Comfortable and Careless Divides

I just had a weird experience. I kind of fell into it and wanted to kick myself for even trying it. It is one of those experiences that I warn others not to do. But I did.


I (almost) got into a Facebook debate with someone I didn't know. Now I know them virtually, and virtual is good enough, for now.

But like most all Facebook politically oriented posts, this person placed a link to a new article. The news article lacked citations, did not define key terms, provided no discussion or alternative views, and made spurious conclusions without following the rules of reason. And I was like a trout with a woolly-bugger calling my name. I took the bait. I pointed out the intellectual faults and lack of sound reason used in the posted article. An I thought I was not only right, but had actually helped set someone straight.

Within a few minutes I had people accusing me of hate and support of nefarious individuals of whom the article in question had spoke disparagingly. Another suggested that if I didn't agree with the original person who posted the article I should unfriend them rather that being critical of them.

The message was clear, which I knew all along but had forgotten. Facebook loves echo-chambers in which your own thoughts are liked and then reflected back to you. Comments are intended only to elaborate the agreement.

It is sad. Because I think I could get along with most anyone. I find that there is common ground with almost everyone.

If we take time to build a relationship, even if it is about mundane stuff, we're better prepared for disagreement on substantial stuff.

There are lots of people I would not agree with in politics and religion. But we also see each other every Friday night at high school football games. Our love of our kids who play, the joy of the sport, and the fun and the excitement are unifying. I'm happy with that. And as long as we share the common ground of caring for our kids, about the school and the way it creates student-athletes, then I don't really care as much (or the same way) about the things which would divide us.

The difference being that I am among friends. People with whom our relationships are stronger than the differences which separate us.

Many years ago I read Stan Grenz' book, Beyond Foundationalism. After reading it, I had the pleasure getting to know Professor Grenz. We first met at a Friends pastors gathering. With his Baptist persuasion and my Anabaptist persuasion, we enjoyed bearing the anomalies of ritual among our friendly non-ritualistic Friends.

In the months after that weekend retreat, I began to look forward to the bridges that might be built between divergent streams of Christianity through the work of Grenz and Franke. Though not lined out in Beyond Foundationalism, there seemed to be realizations, or awarenesses that could heal many of the rifts that exist between traditionalists and progressives, between liberals and conservatives, between fundamentalists of various stripes. What was lacking were the practices to put those convictions into action.

One of the immediate confusions that arises, even among this concern, is the use of the language. We have many terms we can use to either positively identify ourselves. The statements simply begin with "I am" and give a description of ones self, a belief, or an experience. I am a guy that likes to cook and ride a bike. There is no real statement being made about anyone else. Just me. I could go further into the things I believe, my theological convictions, my voting practices, and how I get rid of squash beetles. And all of this provides a good deal of information. Alternatively, we also have lots of descriptors we use to negatively identify ourselves. "I am not" begins the sentence and one goes on to use language to similarly clarify.

But then there seems to be divisive language. Where we assert who we are by making it clear that we aren't like those others. In fact, too readily speaking of "traditionalists and progressives" or "liberals and conservatives" become a shortcut to pigeon hole and divide. I have never felt like I am fully part of one camp or the other. As we struggle with a culture caught up in polarities, slogans, and brash responses, I worry that I too get sucked into this familiar, comfortable and careless divide.

Alas, Stanley Grenz left this world before this important missiological and ecclesiological work could be completed.What kinds of settings, encounters, and activities would help us to look more deeply at the ideas laid out in Beyond Foundationalism and begin to generate Christian leaders whose practices reach beyond the comfortable and careless labels of "liberal" and "conservative"?  Looking forward to living the reality of actually being one in Christ.