In a nutshell, be careful what you read, who you hang with, and how you approach new ideas. I’ve been warned of this by many a well-meaning brother and sister in Christ.
This mentality has always puzzled me. It has also frustrated and angered me when it is behind attempts to convince new or curious Christians that there is only one way to follow Christ.
Yet, as a parent, I think I understand the inclination–you would want to help protect your children, not just in body, but in mind and spirit. You want to shield them from evil in whatever form it takes. Children are impressionable and their time hanging with the “wrong” crowd can influence them just as much as the time they spend around the “right” crowd. It’s good to know what is going on and who they hang with. I get it.
On the other hand, if my child were already partaking in misadventures with the “wrong” crowd, I’d be thankful to find someone from the more well-behaved end of the spectrum taking an interest in him.
Building relationships with people from a diversity of experiences, both shared and different than our own, makes for a more well-rounded life and a kinder, gentler world. It develops an understanding that it’s okay for people’s experiences, worldviews, and religious beliefs to differ. This understanding helps us to relate others in an increasingly diverse and connected world.
To wit: If spending time around people with varied life experience is important, why wouldn’t I also spend time with people of varied spiritual perspectives? How does my faith grow and deepen if I remain cloistered in the company of like-minds unwilling to engage with others in our increasingly pluralistic world? The idea that one ought to fear new or out-of-the-box thinking is insidious in nature and, I’d argue, a cancer on the church today. It happens outside of religion, too. Challenging the status quo is a difficult, painful idea to put forth, particularly when the very notion that change might be better and necessary is met with derision from some or all sides.
Working toward understanding by getting to know different people, religions, and ideas is a good thing. Asking questions not just of others, but of ourselves and of God is a good thing. Introducing and challenging our faith communities with radical ideas that allow for a more inclusive, accepting, loving church is a good thing.
Where would we be without such challenges to the norm? Well, religiously speaking–we’d be without Christianity. We’d certainly be without Protestantism. We’d be without 41,000 denominations. We’d all be practicing some strange, perhaps paleolithic form of religion, or perhaps we’d have none. And, I have to tell you, without these “new thinkers,” what we think of as “traditional” Christianity and “family values” would not exist. These are ideas that are relatively young in the history of humankind.
In science, we’d still insist the world was flat. We’d be without medicines to heal ourselves, we may all be clustered on one continent. We might even be without language. Without challenging the status quo, women wouldn’t be able to vote; in fact, no one would. We’d stay mired in patriarchal, monarchical societies subject to the whims of powerful rulers who care not for the poor and suffering of society. There would be no America. Enslaving our fellow human beings would still very much be en vogue and we wouldn’t question it. Our world would be left with little semblance of the justice we are called to do, and we would walk around blindly adhering to these injustices (and yes, I realize that even as I type this, in some ways, we still are).
So perhaps instead of chastising the new thinkers and holding court on the same old doctrinal stances–rigid in our inability to accept that God is still speaking, terrified of even considering the idea that God didn’t STOP communicating with humankind after the final book of the Protestant Bible was written (2 Peter, between 120 and 150 AD)–we might engage these new ideas prayerfully and respectfully. We might consider for a moment that the God who created the folks who concocted our “traditional” doctrine is the same God who created those who are now thinking outside of that box. Perhaps instead of approaching church with an us vs. them exclusivity, we might invite everyone to participate fully in the relational process of knowing God and each other through dialogue and ever growing community.
And yes, I mean everyone. Let’s invite the homeless persons in our communities. Let’s invite in our LGBTQ friends and neighbors. Let’s welcome the marginalized people of other faiths and of no faith. Let’s invite in the doubters and questioners. Let’s invite in people whose races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds differ from our own. Let’s invite in those younger than us and those older than us and those just like us. Let’s welcome them all. Let’s display the hospitality we are called to display and let us do so joyfully, with thanksgiving in our hearts and openness in our minds. Let us embrace them fully in the same way we God embraces us. Let us listen and try to relate, accepting that we do not have all the answers, but that a Power greater than us does.
Finally, I ask: what are we so afraid of?
Is it our God who is not big enough for our questions, changes, and diversity, or is it really our doctrine that is too small to embrace people and ideas in the same radical vein of Christ?