today is the april synchroblog and a theme i am really glad we’re tackling together: bridging the divides. the schism within christianity between those of a more liberal persuasion and those from a more conservative one keep getting bigger & bigger. as a post-evangelical mutt, i notice how hard it is to engage in these differences without it feeling personal, judgmental, and tiring. but the reality is that we are brothers & sisters and we have to figure out how to love each other better. the best way to turn the tide in a more helpful direction is to participate in any way we can in healthy communication & work to build bridges instead of bomb them. i wrote a week-long series on this last year, and those posts are on the “healing the divides” series link (near the bottom).
but for this week, in the spirit of building bridges instead of bombing them, i thought i’d share 10 ways to foster healing and healthier conversations amidst our differences. some of these are included in 8 ways those of a more liberal-progressive and conservative-evangelical persuasion can better love each other and some are new:
1. remember first, that that person is a child of God, made in God’s image. this is the starting place for dignified dialogue and often gets missed. when we hold each other’s dignity right in front of us, it always helps.
2. take “God says” and “the Bible says” off the table. they are trump cards that immediately create a barrier between us. a much better alternative is “my interpretation of the scriptures is…” “as i engage with the Bible, i personally see…” owning our own views is really important; claiming absolute understanding of God’s views in either direction is unfair.
3. never question someone’s christian-ness. both sides of this divide have been hurt by this assumption. there are lots of ways to be a christian.
4. assume the best in the other, not the worst. this is hard for me because of the stereotypes and frustrations of social media and bad history. it’s easy to always lump everyone together and assume the worst instead of the best. i’m not saying throw out discernment, but when it comes to building bridges, we need to be careful we’re not coming into these conversations with guns already loaded.
5. respect our different biblical interpretations. the Bible is a wild and beautiful book that can be viewed in many different ways. a biblical interpretation different from ours doesn’t automatically mean stupidity or lack of biblical literacy or bad practice or a whole host of other things that can get thrown into the conversation. it’s best to just remember that none of us have an exemption on seeing through the glass darkly, and we each have to make peace with what we believe about the scriptures.
6. affirm what we do love and appreciate about each other. whenever we do pastoral counseling for marriages, we always ask couples to work on affirming the good instead of only focusing on the bad. it’s true, we all need encouragement, especially when so many of these tiring conversations have beaten us down.
7. learn more about nonviolent communication. i can’t say enough about how helpful these tools are (and how difficult they are to apply) but they will help us discover our real needs underneath our strong feelings. often, we have a lot more needs in common than we may think, and nonviolent communication can help with empathy and connection in tangible ways. becoming safer people helps us have safer conversations.
8. be open to learning from each other, be curious. this is hard for both sides but this attitude of humility really helps. i know it can be extra tricky when those of us from a more liberal persuasion started our spiritual journey on the more conservative side and might assume we already know everything over there. i really struggle with this but am trying to be more open to what i can learn from my more conservative friends without just assuming. asking questions, being curious, and deeper dignified dialogue inquiry helps with understanding.
9. embrace paradox. paradox means two contradictory things can exist in the same space. that means we can live together in our differences, in all our strengths and all our weaknesses. we don’t have to squeeze one side out but rather embrace the beauty of our diversity. diversity can strengthen, not weaken, but we have to honor it. the Bible is full of paradoxes, so it makes perfect sense the church would be too.
10. most of all, put relationship above our differences. this is so hard to do online, when we aren’t eye to eye and heart to heart, but we need to try to never let theological differences get in the way of Love when we’re talking about real people in our lives. i’m not saying stay in unsafe or harmful relationships; i’m saying at the end of the day, choose friendship and hope over divides and positions. it’s always worth it. God can sort out all of the details later.
and an 11th, because without them, we’re toast.
11. laugh more, hug more. i know these are serious matters we’re talking about, but honestly, we have become so intense that we have missed out on the funny parts, the importance of laughing at ourselves and with each other and then hugging it out at the end of the day. we have got to learn to agree to disagree with love at the center. but these only work when we are friends first.
there are so many more possibilities but i hope that some of these foundational thoughts can help build bridges toward each other and heal some of these great divides.
God, help me, help us, become bridge builders instead of bridge bombers. we want to brave & humble & open.
i’d love to know what you’d add, too.
ps: on wednesday june 11th, my friend and teammate karl wheeler and i are hosting a fun evening called “an evangelical and a progressive walk into a church…” it’ll be a dignified dialogue beyond just our own differences and will hopefully stir up some healthy conversation and bridge some divides. we really can live together in these differences, but it is hard and oh-how-we-need-God’s-help to make it work!
also, please check out other bloggers bringing hope and practice to bridge these divides:
- The Virtual Abbess – Abi and April’s Synchroblog – Bridging the Divides
- Caris Adel - Emotional Pacifism: Laying Down My Weapons
- Ty Grigg – Speak Truth
- Jon Huckins – Gay Marriage, World Vision, and a Unified Church?
- Mark Votava – Faith Presence in the Parish
- Mary at Lifeinthedport – let us meet in the borderlands
- Michael Donahoe – Healing Divisions in the Body of Christ
- Jeremy Myers – Unity vs. Uniformity in the Church
- Juliet at Still Learning – A Catholics Love Letter to Evangelical Women
- Dago at Scripture Insights – Jesus the Divider
- Glenn Hager – The Lowest Common Denominator
- Sarah Quezada - Standing on Church Bridges
- Doug Webster – Truth Is Not a Process, Belief Is
- Michelle Van Loon – Bridging the Divide
- Happy at Simple Felicity – are we there yet?
- Travis Klassen – The Church: Coming, Going, or Being
- Bec Cranford - Biblical Interpretation and Inerrancy: Moving beyond myopia to a grander vision of unity
- Teresa Pasquale – Bridging the Divide: Translating Between Dialects, Culture Contexts, and Heart Stirring
- Miguel Labrador – I might be willing to reconsider church hierarchies, if…
- Paul Meier – Healing the Divides Begins Within
- Liz Dyer – You Can’t Get There From Here
- K.W. Leslie – Humility
- Kathy Escobar – 10 ways we can build bridges instead of bomb them
- Loveday Anyim – The “non-Gospelized Rituals” of Pentacostalism
- Caedmon Michael – Bridging the Divides
- Carly Gelsinger – “Church Shopping” at the Wrong “Mall”: A Story of Easter Sundays
- Mallory Pickering – A Splintered People
- Pastor Edwin Fedex – Tearing Down Fences and Building Sidewalks
- Jen Baros – Bridging the Divides: How to Heal
- Phil Wyman – The Impossible Space Between Us
- Bronwyn Lea – When My Children Squabble
- Christine Sine – Unified by Love Not Doctrine