A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled Why Can't Churches Deal With Disagreement? I was discussing the fact that most of my experience with that particular institution has encompassed an enforced conformity to a single viewpoint (usually that of the leader/s) and a lack of willingness to have the difficult conversations which are needed for real unity to occur.
Yesterday, I had an experience which left me wondering (yet again) why it is that individual christians also fail so miserably at this necessary skill.
I had read an article suggesting ways in which christians fail to represent Jesus to the world, and I was engaged in an online discussion regarding it. In the midst of this, one woman had mis-quoted what was written in the author's bio as proof of his heretical tendencies. Knowing how easy it can be to read into the words of those with whom we disagree, I suggested she might have mis-read the original words, as the real quote spoke of something quite different. She quickly replied that she hadn't been referring to his bio at all, but another article entirely. When I quoted her words back to her - words which clearly indicated she had been referring to the author's bio - she became extremely agitated. I was accused of being passive-agressive and questioned about the validity of my faith. She then deleted not just her comments, but her entire profile as well.
Apart from the lack of honesty and integrity on this woman's part, her unwillingness to accept that I could legitimately agree with the author's article was stunning. She and another commenter seemed to think that if they only used enough words, I'd see the error of my ways and repent. Failing that, I'd need to provide concrete evidence, with plenty of biblical referencing, to show to their satisfaction that I was not just being bloody-minded. And even then I'd still be wrong!
Unfortunately, the inability of many christians to accept that anyone could legitimately hold a differing view to theirs is all too common. Common, too, are the displays of anger and the nasty belittling of the person they happily accuse of 'heresy'. It got me thinking about what it is that makes christians prone to display such unloving and ungracious behaviour.
And it occurred to me that the whole institutional church system all but guarantees this outcome. The message we are sold is that only we have the "truth", and that it is our holy duty to set everyone else straight - creating an incredibly arrogant attitude towards those outside our own little sect. On top of that we are trained to be passive receptacles of the preacher's wisdom - teaching us that thinking for ourselves is a dangerous pursuit. Questioning the dogma, or the one who preaches it, will quickly land you in serious trouble!
So we are left with thousands upon thousands of christians who are too arrogant to entertain the validity of any differing perspective, and too conditioned to question the dogma or to think for themselves. Naturally enough, when anyone who claims to follow Jesus but who fails to conform to the approved 'truth' comes on the scene, the only option open is to react in fear and anger.
The more convinced we are of our own correctness, the more tightly we hold to our own perspective. If I am certain that I am correct, then your differing view must inevitably be wrong! My superior understanding trumps yours... every time.
On the other hand, the more open we are to understand that our perspective might be simply one of many (or might even be wrong!) the likelier we are to welcome the input of others, and even benefit from their way of seeing things.
Why do we christians live in constant fear of heresy or error? Why do we insist on a standardised 'faith', refusing to engage with or validate the views of others? For myself, I trust in a God who is big enough to guide us and keep us safe in our faith journey.
Yet it seems we cling to our own pet dogmas like a life raft on a stormy sea, fearful of anything outside that space, and so we fail to be enriched by the wisdom others have to share - and God forbid that wisdom might come from a source outside our own religious enclave! It seems we'd rather destroy relationship and treat others as worthless than give up our own arrogant ignorance.
Maybe it's time we stopped shoving our 'truth' down people's necks and actually listened to what other people are seeing. Maybe it's time we started treating others (and their understandings) with the love and respect that Jesus modelled for all of us!