Times News, 1/2/17)