Is There Still Room for Difference?

I’ve decided to make a slight shift in my blog.  Rather than sit back and wait for readers to submit questions, I’m going to occasional offer reflections on things that catch my attention.  In those cases, after sharing the resource I’ll pose questions for the readers to consider.  Hopefully, this will be a helpful way to get my interactive blog going again.

I ran across an interesting article on the NPR website titled “Pastoring a Purple Church: ‘I Absolutely Bite My Tongue Sometimes’.”  Here’s a link to the article: Pastoring a Purple Church.

I know that some might read the article and go after Christopher Edmonston (the senior pastor of White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Caroline) for having the nerve to bite his tongue.  After all, we live in a brutally polarized age where some expect those with whom they agree to speak in sharp – even incredibly shrill! – ways to attack those who have the nerve to see things differently than them.  Anyone who does NOT sharply attack those who see things differently is immediately seen as a morally inferior person who is selling out her or his authentic beliefs for self-serving reasons.

I suppose that might be the case for some – but certainly not for all.

What interests me more, however, were two paragraphs toward the middle of the article.

A recent report by the Barna Group, a faith-based research organization, highlighted a growing tendency for people to seek “communities that look and believe as they do” and noted that the trend was especially evident among the most frequent churchgoers.

“One of the features we see in our research is that congregations aren’t as politically diverse as they used to be,” says Barna Group President David Kinnaman. “That’s not to say that they were ever bastions of political diversity, but at least there was a sense in which you could worship together with people who were very different from you politically.”

While those words were written to reflect the political beliefs of those in worshipping communities, the same point could be made on several other levels: including theologically.  Absolute homogeneity in belief is increasingly becoming “the new normal”.

With those words in mind, I would be interested to hear reflections on two things.  First, why it is that we as a people are less willing to sit next to/be in meaningful relationship with those who hold different beliefs than ourselves.  Second, what can we – as individuals – do to help change that.  Please, please, please don’t talk about what OTHERS should do, here.  Instead, focus on what YOU can do.  I ask that of my readers because I believe the incredibly polarized way-of-being which has seized control of our world today can only be broken when brave individuals step forward and have the courage to make the first move (and not hang back in a self-righteous manner while demanding “the other side” make the first move).

Thanks, in advance, for whatever reflections you are willing to share.

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 51-year-old single, gay man who lives in Los Angeles, CA. My passion and vocation involve spirituality. I live with my Italian Greyhound Tupper and my passion for Houston sports. I'm looking to start wonderful conversations that spark spiritual growth in all of us!
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6 Responses to Is There Still Room for Difference?

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I think the key word is “safety.” In any healthy community everybody needs to feel safe there, both physically and spiritually. But the big hurdle is that sometimes people feel that others’ beliefs or identities are incompatible with their or others’ safety, and that makes it almost impossible to create positive relationships between them.

    If someone in your community is gay and someone else believes gay people are sinners who spiritually poison the community, they’re just not going to feel safe around each other. If someone is an undocumented immigrant and someone else believes undocumented immigrants should be immediately deported for security reasons, they’re not going to feel safe around each other either.

    And it can be more subtle than that: say one person is uncomfortable being touched and the other believes in hugging everyone. Asking them to tolerate their differences does not resolve the question of what should happen when the one wants to hug the other, so they both feel scared: of being touched against their will or of being spoken to sharply for doing something they meant well by.

    So I think the first step is to ask a different question: not how can we make people more willing to tolerate different identities and beliefs, but how can we make everyone in our community feel safe being around each other? And is that even possible, or do we have to set ground rules that prioritize some kinds of safety over others?

  2. Stevie says:

    This has been on my mind since I read it yesterday. The older I get, the more I do spend my time with like minded people. But do I respect other views? I think I’m more tolerant than some, but not perfect.
    As far as spiritual matters….my relationship with God doesn’t change with my situation, but my choice of House of Worship is based so much on human rights issues, that it’s hard to worship side by side with those who disagree.
    As far as how to make things better….as you always say…relationship. Get to know folks on the basis of our commonalities, not our differences. Am I in denial if I choose to have a relationship but avoid tough subjects? I don’t know. You’re making me think, Craig❤️

  3. Cheri A Moore says:

    All of my life I have been surrounded by friends and family with different beliefs than I hold. I was raised by a Republican Mother who took us to Church and a Democratic Father who only “darkened the doors of the Church” (his words) for major occasions in his children’s lives. My husband of almost 40 years and I differ on many political issues and our views of what constitutes a Christian. These are just examples of relationships in my life where on the surface there is not a lot of common ground. What these and other situations have taught me is that relationships, while based on some common ground, do not require agreement on every level. Many of my family and friends have learned that some subjects are best left alone. Other friends and family can talk calmly about topics where we disagree and sometimes we learn something that changes our perspective on an issue. I have absolutely no problem working, worshiping and fellowshiping with people who have different beliefs than I do in most cases. Like most people I have my absolute boundaries – abuse of any sort being the biggest.

    • Stevie says:

      This article struck me. I am a moderate left Christian. Most of my Democrat friends are. It always bugs me when folks on the right assume that we are not. In this country with a Christian majority, is it surprising that a politician would be of that faith?
      I heard Mayor Pete say he was a Christian once. He didn’t say a thing about wanting to incorporate his beliefs into the government. To me, that is ok as long as you believe in the separation. Please enlighten me if I’ve missed the point here regarding getting along with people of other beliefs.

  4. Pastor Craig says:

    I am grateful for the thoughtful and soulful comments this post elicited. It is exactly the outcome I hoped. For my post itself was a sly attempt to “answer” the second question I raised: what can I do to bring folks/sides together. Those whom responded to the post (either via posted comments or off line conversations) represented a variety of opinions. Respondents included atheists, Evangelical, agnostics, and Protestants. Everyone who shared their perspective did so with respect – and for that I am grateful.

    The conversation of the past few days was particularly helpful to me because it brought two awarenesses to mind. First, it helped me realize that we pastors have a very different experience of living with those who are different from ourselves. For you see while lay persons have the ability to pick and choose which faith community they want to associate, we pastors don’t get to choose those with whom we associate. We are called to serve all those who show up in our ministry site.
    This means we are stretched in ways – and to degrees! – that few others are.

    I’ll never forget, for instance, the time an Alt-Right person decided to settle in the community I served for a while: an individual who was both a Holocaust-denier and someone who referred to Sandy Hooks as Sandy Hoax. Staying in relationship and dialogue with the individual stretched me more than I thought humanly possible. And yet that difficult experience taught me many things about myself – and my understanding of God – that I would have ever learned otherwise. Perhaps that’s why I – as a pastor serving a non-creedal Christian community – am so deeply committed to inclusivity in ways that freak some people out.

    Second, the conversation reminded me just how deeply Scripture has touched my life and shaped my way of being in the world. There are two passages that changed my life forever: Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 12:14-20. Galatians 3:28 reads: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Common English Bible). 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 reads: “Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body” (Common English Bible).

    Each other these passages introduced me to a world where difference is both a given as well as something that can ultimately be transcended. And while some apply these concepts solely to those living in Christian community, as a Christian universalist I am compelled to take those convictions and apply them to all those who inhabit the world. This means I will always struggle with those who need labels to move in the world (and to define who is deserving of the titles “friend” or “enemy”).

    The last thing that was raised for me since I first posted last Thursday came from an unexpected source: the sit-com Brooklyn Nine-Nine. In the episode broadcast this past Thursday, a couple by the name of Jake and Amy were celebrating their first anniversary. In the midst of the celebration, they realized they had never had “the conversation about kids”. When they finally did, they discovered that they were in diametrically opposed places: Amy wanted children while Jake did not.

    There was a moment when it appeared the difference would cause the couple to break up. It was at that point when Amy suggested they engage in an activity that would give them the only chance to move forward: a structured debate. Jake decided to go along with Amy’s suggestion.

    In the debate, Amy shared facts to prove her point while Jake shared feelings to prove his. As the episode was moving towards its ending – and their breakup began to seem inevitable – Jake said something that was brilliant. He said, “I’ve been thinking, and I do want to have kids – with you. [emphasis added].” It was those last two words that he tacked on that changed everything.

    For you see, as long as we leave the important things in our lives at purely the abstract level, we will continue to square off and fight one another to the proverbial death. But when we have the courage to enter into relationships with those who have different life experiences and perspectives on the world, the world begins to change – beginning with ourselves!

    I’m hoping that more of us enter into conversations where we have the wisdom to contextualize our positions and the courage to share the personal experiences we had that lead to the formation of those positions. If we do that, we will be amazed at how the world can begin to change.

    Thanks for much for the conversation. Check back in a few days for the next one!

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