I was listening to NPR a while back and I heard a quote that I’ve been carrying around, “The opposite of division is not unity, it’s collaboration”. I have been thinking about this quote on and off since October. I have concluded that I believe this quote deep in my heart and based on my career choices, a part of me always has. Now I have read my Bible and know that my heart can be deceived. Jeremiah 7:19 warns us that there is no cure for the heart. So, I have been praying and thinking for my soul or spirit to make the determination. I realized Jesus was always for collaboration. Paul did it brilliantly in Greece (Acts 17:23).
I listen to NPR all the time, so why did this quote stand out so much for me? I suppose it is because collaboration is something I enjoy and long for. I long for respectful disagreements and earnest conclusions. Decades ago, I was employed by a company that was unionized. I was also a union representative for my coworkers. I believe that I was fair because I made sure that both the company and the employee followed the contract rules. That means I didn’t side with either person, I only took the side of the contract. After that job, I spent many years working for the city and the state legislature. For many of those years, I witnessed people on opposite ends of the political spectrum find issues that they could agree on. I found representatives who looked for a like-minded colleague across the aisle to collaborate on a bill. I saw representatives who upon reading the text of the bill, go across the aisle, and ask if they could co-sponsor that bill. It was a true exercise in respect. People who believed that other people were trying to do what was best for all people could respect each other despite disagreeing with each other. I can pinpoint when those attitudes began to shift to a political party-centric ideal, but I won’t bore you with that. I only mention it because that is when I chose to leave. I couldn’t work in a place where what is good for the party overruled what is good for the people. I now work at a large church in the suburbs. I am in a place where the people are genuinely trying to do the will of God and be good for everyone. This is not to say that church employees don’t disagree with each other, after all we are just like everyone else. Hopefully, we are nicer about it though.
Unity in the church world is a huge thing that gets talked about all the time. It’s for good reason, unity is called for multiple times in the OT and the NT. But what definition of unity are we talking about. Is it the Hebrew word Echad or the Greek word Henotes? Echad means a unified one-ness between individuals or between man and God. For example: “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one [Echad]!” (Deut 6:4). Henotes means unanimous agreement among others. These words are similar but not the same. The closest example I can think of is one and only. Only means there is a single one, but one doesn’t mean only, as in they acted as one. So, while these words are similar, they are not completely interchangeable. This continues to be true in modern translations from one language to another. Echad is our goal. It’s the idea of being connected to God and then each other, like the spokes of a wheel connected to a single hub.
I think many times that when people hear unity, they are thinking in terms of henote or all in agreement. But the Bible refers to unity as peaceful, harmonious living with others. We aren’t meant to be duplicates or even robots. Paul tells us that we are all like parts of the body, different but working together (1 Cor 12). Our henote unity must be that we all believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible and that this is our operating system. This is the hub to which our spokes are connected. The spokes do not have to be the same shape or made from the same material. Some may be plain and others highly decorative. This is our Echad unity, we are working together to achieve a goal. I believe that goal is to mirror Christ on earth in our love and actions to bring more people into this family. What a lofty goal it is to mirror Christ to be the imago dei or the image of God. It’s so big, I must wonder how I even begin.
Well, that brings me back to the quote. I think we begin by realizing that unity isn’t that we all agree, it’s that we choose to collaborate instead of divide. Division is where Satan wants us. He wants us to believe that only way to overcome division is by all believing the exact same things and the exact same times. He wants us to believe it because that’s impossible. In fact, I will state unequivocally that disagreement should exist. It means that we are actively reading, thinking, and pursuing God. Talking about those disagreements means we aren’t lukewarm Christians, but only if we are respectful in our attitudes. How do we collaborate with someone who believes the exact opposite of what we believe? First, we find our common beliefs, what can we agree on. Then we find out why each of us believes our view is correct. This step is the key. This makes you justify your own beliefs for yourself. You may find out something that you thought you held strongly actually wasn’t. You may find out that you were wrong. You may be able to point out fallacies on both sides of the discussion. Most importantly, you will probably find out that you both agree on 8 out of 10 points and can move forward on those alone, leaving the sticking points for another day. If we are all working to treat our neighbors better than we treat ourselves, we should be able to find that we have much common ground with those with whom we disagree. Sometimes the collaborations mean that we won’t always get our way exactly the way we wanted, but we can claim victory in a better understanding of each other and in the unity we all have in God.
So, to the anonymous person on public radio who said that “the opposite of division is not unity, but collaboration”, I thank you. This was always something I have believed but couldn’t articulate.