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Frederick Douglas about conflict and civility.

8 April 2011

“I am not trying to abolish conflict. There is great value in healthy conflict. And the dangers of group-think are real. Conflict can inspire creative leadership. Where there are fundamental conflicts over values, they should not be ignored in a sentimental yearning for consensus. The problem in our communities today is not that we have conflict, but that we manufacture conflict and exaggerate differences to the point where it is very difficult to make meaningful change. Too often we abandon basic civility and cannot disagree without questioning the motives of our adversaries. Our standard as we debate should be similar to doctors’ Hippocratic Oath: “Do no harm.” Disagree, but don’t tear the community apart as you do.”
— Frederick Douglas in a speech in 1857

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 11 April 2011 10:57 pm

    I like the things Frederick Douglass said, especially about questioning motives of those we disagree with. Do you think that Emerging Churches might possibly be seeking a way to treasure what is old, that of righteousness and obedience, and also being open to what is new, of grace and mercy. Also, could we be learning to connect the ‘head and heart’ aspect of faithfulness? I would appreciate your comments, thanks.

    • 12 April 2011 7:40 pm

      Thank you for commenting. I would like to answer your question but am not entirely confident that I know what you are getting at.

      In response to what I think that you might be getting at, I’d like to offer this quotation from C.S. Lewis, “The advantage of a fixed form of service is that we know what is coming. Ex tempore public prayer has this difficulty: we don’t know whether we can mentally join in it until we’ve heard it — it might be phony or heretical. We are therefore called upon to carry on a critical and a devotional activity at the same moment: two things hardly compatible. In a fixed form we ought to have ‘gone through the motions’ before in our private prayers; the rigid form really sets our devotions free. I also find the more rigid it is, the easier it is to keep one’s thoughts from straying. Also it prevents getting too completely eaten up by whatever happens to be the preoccupation of the moment …. The permanent shape of Christianity shows through.”

      The experience of worship that Lewis describes here is, I’d say, reflected in my experience as well.

  2. Rebecca permalink
    15 April 2011 9:51 pm

    Sorry for the confusion, but thanks for the reply. I can see that a more ordered worship service would ensure that one would be confident that they can worship without being distracted by something they may not feel they can trust. My statement about ‘Head and Heart’ is one that goes back historically to about the time of Frederick Douglas when our country was still forming in regard to its government, and also the structure and government that churches woudl take. It seems we resisted the movement of the Spirit, although there was a great deal of this movement going on, especially around New York. People would faint at what was called Holy Fairs, taking several days to worship and build to the point of communion. I can understand how someone would not particularly want to faint while in worship, but I hope that we leave room for the Spirit to move feely among us.
    There are so many different views on what is appropriate worship, but maybe, as Douglass says, we can ‘do no harm’ and accept the varied ways people seek a relationship with God.

  3. 20 August 2012 8:23 pm

    Do you have a citation for the Douglass quote? I lie the content, but the language attributed to him in some passages sounds contemporary.

    Jim Forest

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