Saturday, June 26, 2004

a thousand little pieces

Senator Patrick J Leahy of Vermont has wondered if Halliburton receiving a no-bid contract in Iraq had anything to do with the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney was their CEO before he worked for Bush.

On Tuesday 22 June, Cheney, who is also President of the Senate, was in the chamber for a photo op and ran into Leahy. According to the Washington Post, Cheney and Leahy had some words about this controversy which ended when Cheney dropped the f-bomb (free registration required). (The Washington Post, incidentally, decided to actually print the expletive).

In today's Washington Post, Ann Gerhart has a nice piece on the history of outside of the lines communications in the Senate. In that article, Gerhart mentions Senate Rule #19. Subsection 2 reads:

No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.

It's so sad that the Vice President of our country (and I voted for Bush and Cheney) and the President of the Senate would use such un-statesmanlike language in the chamber concerning Senate business. Such language ends all rational discussion and inhibits the Senate from being able to function as a deliberative body. In truth, the Senate often is a showcase of rhetorical posturing rather than an example of genuine argument and persuasion, but such language is a further slide into organizational dysfunction.

What, in my opinion, is worse is that rather than distancing himself from what surely was a spontaneous eruption, on Friday Cheney actually defended his language.

While such language may not be heard as often in ecclesial contexts (!), the church does not always do that much of a better job at deliberation.

Genuine respect and discussion of theological disagreement is all too rare. So many Christian leaders fail in their efforts to balance the tripartite nonnegotiables of genuine Christian disagreement: conviction, charity, and humility.

For over three years, the faithmaps online community has been a space where the free expression of viewpoints is allowed yet where we also work very hard to maintain a consistent atmosphere of respect.

Every new subscriber is sent a note where this is stressed and I discuss how the maintenance of this atmosphere is moderated (though - in truth - the 'mappers do a commendable job at moderating themselves).

**conflict and respect**

"Our discussions here are sometimes quite spirited, but collegial. We occasionally disagree or explore a topic from various viewpoints but generally we do so with mutual respect. We believe much learning occurs through such interchanges.

But I'll step in if - and this is very important - I perceive that anyone is
dealing with someone else disrespectfully. We have a great community here and it would be sad to see it disintegrate into potshot land or a place of mere rhetorical positioning and grandstanding.


When other differences of opinion come up, our discussions should drive to either

agreement - humble people of integrity are
susceptible to being enlightened by others!,

synthesis - in my experience, successful resolution often ends here,

or a *civil* agreement to disagree.

and I encourage new subscribers who are interested in digging a bit further on the topic of handling conflict in discussion to read an article I wrote for Next-Wave called "Dealing with Conflict" a few years ago. (I've also blogged a bit about developing a praxis of theological disagreement).

While we may hope that the Senate lives up to its own vision of respectful deliberation and encourage it to do so, surely Christ's church has everything it needs to excel at the art and practice of theological disagreement. I believe agreement in community is often if not always something that comes at the end of a dynamic process. Self-centered and proud disagreement leads to a church in a thousand little pieces. Disagreement between people of conviction who are humble and loving leads to knowledge and wisdom. Most significantly, of course, it leads to a living community who increasingly excel at loving God and others.


Anonymous said...

While I do not condone Vice-President Cheney's language, it should be noted that he did not violate Senate Rule #19. Subsection 2 reads: No Senator IN DEBATE shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.

They were meeting for a photo session and VP Cheney had a confrontational incident with Sen. Leahy and uttered his explitive.

I find it interesting that there is a huge brou ha-ha over this incident, while the press (and this blog entry) generally ignored democratic presidential hopeful John F. Kerry's F-bomb in a Rolling Stone article in recent months. Or what about Kerry's expletive to a Secret Service member whom he fell over while skiing recently?
As Christians, ALL should be noted and ALL should be denounced. Fair? Balanced? not quite.


Stephen said...

Hi Sheryl,

fair points on all, though I was primarily commenting on the quality of conversations between those in governance and not on the quality of language of those governing. certainly the latter is also a legitimate point of concern as well, as you point out.