I find myself increasingly saddened by this seemingly obsessive focus on “like mindedness” in the Church on what seems to be all sides of most of the debates that have split the Church throughout the ages. In our age we are more aware of different ways of seeing and believing than in any other age in history, which seems to exacerbate and exaggerate the situation. I am writing mostly in response to the Fellowship Gathering that occurred last week in Minneapolis, which you can read more about here. There have also been some interesting responses and analyses of the gathering from those who attended and those who did not (I encourage you to look at this one, this one, this one, and this one–the last one is probably the best attempt at being impartial).
I guess it is human nature to want to be with people who are like-minded–I read this as “people who can affirm who I am”. I have some of those same tendencies. But the reality is that the world is diverse, and we are ever more aware of it today than we have been in any other time in history. The reality is that people have different experiences and draw different conclusions from those experiences which result in different reactions and responses to new experiences. This is human nature–to react and respond. So there is a group within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are frustrated and hurt by recent constitutional changes that may allow a presbytery or session (our governing bodies, or councils, for those non-presbys out there) to ordain someone who may be in a same-sex relationship. The text of the amendment to our constitution actually reads:
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates. [Emphasis mine]
So I ask: This group of presbyterians desires “like-mindedness”, but at what expense? In history it seems to me that when like-minded individuals gather, they tend to isolate themselves from healthy debate about their beliefs that help all of us grow in our understandings and beliefs in order to become better people, and, in the Christian tradition, more informed and more balanced children of God and followers of Jesus Christ. Our diversity is our strength if we allow it to inform us about the diversity of God and of God’s creation. Without diversity it is too easy to head down the road of some of the extreme Mormon cults like that of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church) under the leadership of Warren Jeffs (see here for statement of the modern Mormon church against polygamy), or that of Jim Jones and other such cults–so isolated from society that they become a danger to themselves and others.
Diversity, though difficult, strengthens us as our thoughts and presumptions are challenged, shaped, and re-shaped to better speak “truth” into the situations and challenges of our global society. I have come to the point that no one can speak absolute truth in all situations. This includes me. I am well aware that there are gaps in my own thoughts and beliefs about God, the world, and even my own personality and temperament. While I am working to narrow those gaps, as I do, other areas become stretched and new gaps appear–my understandings are always in flux as new information is received through experiences, my own thoughts and reflections, and conversations (especially in conversations with those with whom I differ, as difficult and sometimes even painful as those conversations and relationships may be).
The phrase “diversity is the spice of life” rings true, though sometimes that spice may be pleasant, sometimes it may be a whole mouth full of red pepper–hot, stinging, and even painful. Yet, again, by not tasting these unpleasant experiences I am unable to grow in understanding myself, let alone God and the rest of the world.
“Like-mindedness” can be comfortable, but it can also be bland and down right dangerous as belief systems solidified by process of circular self-righteousness (i.e., I express a belief, others affirm it, I am encouraged in that belief so I express it stronger as it is re-affirmed, thus re-affirming others’ beliefs, and so on and so on and so on). The extremes of our theological and political divides are perfect examples of this kind of circular self-righteousness. People on the far left and far right are so set in their belief systems they are unable to grow any further in appreciating the diversity that God has instilled in creation.
I am fearful both “for” and “of” our Fellowship friends, as much as I am fearful “for” and “of” our Presbyterian sisters and brothers in other extremes. In like-mindedness, we lose the most precious thing we have: the very sense of God’s beautiful, yet very diverse, Creation, and thus we become blind to the fact that God might be working in someone else or another situation differently than we might expect. In other words, we deny God the ability to do as is needed in different situations, especially situations that are foreign to us.
I’m always curious, though, of other people’s experiences of diversity. What were the circumstances? How did you respond? Were you excited, fearful, angry, confused, anxious, happy, sad, joyful, etc.? Were you surprised by your response? What did you learn about yourself, others, and God in that experience?