Concord, Not Conflict

Last month, the Canipe boys—Watt, Peter, and I—hit the road.  Our primary objectives on this road trip were to see the pro football and baseball halls of fame in Canton, Ohio, and Cooperstown, New York, respectively.  But you know how a good road trip is.  There were, along the way, many side ventures.

One of these en route diversions was a visit to the tomb of William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States, in Canton.  It’s an impressive memorial, a big stone structure shaped kind of like a hornets’ nest and topped by a large dome.  Inscribed around the inside base of the dome is a quote from McKinley’s last speech, delivered in Buffalo the day before he was fatally shot in 1901: “Let us ever remember that our interest is in concord, not conflict.”

That Friday morning in July, those 117-year-old words struck me with peculiar force.  Our interest—and, by that, McKinley was referring to our shared interest, our common good—is in concord, not conflict.  It seems like such an obvious truth, akin to declaring the sky blue and grass green. Yet it feels so counter-cultural these days—almost quaint—to lift up concord as a virtue worthy of our best efforts when so much of our public life right now lurches in the opposite direction, toward conflict generated for the sake of conflict (like two children in the backseat of the car who simply can’t resist poking one another—each one blaming the other for starting it, neither one willing to exercise the self-control needed to stop it).  There are many days when my soul gets weary and I look around, hopefully, for reasons not to be cynical.

Maybe that’s why President McKinley’s words grabbed my attention, and then held it tightly—for several long minutes—until the sounds of “Daaaaad, can we pleeeease goooo?” snapped me back to reality.

These words from a long-gone president came to me as a gift that day in Canton, a reminder that not only is there such a thing as a common good, a shared interest in creating communities of opportunity and justice, where all people have a chance to flourish, develop their God-given abilities, and live peacefully as they see fit—but that, at our best, we are called to pursue this common good.  It’s what the prophet Jeremiah was talking about when he told God’s people exiled in Babylon “to seek the welfare of the city where God has sent you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

The conviction that our shared interest is in concord, not conflict, stretches at least as far back as the Old Testament.  The people of God are to be peacemakers, seeking the common good and rejecting the false (but often emotionally satisfying, especially on a gut level) choice of “us versus them” in order to build a better, stronger “we.”  I’m glad that Providence has chosen to do this by making priorities of blessing our city and engaging our neighborhood.  Part of our witness as Christians in Charlotte is to say, as clearly and boldly as we can, that our interest is in concord, not conflict.

This is, of course, what Jesus intends for the church to be: A living, breathing sign of how God’s love and mercy can resolve seemingly intractable conflict and bring, in its place, surprisingly durable concord.  That’s what happens at the cross.  As different as we all are in so many ways, each of us comes to the cross as a sinner in equal need of salvation.  Jesus forgives us—and with that forgiveness comes a new identity.  The apostle Paul explains it this way: We come to Jesus with our differences out front and on our sleeves, but once he claims us as his own, we all belong to him, “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).

In other words, our loyalty to Jesus—that is, our shared commitment to following him as Lord—trumps all our other, lesser loyalties and commitments.  At our best, the church is a sign of what true, God-given unity looks like—a unity held together not by the usual glues of race or gender or nation or party but, rather, by the blood of Jesus, the waters of baptism, and the bread and cup we share at the Lord’s table.

Why does this kind of Christian unity matter so much right now?  Precisely because it is the exact opposite of what the world insists is normal.  When Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, he’s telling us that the way we live—both as individual believers and as a community of believers—is God’s deliberate response to the world’s gloomy assertion of endless conflict.

There is a better way.  His name is Jesus.  And he invites us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength—and then to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  We talk about that a lot.  If we could actually do it, just imagine the concord that God could sow through us in the name of  Jesus.  Believe it or not, our everyday encounters, insignificant as they may seem in the big picture, are where the Lord has chosen to begin His hard and holy work of reconciliation.

May the peace of Christ be with you!