It’s not easy to come together with those that we disagree with, especially in the polarized world we live in today. But in the face of friendships threatened by political disagreements, more than a hundred people gathered in Lakeland’s Worship Center on Sunday, February 19th in an effort to learn how to lovingly engage those they might not share the same political views with.
The focus of the event, titled The Forum: Understanding the Person Behind the Position, was not for attendees to defend who they voted for, explained Forum panning group leader Marcus Arnwine in his opening remarks Sunday night, but rather to share the personal experiences that they carried with them into the voting booth.
“What we do want to know is your experiences and what got you here,” said Marcus. “We’re learning how to talk, how to communicate tonight.”
After the Marcus’ introduction, Pastor Dan Weyerhaeuser explained the strategy of the evening, a guide for which was given to each attendee. It’s called the READ strategy, a way for handling conflict where one party listens to the other’s experience, repeats it back to them until the sharing party is satisfied that they were understood, labels what emotions they probably experienced during that moment, affirms everything true about their point that they can, and then finally discloses their own view on the subject.
“When all you’re doing is debating the rightness and wrongness of the issue, but you’re not seeing the person and what’s behind the issue for them, the best you can get is compromise,” said Pastor Dan. “You cannot resolve until you share and enter into the underlying things in people’s lives, what their experience is. Resolution comes that way.”
The goal of all this, according to Pastor Dan, is for people and the issues that they stand for to become less black and white.
“There are reasonable people who disagree with you. For good reasons!” Pastor Dan said.
After Pastor Dan finished explaining the strategy, he invited Lakeland member Angel Caballero to model sharing a story that influenced the way he saw last November’s election.
Angel, a Mexican-born American citizen, spoke about his early childhood, when his parents first brought their family to America. During the story, he shared a memory of when his mother’s purse, which contained the entire family’s green cards, was stolen, and the sense of helplessness and uncertainty that the family felt in the aftermath.
“The thought that came over my parents was that if immigration came, we would be sent back to Mexico after being in this country for five or six years,” Angel said. “And all we knew as little kids was that we grew up here. We spoke English; we knew no Spanish. So we thought, ‘What if they come and send us back?'”
Angel spoke of the uncertainty that many immigrants feel, both legal and undocumented, when it comes to current rhetoric surrounding immigration, especially relating to their children, who know of nothing other than life in America.
After Angel shared, the group was broken up into three smaller groups of 30-40 people, where participants took turns sharing experiences from their past, how those experiences shaped their perspective on the election, and what hopes and fears for the future have come as a result.
The evening concluded as participants gathered together again as a large group to share what impacted them in their smaller group experience, with many affirming the need for a greater emphasis on encouraging people of diverse age, ethnicity, background, and political ideology to come together seeking understanding, a sentiment echoed by Marcus Arnwine.
“Lakeland took a bold step toward opening a dialogue about a polarizing topic (politics) in today’s divided world,” said Marcus. “Many stories were shared. People listened to one another. I am excited about the results, but it’s only one step in a long journey. We’ve begun the journey together.”
The next Forum event is scheduled for Sunday, May 6th at 6:00pm, and will look at the religion of Islam, understanding what they teach and how to love well our neighbors, classmates, and co-workers who are Muslim.