Last week I wrote a blog entitled, “You Keep Using That Word…” in an effort to describe my frustration with the breakdown in conversation happening among Christians, particularly in regards to human sexuality. I described my frustration with Christians who quote a Scripture verse and then sit back with a self-satisfied smirk and say, “The Bible is clear.” (Or at least, that’s how I imagine them looking when I read their tweets) The post was shared a few times and got a fair amount of views–though as I looked through my Facebook feed, I was not surprised who shared, liked, or commented on it. The majority, if not all, of those folks are ones who might describe themselves as more liberal on this matter, if not fully affirming. I noticed radio silence from my more conservative-leaning friends.
While I was glad to have written something that connected with many, I began to wonder if I had “out-ed” myself in terms of my beliefs on this matter. That had not been my intention in writing, but I wonder…how quickly does a reader (or a church member, friend, family member, acquaintance) label a blogger (or a pastor, small group member, sister, or son) as In or Out? Affirming or Non-Affirming? Liberal or Conservative? Progressive or Evangelical? Can it be measured in seconds or sentences read?
How different might the reaction to my previous post have been if I had said, “Stop shutting down the conversation by telling us your brother is gay”? What if, instead of casting aspersions on those who make Biblical dead-end statements, I called out those who throw out one-liners about their personal experience? What if I told those people to be more creative in their argument, to consider more than just their brother’s sexuality?
Would my conservative friends retweet me?
Last week’s post was a call for deeper conversation, a call for creativity and vulnerability in how we talk and debate especially with those whom we disagree. It was a call for deeper reflection and truly, deeper engagement of Scripture, its inspiration and authority, the Holy Spirit, culture, and our own hearts. And yet, I’m not sure it was read that way. I’m guilty of this as well–reading a post or an article, even a tweet, skimming for key words and phrases, often only giving it a full read if I think I agree with the author’s premise. That’s bias. Self-selecting what information to receive.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has done this.
Friends, the problem is not that we disagree. The problem is that we are not willing to listen and engage one another. Or perhaps the real problem is that we do not value one another as deeply if we know he or she disagree with us. We find out a neighbor supports the opposing political candidate; does not our opinion of him or her diminish slightly? Or at least, the willingness we may have to listen to his or her views or even opinions on yardwork because, after all, he or she supports so-and-so. That may be an oversimplified example, but you get the picture. We disengage from pastors, faith communities, even family members when we discover he/she/they do not agree with our views. Last summer I was in conversation with seven or eight high school students and the topic turned to sexuality and transgender. Almost immediately one of my students spoke up and asked to leave the room because he was not comfortable participating in this conversation. His rationale was that his opinion would be the minority voice and he did not want to feel criticized for his beliefs, but he wanted to allow the others to talk openly. On one level, I was proud of him for seeking peace, but on another, I felt sad that he was choosing to disengage.
Why was this student afraid? He had been shown in the past (and told outright) that because of the opinion he held, his value had decreased in the eyes of others. Friends, we need to listen and engage others with whom we disagree (or think we might) as a sign of how much we value them. We must remain at the table. We must be willing to be uncomfortable, to disagree, to not always have an answer to a question, because we are called to love one another, not form a consensus. Jesus told his followers that people would know they were his followers by the way they loved each other. I’m encouraged by what the Council of Bishops said, following this month’s General Conference of the United Methodist Church:
“Our differences do not keep us from being the body of Christ. They do not keep us from doing good in the world.”
However…if we refuse to stay at the table, if we cannot bear to be in conversation and do life with those whom we disagree, we cannot be the body of Christ.
My mother and I have very different theologies, worldviews, and political opinions. She disagrees strongly with me on a variety of matters. However, she is still my biggest cheerleader, my most enduring supporter, my longest of friends. She remains at the table with me, knowing we will likely never agree, but always valuing her relationship with me more highly than any opinion either of us take, no matter how biblical.
The Council of Bishops went on to say: “…We are more than debates and divisions, more than rules and resolutions. We [stand] together as the body of Christ.”
Who are the people with whom you disagree? Who are the people you have categorized as in or out, liberal or conservative, with you or against you? Where do you need to seek forgiveness and return to the table, if not to discuss the issue, but to laugh and talk and pass the potatoes?