Monday, October 13, 2008


October 12, 2008

I have recently attended the twentieth iteration of something called ‘the gentlemen’s dinner’ to which I have been going on and off for eleven years. It is a gathering of friends put together by two graduates of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. They are ten years apart, one black and one white and the dinner is similarly balanced racially. There are more lay than clergy and more Episcopalians than others. The value of the occasion (apart from food wine and fellowship as though that were not enough) is that after dinner everyone is offered a chance to speak about what is going on in their lives or in the world. I will never forget the first time I attended in the wake of President Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal. There was such a stark difference of view or ‘take’ between black and white that the contrast was stunning. This year the contrast was more in the level of fear expressed in various ways by black members of the group rather than white. The fear was that Obama might not win when racism rears its head in the secrecy of the voting booth, or that assassination is a real fear when someone is allowed to shout ‘kill him’ at a McCain-Palin rally without any response from the candidates. (A weak response in the form of a call for civility came a couple of days later.) Some white members of the group had things to say about the state of the country and our political life, but without the fear factor. Republicans in the room were silent.

David Abshire, currently President of the Center for the Study of the Presidency has published extensively on the issue of civility in our society and ahs even applied such ideas to the Anglican world. I remember when republicans and democrats could have dinner together in a perfectly civil way and how that is tricky now if there is to be any political conversation. The joy and perhaps model of the gentlemen’s dinner is that we have honest conversation across lines of demarcation. Could there be a political equivalent and could the church be a place for that to be nurtured?

No comments: