How will churches help America heal?

This past weekend saw both the President’s inauguration and numerous counter-demonstrations. I have never seen an election like this one, and I hope that I never will again. Over the last few years, I have had occasional discussions with friends about whether the union in this country will hold, but thus far, no one has been convinced that it will. Rage increasingly suffuses both sides of the political aisle, and churches are too often clearly partisan before they are clearly Christian.

So, I propose the following. Churches should create a community-oriented event called the Table. The imagery is intentional. At dinner tables, we come together and break bread, and we see one another face to face. We speak and we listen, we lament and we laugh. The goal here is to create a space in which political partisanship takes a back seat to human interaction, and thus defuses fear of the political “other.”

Ideally, Table groups would meet twice a month for dinner (perhaps local restaurants might contribute something). In order to emphasize that the dining room is a space beyond partisan politics, a basket would be placed at the entrance; in it, people would deposit political pins, stickers, and any other partisan materials. Each dinner would begin with a responsorial prayer liturgy (below). During the prayer, everyone would hold hands. No partisan messages would be allowed in the dining space, and at the conclusion of the dinner, the minister would encourage people to leave their political materials behind as they exit.

A few additional thoughts. First, I call the Table “post-political” to emphasize that politics is but a means to a greater end: the common good. The Table liturgy is not a worship service, so Scripture is not read and sacraments are not celebrated. In time, Table groups would take on community-oriented, nonpartisan volunteer work. Ideally, volunteer work would enable one Table group to join with another Table group in the same city. There is no timeline for how long these dinners and related activities would continue; perhaps, for the good of the wider body politic, they simply would not end. Finally, although written in an American context, both this concept and its liturgy could be adapted to other nations (e.g., Great Britain, where Brexit remains deeply divisive).

The liturgy is based on 1 Corinthians 13.

 

The Table Liturgy

The meal begins with the following.

The people all hold hands.

Minister: Lord, hear our prayer.

People: We now turn from our partisanship.

Minister: Lord, hear our prayer.

People: We now turn from our fear.

Minister: Let us love one another and give ourselves for one another.

All: For love is patient; love is kind; it is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it rejoices not in wrongdoing but in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Minister: Prophecies will end.

People: Love never fails.

Minister: Languages will cease.

People: Love never fails.

Minister: Knowledge will prove incomplete.

People: Love never fails.

Minster: When we were children, we spoke like children, thought like children, reasoned like children.

People: We now turn from our childish ways.

Minister: May we see one another face to face.

All: And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three: and the greatest of these is love. Amen.

About The Author

Dr. Benjamin Guyer is a lecturer in the department of History and Philosophy at the University of Tennessee Martin. At present, he is working on two projects: first, transforming his dissertation,”The Semantics of Reformation: Discourses of Religious Change in England, 1414-1688,”  into a monograph; second, preparing a collection of essays on the Lambeth Conference, which he is co-editing with Paul Avis (forthcoming, T&T Clark Bloomsbury).

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