I grow tired of hearing politicians talk about achieving common ground without ever seeming to make real progress. I hear people from various political perspectives talk about achieving common ground while acting uncompromising about their positions that actually seem to be based on my ground.
Achieving common ground is a euphemism for getting those with whom you disagree to come around to your position on issues. It implies conflict between the various positions, and that compromise is the other side coming at least 80 percent in your direction, or there will be no agreement.
This is a perfect formula for the continuation of conflict, poor compromise, and the absence of collaboration for a greater good. It is the type of thing that leads constituents to talk about “throwing the bums out.” But, as the 2012 US elections show, the electorate is really following a form of the definition of insanity that says we elect the same people over and over again and expect different results.
I wish my elected officials would stop talking about achieving common ground and start talking about embracing higher ground. We deserve something that is better rather than something that is the same or worse. We deserve a long-term solution rather than a short-term fix.
We deserve something for the good of the country which involves collaboration rather than compromise, principles that serve the whole rather than positions that serve a few, and collaboration that achieves solutions that can truly represent higher ground.
If I expect this of my politicians, I ought to expect even more of the leaders of my congregation? Foolish? Perhaps. Can I expect the leaders of my congregation to reject conflict, skip compromise, and embrace collaboration? That would involve a move from my ground past common ground to higher ground.
Let’s focus on definitions. My ground is a perspective based on what I selfishly want. It can come out of non-negotiable principles or uncompromising positions. Common ground is a perspective based on a short-term compromise of my positions as long as it does not significantly violate my non-negotiable principles. It assumes the struggle for a solution is not over and people will debate their positions and principles another day.
Higher ground is a perspective based on long-term collaboration of positions and principles for a higher good or value. It involves a commitment to work long enough, hard enough, and smart enough in an innovative and spiritual manner to where new solutions are discerned.
In congregations an emphasis on my ground increases when leaders have been in place for a long time and believe they have a right to do things their way, and for any change that takes place to be changes that affirms their way, perspective, or positions. The longer leaders stay focused on my ground, the greater the possibility that unhealthy conflict will occur.
When pressure is placed on the leaders, they will ultimately agree to talk about compromise. They begin to use phrases akin to common ground. However, except for people who spiritualize conflict situations, there is very little conversation about higher ground.
Higher ground dialogue focuses on the unconditional love of the Triune God and what spiritual discernment reveals as the pathway forward. Common ground focuses more on the cultural ways of doing church. What historic tradition will we follow? What practices are the right ways to do church?
My ground in a congregation is about an insistence on a certain way of doing things that is touted by a few long-term leaders who are the stakeholders in a congregation. Or—get ready for this—it can also be the way demanded by newer, younger adults who want to be part of a congregation that does things exactly the way their believe church ought to be done. They too have a my ground position.
This younger crowd has a set of high expectations for church, but no loyalty to a specific congregation. If the congregation they are currently attending cannot provide the quality of programs, ministries, and activities they feel are essential, they easily transition to a different congregation. Their my ground position has a sense of threat to it.
“Provide the programs we want for our family, or we will go somewhere else,” is the stated threat. For congregations who are struggling to attract households headed by people less than 45 years old, this is a real threat some congregations try to address, while others will indicate their congregation was good enough for them when they were coming along, and should be good enough for the next generation also.
Few congregations figure out how engage in collaboration that seeks higher ground when these types of conflict occur. Those who do, learn how to handle various diverse issues. Those who do not figure it out remain shallow in their ability to handle complex issues. They often become increasingly less vital and vibrant congregations.
What type of ground is your congregation seeking? Is your congregation willing to engage in a process that rejects conflict, skips compromise, and embraces collaboration?