The members of the Blue Moon Group, which began meeting in Asheville in 2002 with the goal of reducing the threat of violence in our area over the issue of abortion, recently issued a Common Ground Statement. Following are the transcripts of two meetings with Asheville Citizen-Times Editorial Page Editor Joy Franklin at which they discussed the dynamics of the group, which includes strongly pro-choice and strongly pro-life members, and the insights they gained as they worked together to find common ground.
The tape recording of the first meeting skipped and portions of the transcript had to be recreated by the members. Because of the sensitivity of the subject, members of the group were allowed to review both transcripts and the accompanying story and to edit their comments for clarity. Members of the group are:
Chuck Andrews, a ruling elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church
Dr. Lorraine Cummings, M.D., owner of Femcare
Bonnie Frontino, a nurse midwife at Femcare, a medical clinic for women in Asheville
Monroe Gilmour, a community organizer on racial discrimination and bigotry and a volunteer escort at Femcare
Jeff Hutchinson, senior pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Asheville
Bob Rhymer, a retired American Baptist minister and a volunteer escort at Femcare
Lynn von Unwerth, a nurse practitioner for Planned Parenthood
Donnie Williams, associate pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Asheville
Ann Wingfield, a nurse and a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church
Gilmour: We could start our discussion with what our process was for creating this Common Ground Statement.
Cummings: This process has taken us years. I think itís remarkable how much discussion was necessary to get the wording exactly right.
Williams: For the sake of throwing a bone in, I still need to be reminded of how we got to the more concise form of the statementÖ
Gilmour: (It was) The Karen Test. One of the participants here, Chuck, took the initial draft to his wife, Karen, who looked at what we had written and said, "Youíre going to be misunderstood by one side or the other side or both." So, the conclusion we came to was that maybe we had not honed the Statement down to the nitty-gritty essence of what we agree on. We took ideas from that draft though, and we said, "OK, here is a clean sheet, what are the core ideas upon which we agree?"
Von Unwerth: I think the other part is, we didnít want it to be quite as specific as what it was, to allow us room to grow and change.
Gilmour: I would add one observation. I found that the theology you all shared with us affected the wording in ways I wouldnít have expected. We learned a lot about theology that was interesting and useful. I think this understanding ensured a more in-depth examination of our common ground. Particularly the calls in the Bible to take care of those within the faith, and not to judge those outside the faith; that is, to make sure those within the faith are following the tenets of the faith. That played a role in our understanding of why the physical and verbal violence is unacceptable theologically.
Von Unwerth: One of the other things that I really wanted to be sure was in here was the part about the information that is provided outside the clinic. I think for those of us who are pro-choice, a huge issue for us is that women at least be provided accurate information and not be told things that are not true and are possibly harmful to them both physically and emotionally. And thereís a lot of verbal harassment going on in what is supposed to be sidewalk counseling and that is counterproductive to the mission that they are trying to accomplish.
Williams: If youíd like me to reiterate the exact reference Monroe was referring to, in the Bible, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth and is telling them how to address a specific instance of sin. There was a sex offender in their midst. Someone was sleeping with his fatherís wife, essentially his stepmother. Paul tells them they should have ousted him or excommunicated him by then. But then he goes beyond that, and the broader principle says, judgment is to begin with the household of God. God will judge those outside. . In other words, the churchís priority is to take care of shop in-house, and be freed up to love folks on the outside.
Hutchinson: In the Colorado Springs area (where Focus on the Family is based), thereís a bumper sticker that says: ďFocus on your own damned family!Ē I would imagine even everybody within Focus on the Family would agree that we are called to focus on our own family first, and make sure it is healthy. And so I think this bumper sticker captures something. One of the things I remember first being gripped by as I began to learn about the pro-life movement in this area, was that Mick Hunt was telling me that more and more cars coming into the FemCare clinic had Christian symbols on their bumpers. Now, I realize that only a fraction of those coming to FemCare are coming for abortions, but I am hoping that if people who identify themselves as Christians have an unwanted pregnancy, that they would be able to go to their own pastor and talk it out. First, I would be saddened if they hadnít asked for help from their own spiritual family, and second I would be saddened if they had asked and had not been offered real and compassionate help.
Gilmour: One thing that also struck me when we were working on the Statement was this one single short statement: "We agree that adoption should be more encouraged and accessible." I was surprised that the word "accessible" needed to be there. I was unaware of the problems involved in making adoption opportunities easily available to people. After our discussion, I realized that adoption is such an area of common ground that there should be emphasis on making adoption more available and encouraging it in our community and our nation.
Von Unwerth: The young women we see and do options counseling with are from an era when abortion has always been legal, and I think adoption was more thought of say in the early to mid-70s, because adoption was all the only legal option. And I think that young women donít have any reference to it at all or any experience with it and maybe the problem is that education and awareness arenít happening. And a lot of the young women that were adopted back in the sixties and seventies are in their 30s now and some of these younger women donít even know anybody whose been adopted or anything like that. And maybe some of the problem is education and awareness that just isnít happening. Because when you present it to a lot of these young women as an option, they look at you like ďHuh? Why no, of course I wouldnít do that.Ē
Hutchinson: Well, I think it does depend an awful lot on who we have in our ďcircleĒ of friends and influence, doesnít it? I mean, I think we all tend to make decisions more from our experience, and from the anecdotes we hear, than from principle. So I can see how if you donít know anyone who has been adopted, let alone anyone who has been adopted and been glad to have been, that adoption would seem like a foreign and scary thing. But, just speaking personally, I notice a genuine love for life in our church and in my little ďcircle.Ē There are lots of adopted folks in my circle, and so those within a church that has a genuine love for life would have the advantage, if faced with an unwanted pregnancy, of seeing how adoption can be a genuine blessing.
Frontino: It just made me wonder if thereís more of a social stigma around placing a baby for adoption than there is around having an abortion.
Gilmour: Unfortunately, there is often so much acrimony between those who donít want abortion and those for choice that itís hard to cross lines and work together on this obvious point of common ground. If the rhetoric can be lowered, we do agree that adoption should be more available, and perhaps, the conclusion is that a concentrated, joint effort would increase adoptions.
Wingfield: I remember a young mom I had at the hospital that was giving her baby up for adoption and I told her like Jeff, I knew people who themselves had been adopted or their kids had and the young woman was just floored, because she, I guess, had no exposure to adoption. She had chosen this route but still was wondering what she was sending her baby to, so I was glad I could encourage her, but still was a little taken aback that she seemed so unfamiliar with the concept herself.
Hutchinson: Just this week Iíve gotten to spend time with my friend Flavien, who is a French theologian teaching pastors in Bulgaria. He has spoken of the darkness of that culture, still recovering from the effects of Communism, and of the orphanages there. The orphanages are just dark and dangerous places, full of cast-offs that no one would consider adopting. This is one reason he feels called to Bulgaria, because there the word ďadoptionĒ is a bad-news word, whereas, in cultures where the gospel of Christ has filled the air, ďadoptionĒ is such a good-news word. In fact, the heart of the gospel can be summarized with the word ďadoption,Ē because in the gospel God adopts children who were not his own, but children of the devil, and brings them in to his family forever.
Williams: I was surprised to learn that the people at FemCare didnít want to do abortions, but felt they had to be there to support the choices women seeking abortions had made.
Frontino: Weíre the only business we know of who is in business to put ourselves out of business. That is our goal in life, to put ourselves out of business. People donít believe us when we say that, but itís true.
Cummings: Itís true.
Frontino: Anybody in family planning, I think.
Gilmour: But that is what, it appears to me, is most difficult for many people who describe themselves as pro-life to believe: i.e., that the people at FemCare donít want to do abortions just to do abortions. I know from observing Dr. Cummings and the staff for many years that theirís is a deep dedication to the premise that itís the womanís decision that is the motivating factor. They are happy when there are alternatives ensuring that all children are wanted, whether by the parents themselves or by adoptive families. Hopefully, there would be common ground in 95 percent of the population on that point.
Hutchinson: Yes, that desire for us to find common ground with the 95 percent, so that the extremists on both sides are seen as just that, extremists. For instance, in some of the pro-choice literature and editorials I have read over the years, some refer to abortion, not as a bad-news word, something to be avoided wherever possible, but as a good-news word, a form of extreme self-actualization, a triumph over everything that would hold you back, almost a positive moral good. But in this group, from the very beginning, I have never sensed that sort of thing from any of you all.
Gilmour: That "good news" impression reflects what I said earlier about adoption. I think where youíve seen abortion used as a "good news" word, itís not necessarily about abortion per se, but about what abortion symbolizes. I think it means not having the government or the church or an abusive man controlling a womanís decision on reproductive matters. It may look on the surface that theyíre praising abortion, but theyíre really standing up for a sense of fairness and justice for women.
Von Unwerth: Itís the whole idea of reproductive freedom for women, and I think that includes the ability to choose whether to continue a pregnancy. Itís an autonomy issue to some degree.
Gilmour: That is why I feel that if the acrimony and the fighting about abortion wasnít taking place, all that energy could be put into adoption and positive contraceptive education while still respecting the right of the woman to make that final decision. And weíd end up with a significant decrease in abortions.
Von Unwerth: Along with that then has to come, not only with the adoption stuff, but if a woman wants to continue the pregnancy, the ability financially to do so and I think we went over this over and over again when we were writing the statement that one of the biggest reasons women choose to not continue a pregnancy is financial, period. They canít afford another child, they canít afford a child, and until those folks that tend to spend all their time and energy yelling at people actually provide help for them, it might make a difference to some degree there too.
Franklin: How did you handle things on which you didnít agree?
Gilmour: At times our discussions would expand, and weíd get into ideas we donít actually agree on. We would step back and say, "Wait a minute, thatís not really what weíre trying to do here. What we ARE trying to do is isolate the very crux of what we do agree on and what is our common ground." For example, there was a lot of discussion about the word "lead" (in the Statement point, "We agree that relieving the socio-economic and other conditions that lead women to consider abortion is a common goal.") Initially we considered using "force" women to do it or "tempt" or "drive," but we felt each of those words had more judgmental tones than we wanted to make. We settled on "lead" because, whatever we feel about the value of womenís reasons for considering an abortion, we did want to acknowledge the reality that socio-economic conditions do in fact often lead women to choose to have an abortion.
Hutchinson: Exactly; I knew I needed to acknowledge that certain circumstances make abortion much harder to resist, while at the same time making sure we didnít adopt a view of human nature as if we are just machines being acted upon by outside forces and thus ďforcedĒ into making choices, like Pavlovís dog. And so just that simple word ďleadĒ was a word that was in the middle.
Von Unwerth: The crux of this was in the semantics because we had to be sure that how each thing was worded didnít imply something that we couldnít all live with. And I think thatís where Karen came in initially saying that we have to cut this way back, and so we did. Because if weíd gone through the semantics stuff we did with the longer one, weíd have been here until hell froze over.
Wingfield: It was a lot more wordy too.
Gilmour: Hey, but it had the eloquence of Thomas Jefferson.
Franklin: Who wrote the first draft?
Hutchinson: I was just cribbing big chunks from the Declaration of Independence (lots of laughterÖ). Plus, Iím a preacher-boy, so of course I am going to go on and on and make things much longer than they need to be!
Von Unwerth: I think the semantics around all of them (points in the Common Ground statement) were the issue. I think that we spent the most time on not the actual concept itself. I think we didnít have a problem with the concept when we got it down to what we wanted to put in it. It was how we wanted to word it so that it didnít say something we didnít want it to say.
Williams: In the marked up copy I have, in the very first sentence we started out using the phrase Ďabortion issue,í then changed Ďissueí to Ďdebate,í then back to Ďissue,í and finally settled on abortion Ďdebate.í And then we changed the last word in the sentence from Ďserious issueí to Ďserious problem.í
Cummings: I remember discussion as to whether abortion was an ďissueĒ or a ďproblem and I agreed to call abortion a problem because it is. No one plans to have an abortion. It is an option of last resort when contraception fails.
Gilmour: I think sometimes people say "semantics" in a dismissive way, though I know that you didnít mean it that way. I think we all agree that semantics or wording is important. Far from being a minor aspect of our discussions, getting the wording right was a major aspect. Hopefully, all the time we put into the wording enabled us to be as crisp and consistent as possible to avoid any misunderstandings while at the same time expressing our common ground clearly. And hopefully it has helped us pass the "Karen Test!"
Franklin: So, let me clarify, you were all pretty much in agreement. Nobody had to be won around to these basic concepts?
Gilmour: Well, letís read back over each Common Ground Statement point by point to be sure.
Hutchinson: Let me say one thing. There was some progress in my heart early on in I think two ways. If I looked at this more carefully and remembered how I have adjusted I might could come up with more, but two things jump out at me. And one is I have grown, thanks to you all and the actual experience with women in crisis pregnancies that you have had, in understanding better the weight of socioeconomic conditions that would lead a woman to consider abortion as a genuine option. On the front end, two or three years ago, coming from where I have come from as a suburban upper-middle class kid, I think I was too moralistic and even self-righteous, thinking, ďmore women just need to do whatís right,Ē and I was not sensitive enough to know just how hard that can be. Because again, in my own experience, when I was at Duke or wherever, the women I have known who have had abortions were not being economically stressed. And so I needed to be told about the real lives of other real women, so that I could better understand the stress that is so often present. The other thing that jumps out at me is the damage that verbal violence does in this whole debate. I have never been in favor of real violence to stop abortion, but I at least was ambivalent about the use of verbal violence. Now, if someone would have said, ďIs it right to lie, or to scream, or to argue?Ē I would have said ďno.Ē But if youíd said, ďBut arenít we allowed to shout ĎFire!í to get someone out of a burning building; shouting and raising your voice isnít inherently wrong, is it?Ē then I would have said, ďYouíre probably right, sometimes raising your voice, blah, blah, blah, and if a life is being saved, thatís more important than lies Ė yes, you shouldnít lie Ė but if lying helps a woman to not abort a babyÖĒ And so I know that I was more ambivalent about forms of verbal violence like lying and arguing and screaming several years ago. But all of our discussions together have forced me to center in on what the Bible actually says about such things, instead of what different sophists might say. For instance, I began to think more and more about how Christ Himself actually spoke, and whether he ever lied or was argumentative, and His purity convicted me. Or I began to think about how the Apostle Paul instructed a young pastor like me, Timothy, telling him ďthe Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.Ē And so all of this has been an area of growth for me too.
Gilmour: At the meeting where we were talking about physical violence, I brought up an observation about protesters outside the clinic, "Well, they are not physically violent, but they do say things that feel invasive or intimidating." At that point, a pro-life member of our Blue Moon group turned to me and said that such use of language is itself a form of violence.
Cummings: I was impressed to learn that the PCA church goes into great detail describing each commandment, as to what each means in the real world. It was interesting to me to find out that harassment can be considered a sin because someone is bearing false witness against another if the harassing statements are untrue. For example, it is wrong to yell across a megaphone that I am a murderer when I perform a legal medical procedure.
Frontino: Well, I have to admit that before our first meeting I was expecting uh, older men with black suits and crew cuts and speaking in a really preachy, preachy, preachy way and to find these delightful men, who are just down to earth and just have big, open generous hearts and it has really softened my feeling about some of the churches around here.
Von Unwerth: My biggest surprise actually, and itís along these same lines, was the fact that you considered the protestors to be committing idolatry when we first met because of putting the unborn child along side of Jesus. And I had never thought of it in that phrase before and that just blew me away to think of it as idolatry. But as far as these things are concerned, I didnít have a problem with them at all.
Gilmour: Maybe Iím repeating what was said in the earlier newspaper article, but I think breaking our own stereotype of each other and seeing how we could get beyond our firm beliefs to discuss them, has been enlightening and, quite frankly, something I wouldnít have expected possible because of my own stereotyping. I know that now I donít think as one-dimensionally as I did before.
Franklin: Does anyone have anything to add?
Von Unwerth: I donít think it was just in this statement, but I think itís been a process for three years. Itís really the whole three years thatís the issue, not just the statement. And I donít think we intend for this statement to be the end result. I think this is an interim kind of working thingÖ.
Williams: We spend so much time on semantics that Iím not sure we canít help but trust one another. The process itself has revealed that thereís already a friendship of trust thatís been in place.
Von Unwerth: To have known each other well enough to say, Well, no, that wordís not going to work. You know we might have felt like we were going to offend somebody when in reality by the time we got to that point we knew where everybody was coming from and that it wasnít going to be an issue.
Franklin: What happens now?
Williams: Weíre going to wait to see how people respond.
Von Unwerth: Weíre going to go into hiding.
Gilmour: What is our hope for this statement? In a way, we went through the process and wrote it for ourselves so we would have a benchmark: this is what we as a group believe and agree on. At the same time, I think it is our hope that others will pursue their own common ground actions on this issue. Jeff has talked about creating a ministry to which the folks at FemCare would be comfortable referring patients, and where women would be treated with respect, not shamed, and where women could get full and accurate information. This Common Ground Statement may well provide a foundation upon which an individual, group, or religious community might explore that possibility.
Frontino: I would also like to find some way to decrease the stigma around adoption. I think thatís going to be an important thing to do. Somehow or other thatís been stigmatized and maybe thereís something that we can doÖ
Von Unwerth: I was going to say, and I agree with that, International adoption is OK, itís adoption of American children thatís not OK, especially when youíre talking about adoption of bi-racial children. Thatís got to change.
Gilmour: I remember seeing a statistic, and maybe we have to check this, that there are close to 500,000 children in this country that need adoption and about 180,000 are already processed and ready for adoption. Thatís a real challenge to everyone.
Williams: A bit of trivia, in the original, not the original statement, but one of our early drafts of this final one, we actually had the word stigma in there. I donít know if you remember that. Itís funny, weíve been bringing up the word ďstigmaĒ a lot and to make it concise, we edited that out. As far as where we go from here, you know another thing thatís come up before, itís kind of been on the back burner and weíve never gotten around to it, and it has the potential of leading us in circles and just agreeing to disagree on some of the information. But the statement that talks about providing accurate information and statistics, thatís something we can always revisit. Weíve talked about that, but we just havenít had time to do that.
Gilmour: We actually spent some time looking at specific items of information that were said, whether they were accurate, and what the technical references were. Youíre right, I think one way for us to continue the discussion is to examine that information in more depth.
Franklin: What do you want to see happen, given the goal of this group to start with?
Gilmour: I think Iíd like to see us continue the dialogue with both the original purpose of
reducing the possibility of violence in our community and, beyond that, in hopes of exploring the potential arising out of our Common Ground Statement.
Von Unwerth: I was just thinking that my first goal would be to do the information thing.
Hutchinson: We werenít trying to communicate that our little group was sufficient to do all of these things. Thatís just impractical. In order for real change to happen in our community, we want to see plenty of others join in as well. From the very start we have wanted to include anyone who wants to be part of the solution.
Williams: Iím longing to see more dialogue like this take place around other issues, especially in Asheville.
Franklin: Have any of you found yourselves at times biting your tongue because you felt you would offend someone or you thought what you wanted to say was insensitive? Have you always all been pretty comfortable just saying straight out whatís on your mind?
Cummings: I think yes, I have to say that I have to be a little careful about my thoughts and how I express them because I think sometimes my views might seem harsh in a context of pastors and the congregation of a church because it is kind of the antithesis of what is believed by that group and so I think there are some harsh realities to my life, and I donít want to be so negative, so maybe I soften it a little bit. I think I have held back just a bit, yes.
Rhymer: I am just the opposite of what was just said and I was just thinking why. Probably because all the years that I served as a pastor and a marriage counselor and so forth, I felt that I needed to be careful sometimes. Well, I could have lost my job. But, Iím retired. (laughter) I came in late to this process. This group was in existence and itís the kind of people I always wished for when I was in the pastorate and I have never served a church where we could do what you all are doing around this table. And I am so impressed with this and feel safe and trusted so that I have never really held back with this group. So for me, I would have to say no, that has not been a problem for me.
Frontino: At first I think I was a little bit more hesitant because I didnít know what to expect. I really had never had any protestant pastor friends Ė Iíd never known any, ever, on an individual basis. Unfortunately, my image was of those that you see on TV. So, I think at that point I probably held back a whole lot more but now that Iíve gotten to know you people as people, for the most part I do speak my mind. Thereís probably not a whole lot I hold back. I might clean up my language a little bit (laughter) because after all, weíre in a church.
Wingfield: I would say yes, that I try to hold my tongue a lot in here, mainly because Iím well known for my blunt tongue and that does not always go over very well in all circles and my main purpose in being in here is to build relationships and not to ram my opinion down other peopleís throats. And that to me has been much more important to show the love of Christ than to enforce my opinion on someone. There are lots of times that I just donít say a whole lot. And thatís why.
Hutchinson: Itís a great question. On one level I think I felt freedom from the very start, because at the very start when Lorraine called me, I asked, ĎCan I bring Donnie too?í And so, having Donnie and Chuck and Ann here from our church has helped me greatly, because I donít trust myself that I always see or say things correctly. You know, the wonderful paradox of their presence is that it is both a restraint on me, so that yeah, I watch my tongue, and I can be surer that Iím saying true things rather than just blabbering, and it frees me up. The irony of their presence as a restraint is that it actually is what frees me up Ė the fact that I know that theyíre here to uh, help correct me or to talk to me. That actually sets me free to just speak my mind. And then, also on a formal level, as a minister of the gospel, I am a man under authority. Iím under the authority of Christ through his church and through our presbytery, the Western Carolina Presbytery. So Iíve informed my presbytery of my involvement with the Blue Moon Group and many of them read the original article and their friendship and oversight has had the same effect. It has been the restraint to make sure that what I say is true to Godís word, while at the same time freeing me up to be myself. So thereís that paradox. I think the only times that I restrain myself, and that probably everybody is pleased that I do, is you know Iím a preacher by vocation, so Iím always thinking about how almost anything in life connects to our need for Jesus, so I could just go off on that at any time, at a momentís notice, I can go off on a ten minute spiel. (laughter) You all might not think I hold my tongue, but Iím actually quieter than is my natural bent.
Williams: This is Donnie, and what he said. (laughter) No, really. I would echo and ditto what Jeff said as a minister and being freed up having others that you know and trust from your church, let alone having the umbrella of the authority of the church over you, frees you up to do that, to speak truth, but to be yourself at the same time. I would say that I canít think of any particular period or instance when I hesitated, but I know there were those instances and if you would look at a spectrum, I think the times Iíve hesitated on the negative end of that spectrum would be out of cowardice, out of fear of maybe upholding what I knew to be good and true and right. That would be the negative end of the spectrum when Iíve hesitated to speak up or reiterate some things I wanted brought up or to counter something someone had said. Not that many instances but that would be the negative example. The positive example would be just refraining from saying anything out of lack of knowing exactly how to put it, wanting to be wise. So, on the one end of the spectrum hesitating from being a coward. On the positive end of that spectrum just hesitating because you want to be wise and well spoken.
Andrews: This is Chuck. And what he said, and what he said. Many of the things Jeff said, I would concur with. Of course, Iím not a vocational pastor, so in that sense those things apply less. But from the very beginning I think one of the things that has made me feel great freedom here is that it is sort of ďon the tableĒ that we have different opinions about these things. And I think it was pretty clear from the beginning that those of us who are not in favor of abortion have a different viewpoint of abortion than those who are protecting the right for women to choose. I donít believe that in a moral sense, a woman actually has this right, but under our civil law women do have that right. So thereís some conflict there. But I feel great freedom to express myself on those things in this forum and I have not held back a lot. There have probably been times when maybe I would have felt that if I could just get with one individual here and just maybe do a mind meld and say ďI want you to understand what I understand.Ē Ö ďand if I could do a mind meld with you, I think you would get itĒ. There have been times when Iíve had frustration. Like when it wouldnít have been appropriate to try to orally convince somebody of something. So in that sense, Iíve held back from time to timeÖ but not because of fear. Not because of anything that I feared would happen. Maybe just more out of decorum and consideration.
Gilmour: I would just say that from the very first moment (because of the way Jeff approached the meeting) I felt free. That really just broke the ice and set the tone and I really looked to you all (indicating the members of the group who oppose abortion) for having made it so that I feel free. At the same time I think there have been times when we havenít pursued a certain line of discussion and when you think about it, it would be times where we got off of the things we ended up having as our common ground because I think we knew that we werenít really here Ė I think we had brief discussions on it Ė but we werenít really here to talk the total politics of it. We knew sort of where that line was. So I probably held back in pushing my feeling about the logic of keeping it legal because of the alternative being so horrible to manage in society. But for the most part, I think the discussions have flowed fairly freely, and we havenít left here Ė at least I havenít left here Ė with something that was just festering that I wanted to say.
Rhymer: I think I talked to Bonnie or Lorraine about this group. I didnít even know it existed. And when I heard about it, if I understood it right, this group was here to discuss a specific issue, but the parameter within which that was to be done was that wherever we are coming from, that we should not be violent toward one another - which goes back to your question. That made me want to say, is that really possible? I mean, could there be such a group? Having served in the church all my life Ė and itís sad that I have to say this, but there have been issues in church business meetings and weíre supposed to be homogeneous, we were all American Baptists, but people left the church, people said nasty things. There was emotional and psychological and spiritual violence. And I donít feel that Iíve contributed much to this group, but itís a great spiritual experience for me to be here and see you all modeling what I think Christ calls us to do uppermost. Apart from deciding on issue, it is to love one another and not violate one another. So that made me immediately feel like it was OK to be who I am and that you wouldnít mug me as I went out or catch me after dark or something. (laughter). So, you didnít say it specifically, but again, if I understand the group and Iíve experienced that Ė youíve had differing points of view Ė very strong differing points of view Ė but I never felt like anybody was being attacked personally. And the checking in that Monroe has you do, thatís when we tell our story, and itís pretty hard to hate somebody that you know personally, whoís struggled with a death or with cancer or whatever it is, your kid is in a play and dancing, and the joking and so forth. To piggyback on Donnieís thing, one thing Iím disappointed in as a minister is that there were many times when I felt I should have been more courageous to speak out, but I wasnít Ė in my ministry. So I hope Iíll still get into heaven and God will forgive me Ė when I felt I should have something to my congregation or my community. I never would have had the courage to volunteer at Femcare or any of those kinds of things. But this group at least allows me to be courageous, even if I think Iím a minority.
Frontino: Once people get to know you, really know who you are and what youíre all about, then it doesnít really make any difference.
Gilmour: You know whatís the irony, as a community organizer, one irony is that in some phase, when youíre trying to get something accomplished, sometimes I think I almost consciously donít want to get to know the person so well that I maybe compromise a position that I feel is important. I wouldnít be antagonistic necessarily, but might not encourage a close kind of relationship. It depends so much on how the other person Ė if theyíre meeting you halfway in that understanding. When we had the clear cutting campaign back in the early Ď90s with the forest service. I mean we were demonstrating hard core. And yet they Ė and maybe it was helpful that they were federal because the really understood the citizenís role in discussions. So we did get to know them very closely and have respect for each other, even though we were out in front of their office holding signs. They understood why we were there and what our role was and we understood what their role was. And Iíve seen it where it doesnít work at all, like with the Buncombe County School Board and the mascot issue. There itís embittered to this day. And itís just hard to put a finger on why couldnít that be like that, you know.
Franklin: You touched on this a little bit in your comments last time, but Iíd just like to explore it a little more. That is, has this group changed the way you relate to other people you disagree with? When youíre getting information about an issue, however itís coming to you, has it made you less likely to make a quick judgment about that issue or people you disagree with?
Williams: Yes, I think there is always more room to show more compassion toward other people. I believe as a minister of the gospel that a true Christian, a believer, is being made day-in and day-out more and more like Jesus himself. Thatís what Godís doing inside of his people and because of that, in principle, yeah, therefore thereís always more room for that and I think being part of this group has opened my eyes to that. Whether that be hearing what drove some of you all from OB into current practice or (other) issues you might read about being in Asheville. It has not in any way changed my perspective toward the issues and my views. If anything, itís just served to confirm them. But your question was about people, rightly so. And I think thereís always more room, Iíve found in myself, to show more compassion.
Wingfield: And I would say no, because I think motherhood, having six very different children has prepared me for interacting with people I donít particularly agree with (laughter). And I have been very sharply criticized myself for things I have done with my children, where I go to church, etc., etc., etc., and I know what thatís like to be on the receiving end of that criticism and it hurts, so I think uh, having been through a lot of that myself and like I said just dealing with my children, theyíre all very different, they all have very different ideas about life, and you know, I respect them for that and then they bring in all their very different friends who have very different views on life. And each child has a very different set of friends than the other child and no Ė I think I was well prepared.
Hutchinson: Well, itís a great question and I certainly hope that I have been helped by this group to know people better who I disagree with. I think what itís been for me is a wonderful little God-given laboratory, like a little Petri dish for my own little heart, about the difficult question of OK, thereís person X with whom I disagree , thereís person Z with whom I disagree, will I dehumanize and depersonalize and maybe even demonize them? Or not? And in this little Petri dish, Iíve definitely been helped. So I at least have that question in my mind, so when I see people in the media or read in journals or in the blog world or encounter people with whom I disagree, I at least have that question in my mind of ĎWill I dehumanize this person, or still treat them like a real human being?í And so Iím not sure if Iíve improved in any way, but at least the question is clearer, so Iím more aware of when I fail, perhaps.
Rhymer: I would have to say it has not changed my way of interacting or viewing or thinking of people with whom I disagree. Maybe some of that has to do with my age and having gone through times of the Civil Rights movement and working to support women in ministry when so many denominations have been negative about that, and so forth. But what it has done is, I think I sort of alluded to this before, if you had asked me eight or 10 years ago, does the Christian church ever truly model what Christ wanted it to model, I have to honestly say, if it has, I have never personally experienced that. But since moving to Asheville, I have actually experienced that in a congregation, and now with this small group, and especially with this small group, because we are focusing on a specific issue where points of view are so divergent. So itís increased my sense of hope that the spirit maybe is working, at least in the hearts of some of us.
Frontino: I think that the crux of the matter here is that these people were willing to sit down and they actually listened to us. I wish that other people, other leaders in this world were kind enough to do that. For the most part I havenít changed how I view people because there are some people you could talk to all day long and they would never listen. And I think thatís the issue here, is that Jeff and Donnie and Ann and Chuck, they were willing to actually listen to what we had to say, rather than just dismiss us. Life has taught me that not everybody is like that, even though I wish they would be.
Andrews: I think that one thing that being in this group has made me more aware of, although itís not that I had no awareness of it before, is the usefulness to a political agenda of demonizing the opposing viewpoint. Being part of these discussions has helped me to recognize it when I see it happening. And itís grievous to me to see it when some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are convinced of a position which dehumanizes others and donít recognize that their attitude toward ďpro-abortsĒ is really more of a useful political tool than representative of biblical truth. You know, and thatís grievous to me, when I see that. I definitely think that abortion is wrong and itís even evil. However, I recognize that my own heart is wicked and that I am just as capable of evil as anyone else. But I also know that there is a Redeemer and I feel blessed to be redeemed. I donít feel ashamed to say that here. But again, I more clearly see that the demonization of a person or group permits one person to treat another in a way that would otherwise be inconsistent with his or her own values. It is utilitarian Ė a tool. It is very tempting for any person who is passionate about an issue to be seduced into thinking that the end justifies the means.
Gilmour: I think I share what Jeff said, that it has made me keenly aware that in other situations and in other groups that I may not be doing it in the same way that I do here and I do challenge myself to try and replicate this atmosphere in those situations. It makes me realize and value this group even more every time I do that. That we are all able to come to that table and have these discussions without the kinds of just discombobulating tension and stress that seems to develop in other situations Ė and situations where weíre with out allies on different issues. So itís been a great mirror to see myself and to challenge myself, though I definitely have not lived up to it in other situations in a way that I feel comfortable in this group.
Cummings: I donít know what I think about that. Iím not really sure. I have to be so protective of myself. Thatís me. I have to keep a shell around, so with people different from me, itís such a polarization, that Iím still not safe. So Iím not there yet.
Rhyner: This was not part of the question, but I want to say this to the group because I think itís important. What enables any group or any two individuals to do what youíre doing is a sense of humility. And again, Iíve struggled with that all my life as a pastor in seeing Christian people who are strong believers Ė and I still have a strong faith, but my theology has changed through the years Ė and some people who I used to be much closer to in interpretation, there has been a gap between us, but they have demonized me or whatever because Iíve become moderate or liberal or whatever. But in this group Iíve never sensed anything but a sense of humility in terms of your point of view. And Iím not saying that I donít sense that you believe what you believe and you know what you believe, but paradoxically itís possible. And this group models that. And not very many groups do. Itís hard for a husband and wife to do that sometimes. Sometimes as a marriage counselor when the couple went out of the door, I would think, why did they ever get married in the first place. Thereís no sense of humility or giving credence to the other personís way of looking at life, or whatever. All of you, from the moment I walked in here, it felt like I had come home, from my point of view in terms of what Christianity is all about.
WNCCEIB NOTE: To read more about the Blue Moon group:
-The Purpose/Traditions read at each meeting
-The Common Ground Statement described in the November 20, 2005 article
-Original article about the Blue Moon Group from March 13, 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times
-Second article about the Blue Moon Group from November 20, 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times and the transcripts from which article was written
-For more information, phone 828-669-6677 or email firstname.lastname@example.org