everal years ago, I heard a speaker at a camp meeting state that he always tried to be conservative when leading his own life and liberal in allowing others to live theirs. That stuck with me over the years and, while I often fail, it is a life strategy I consider well worth pursuing.
Am I the only one who believes that most of our secular society does not often adhere to this philosophy? Unfortunately, we see the lack among our church family as well. We seem to have devolved to a point where we can only like, love, and associate with someone if we hold the same views of life. That practice must come from the scripture where Jesus instructed us to “go make disciples of all those who agree with you in everything.” Please don’t waste time looking for that verse. It simply isn’t there. You might want to reread Matthew 28:18-20, though.
To the contrary, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, NKJV). It would not be a stretch to add “love and appreciate those who act or view life differently than you do” to that list.
I find it helpful to realize that, had I been born and experienced life as another person, I would likely hold to the views they espouse. The verses found in Matthew 7:1-5 seem appropriate here — something about a speck and a plank?
Indeed, it is a common human trait to like hanging around with people you share similarities with — people who see and do life much as you do, or, more important, think “correctly” about how life should be lived. I’ve seen this practice of tribalism defined as “the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s tribe or social group.” Tribalism is not inherently negative unless it gets to be exclusionary and creates an “us versus them” mentality. When that happens in a church, it is a recipe for disaster.
For the past 18 months, I have met weekly with a group, most of whose members have darker skin pigmentation than I do. That experience has often forced me out of my comfort zone, and I promise you I am a better person because it did. I have viewed life through a lens I could never have, had I lived solely within my tribe. As a result, I have come to appreciate differences in others rather than just tolerate or mistrust them in any way.
So what am I proposing — that our church should become like a country club where, so long as you pay your dues (tithe), all views and lifestyles are welcome? I hope not. I am suggesting, however, that we would all benefit from seeing each person as a child of God for whom Jesus gave His life. To that end, it would behoove us to become totally comfortable in that reality for ourselves. So long as I know with confidence that God loves and accepts me, I can all the more love and accept those who differ from me in various ways.
Ron Price, from Farmington, New Mexico, United States, is a member of the Rocky Mountain Conference Executive Committee.