A Gathering

This weekend’s Gathering was to be a forum about what conservatism is. It did that not just in the content it presented.

This weekend’s Resurgent Gathering was organized by Erick in order to provide a forum for conversation about what conservatism actually is. It did that -- and not only through the content it presented.

I got back from Austin last night exhausted, but grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to see and write about so many people making a difference in conservative politics, but even more grateful to have met my fellow writers at The Resurgent, whom I have so far only conversed with online. We were able immediately to fellowship like old friends and it became apparent that we are staffed with not only great writers, but great people.

Jacob Wagner has already highlighted one aspect of the unique relationships we have built even before meeting for this conference. I cannot summarize any better than he does here:

When I started writing for the Resurgent, I found this group of writers to be an assortment of individuals who were connected to each other at varying degrees of personal and professional familiarity. More importantly, we’re connected as the body of Christ. I’d see prayer requests from people I barely knew and from people who, in any other circumstance, I would not ask to pray for me. Yet and still, their identity as my brothers or sisters in Christ is of immense value. They don’t need to be deeply invested in my life to pray for me. And I don’t need to know any of them on a personal basis in order to share their burdens.

Much has been said about the dehumanizing effects of the Internet Age and especially of social media. Ajit Pai at the Gathering is only one of many people who has expressed concern for the decline in the way we converse nowadays. (Jeff Reynolds wrote about that conversation here.) What our experience online and in Austin has shown me and my fellow Resurgent writers is that it is possible to create community with those we have never met, provided those people are Christ-like in their concern for others. Two or more can gather even over email to bring both struggles and praise to Christ and he is there in our midst.

We can decide how we view even those across the digital divide; we are not fated to label our fellow Americans by their ideology or party affiliation, nor to shout them down, nor dismiss mischaracterized versions of their positions (though it might be hard); we can treat them as one is supposed to treat a neighbor.

It follows that just as we all can make a conscious choice to care and pray for others without ever having seen their faces, we can also choose to avoid acknowledging the humanity of the person on the other side of the screen. We can avoid gathering with people, interacting with them in person, and thus avoid being confronted with their humanity in all of its nuance.

It is the fear of confrontation that I believe afflicts modern American politics. A fear of confronting the fact that a real person has the same dignity, the same fears, the same hopes and the same need to live in community with other people you do. Setting aside that fear and connecting with others threatens the simplicity of us-versus-them politics with a messy alternative in which you might learn something that causes you to question a deeply held belief. We need not be threatened though. We are only insecure about gathering with political opponents if we are insecure about our own beliefs. And even if we are wrong about something, it does not need to be the end of the world.

Jonah Goldberg has defined conservatism as comfort with contradiction. Contradiction is what we find when we get to know real people. Fortunately, real people can also surprise us, because they may be good friends we haven’t met yet, and contradiction adds layers to people that transcend the friend-foe dichotomy.

My experience at the Gathering, but, more importantly, my experiences with my fellow writers before it, gives me hope that we can all keep in mind the humanity of those we haven’t met yet and treat them humanely. That could be the vital ingredient we need to fix our toxic and polarized politics.