Part of the reason behind why I write this blog is to prepare myself for any future writing endeavors, especially if they deal with an audience not in the university/academic world. I’ve found that one can be much more free with one’s thoughts, albeit still taking the risk of critique, when one is in a university or other academic setting. When writing an academic paper, I can give legitimate reasons for why I think something and give evidence of others who think the same things for good reasons. Then, I can honestly explain why I don’t agree with other options. If I do a good job of explaining myself, it’s considered a good paper or a good point of view. The people reading your work just want you to think for yourself and justify your reasoning–they aren’t as emotionally involved in what you write as others might be, so even if they disagree with you, they are open to your thoughts and respect them.
However, when writing a blog, you are writing for the general public. You are opening yourself up for critique in a different way–not only in your delivery but in your personal opinions and thoughts. At a university, you can be in a room with an Evangelical and an Open Theist, a Trinitarian and a Unitarian, an Episcopalian and a Southern Baptist, and all respect each others’ point of view based on the others’ background and the acceptance that diversity is valuable. When writing for an audience outside of academia, especially people you know very well personally, it’s easier to offend. I guess it’s because people think that if you disagree with their worldview, then you are attacking their person or calling their opinions stupid or unfounded. That is not my intention! If anything I write on this blog differs with your own views, then know that I do not think your views are ignorant or worthless. I’m learning to do a better job of having my writing reflect this by not coming off as completely cynical or snarky or sarcastic, although I admit that I have trouble with it because I like that kind of humor. In fact, this just occurred to me: maybe the reason why I include sarcastic humor is because I feel vulnerable by voicing my private thoughts for the world to read. That actually makes a lot of sense. I don’t even know if that’s a good thing.
Maybe this sensitivity about theological differences is a reason why a church is often made up of like-minded people, or at least like-theology people. In other words, it seems like there are right and wrong answers according to that particular denomination. When I was a kid, it was obvious that our family went to a certain church (among many others) because we agreed with their beliefs. It’s what most people do–I’m not saying that’s right or wrong or anything, I’m just thinking out loud.
What if…now stay with me here…what if each community or town had one Christian church? I know that this would not happen anytime soon, but it’s worth a mind experiment. A myriad of people, all who identify with Jesus Christ, would be a part of it. For services, people would probably take turns speaking. Yes, there would be some people we would think were crazies, and yes, we would be constantly confronted with theological differences. It would be hard and sometimes barely tolerable. But could we agree to disagree in the end? And would we be better participants in the kingdom of God on earth because of it? It would help us realize even more that everyone does not think the same way that we do and that diversity is valuable. We would realize that there are multiple interpretations of the Bible. Our way of doing church would embrace the outsider and the marginalized, because our church would not be defined by one group’s particular theological views. Most importantly, it would be okay to ask questions, because you wouldn’t be sitting in a room full of people who believe the same things.
I know this is idealistic, and I’m not saying that a community church is the “way it should be.” I also know that some churches do encourage dialogue. But does anyone else ever wonder about it? Why is it that we feel constant pressure in many churches to hold the exact same set of beliefs and interests (or close to it)? I guess the main question is, what is the church supposed to be? If it’s goal is to “share the gospel of Jesus Chirst,” then doesn’t that mean loving people for who they are (not whether or not they believe in the same things you do) and participating in the kingdom of God on earth? To me, it’s better to participate in inter-denominational and inter-religious dialogue than to seclude oneself within a particular point of view. We may think, “well, this person isn’t going to change my mind, and I’m not going to change theirs, so why bother?” but it’s the same idea as “why go to university if you are just going to get a job that doesn’t need a degree?” The experience is valuable. It opens our worldview and helps us understand others better. And if the goal is to love others better, then conversation and questions in our churches is a good start.
I’m not so naive to assume that churches are full of people who are closed-minded. From my personal experience, church people are generally kind and loving toward others who don’t believe the same things that they do. But I am naive enough to be terrified of disappointing these sweet people by talking about (or writing about) questions I have concerning the world, God, humanity, and the relationship in between. Especially when I don’t think their ready black-and-white answer or scripture reference will work in the situation. Why do I have to have this fear of disappointing people who love and care about me? Part of it is my own problem, but shouldn’t I feel that I have a safe space to think and ask questions IN church as well as OUT of it without an indoctrinated answer following it? If I feel this way as someone who grew up in church and knows the value of the community found there, what do others who have never stepped foot in a church feel?
What does it say if we are afraid to ask questions in our churches, or if every theological query has a black-and-white answer? What does it say about our God? Most of all, why is it that many people feel much safer asking questions (or bringing up a new idea that differs with popular opinion) among a group of strangers in a classroom than in a church environment full of warm and inviting people who love them for who they are?