Question: Can The Principle of “Consensus” Be Taught?


 “Consensus” Through Family Interaction

My dad told us that as a child he had been taught, “Children should be seen but not heard.” When visiting his grandparents, he and his brothers and sister were instructed to sit around the table quietly and only talk when spoken to or questioned by an adult. Seldom were they ever a part of adult conversation, and never were they part of decision making. The “Poppa” ruled the house because he was the “head of the home”, and “Mamma” ran the house because she was “the neck that could turn the head” any direction that she chose! There was no consensus in those households, only parental dictatorship. As a child, you were expected to only do what you were told or face discipline.

As a dad, my house was different. During the evening meal we sat around a round table conversing. My wife told us of the challenges and triumphs of her work day as a painter and wallpaper hanger. My children talked about “school”: bonding of friends, the breaking up with others, and the comical events of the day. My daughter told of new gymnastic moves she conquered, my son what rudiments he could drum, and my younger son telling what guitar pieces he mastered. All shared the excitement of upcoming concerts, gymnastic meets, church youth group events, and painting and wallpapering experiences. These were noisy times, for it was part of moving forward as a family. Silence usually signaled a problem or a hurt feeling, certainly not the respect and dignity their grandfather had often shared. These times around our table taught us to support one another, show interest in other’s activities, and a time to pull together to map out strategies so that all could participate in individual efforts as well as family events.

These efforts were tested in 1993 when my wife and I were invited to go to South Africa during the demise of apartheid as part of an United Methodist Lay Witness Team for a sixteen day trip from Johannesburg to Capetown. Since this invitation effected every family member, I called for a “family meeting.” After my wife and I shared the facts with the children, we wanted to hear what they thought. Unanimously they thought we should go on the trip even though it would mean they would have to alter their schedules for twenty-one days. Everyone shared how the trip would effect them personally, yet there was a consensus that we move forward and go.

As a family we prayed, and we began to see those prayers answered: checks came from friends to financially support our trip; the school district allowed me to take a twenty-one day “Sabbatical” from teaching for educational travel; and our friends who had six children of their own agreed to add our three to their family for three weeks. While we were on the trip, our children prayed for us daily, and the trip became “life changing” for all of us individually as well as a family.

Now, as adults, our children are vastly diverse, more independent, each unique, following different paths on life’s journey, yet as a family we are still close. They learned that family is important! Even during challenging times, we still seek consensus on how to support, aide, and give direction to each other on life’s journey. While other families fuss, feud, and debate bringing division, our family has “learned” that consensus may not come easily, may surface pain and conflict, yet we as a family can still move forward with positive support for one another. “Consensus” is a process that can be taught and learned by families.

The same is with the family of God, the body of Christ, the Church. Today’s church could operate through consensus if it were willing to give everyone a voice, validate everyone as a peer in the group, a member of the Priesthood of Believers, and work toward a common direction that will produce positive results for the good of the group. Maybe, just maybe, instead of being an organization, the church needs to return as an organism, a family, governed by consensus, just as it was when it was birthed at Pentecost.