Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach writes in Third Way Cafe about U.S.-Iranian tensions and Mennonite Central Committee’s decision to participate in the international religious dialogue meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York City last month:
MCC does not often set up meetings with heads of state, but the meeting with Ahmadinejad grew out of 18 years of work in Iran. Most of MCC’s work with Iran is focused on helping to foster greater understanding between the peoples of our countries.
Many have called MCC’s dialogue with Ahmadinejad naïve, and I suspect many also think we are naïve for calling on the U.S. to engage diplomatically with Iran.
Frequently lost in the discussion is the fact that talking with others does not mean that you agree with them. In fact, talks are most necessary when there are disagreements. Moreover, such discussions have the potential to reveal areas of common interest, such as stability in Afghanistan.
Jesus was willing to take the first step of going onto the other’s “turf”—into Samaritan territory. He did not shy away from the hard issues (such as how many husbands she had), but he listened to her perspective and engaged her in a conversation. Finally, the end of the story (vv. 39-42) reveals that this one conversation opened the door for subsequent conversations.
MCC will continue to seek to cultivate relationships between people in the United States and Iran. But even as we do this, we must also point to the need for government officials from both countries to sit down together and discuss the hard issues. Rather than worrying about being seen as caving in, the U.S. should start to build bridges instead.