Friday, October 22, 2004

Out of the fog, into the fog

I've been away for a while. Well, actually I've been in the middle of midterms. Just finished that last one yesterday -- Hebrew -- and it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I guess I should probably suspend judgment on that until the grade comes back. No it's all about the long (or sometimes all too short) journey to finals.

So, I've been following the election news, the polls, etc. This morning it hit me as I opened my news pages and my new favorite electoral college tracker just how divided this country is. Right now, they're a 264-264 electoral vote, and according to the current polls, Kerry is carrying the Pacific coast, the northeast, and New Mexico, while Bush is carrying the south and the rural west. I realized (I'm not sure why this was the first time) that no matter what the result is, the country is still going to be just as bitterly divided.

It got me to thinking about the church, and how it too seems to be divided, often on the same lines. My friend Brian over at The Faithful Skeptic has talked a little about this lately. I work at an American Baptist church right now, though I come from a United Methodist tradition. What is particularly interesting about this church is that, at least as far as I can tell, they seem to celebrate their diversity -- even their theological diversity. It kind of blows me away. The church has people who are both theologically conservative and theologically liberal. Some people have described themselves to me as fundamentalists. Then there is a church school class that has no problem studying the Dalai Lama. What's even stranger is that people from both sides have told me how glad they are to be in a church with such theological diversity -- how glad they are for each other.

In my experience, this is unusual. Conservatives tend to not be very concerned with diversity and liberals usually want nothing to do with theological diversity. No, we all much rather duke it out for who is right. Or perhaps we'd rather just pretend that others don't exist. Now, I'll admit, I really do not understand the position of most conservatives. I used to be one, but for some reason, I don't seem to be able to understand the arguments that I once made. And often, I'd prefer it if people would just see it my way.

But I can't help but notice the power that is in this theologically diverse community. What a great model for church -- "as grain once scatter upon the hillside is in the broken bread made one" (United Methodist Hymnal 563). Isn't that ironic -- made whole in the brokenness. I don't know how or why this seems to work, but I can't help but be impressed.

Now, I know that the danger is that we might simply abandon those reforms that need to be made in the name of unity. I know that there is important work to do that is still controversial. I don't want to let it be. Is there, however, a way to approach that work that is less alienating and divisive to our communities? Is there a way to celebrate even our theological diversity without giving up the prophetic voice? Perhaps it is impossible. But I am reminded that what is impossible for mortals is still possible with God (Luke 18:27).

PS -- Be sure to check out this amusing political cartoon from JibJab.


Blogger Brian said...

I think your assessment of how conservatives and liberals see diversity is pretty much dead on.

But I wanted to ask how the theological diversity works in practice at your church. We have some in our church, and it mostly works well as long as we don't talk about anything controversial. =) I don't mean this as an attack - I'm just genuinely curious.

How would conservatives at your church handle a proposal to have a gay marriage in the church? How would liberals handle a request for a prayer meeting to ask God to cure a gay child of their homosexuality?

I guess I'm wondering what the limits of tolerance are. I don't have a good answer. I'm feeling a little less tolerant at the moment after having spent a fair amount of time this weekend arguing theology and politics with Sarah's sister.

This was the compromise I tried to get out of her sister and her mom (unsuccessfully) - "I'll promise not to believe everything the Democrats say about Bush if you promise not to believe everything the Republicans say about Kerry." My main mistake was not realizing that the Republicans are the sole guardians of all that is proper, right, and good in the world. Oops.


6:12 PM  
Blogger david said...

You're right, neither of those proposals wouldfly at all. I don't think that either of those proposals would ever get made. Certain compromises do get made in the name of unity, indeed. To some degree, I'm willing to make those compromises. Sometimes, however, it does have some unfortunate results. I'm not sure, though, that the slow, gentle path to change isn't sometimes more effective in the long run, though not all the time.

I think what tends to happen is that the more controversial issues get discussed and acted upon at a smaller-group level, in church school classes, for example. They tend to leave each other alone at that level.

There does seem to be something special about this congregation, though. There seems to be a prevailing sense that they want to stay together and that they're willing to do what it takes to do that. I'm not some exactly why or how that works, but it do notice that it's different than most of my experience in church.

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