I don’t know why people have to segregate themselves into like-minded groups – perhaps it’s an ancient instinct that coded into the fabric of our make-up. That there was inherently something safer about people who were just like us and something more dangerous about people who were different from us.
In Christianity, there’s all sorts of labels we can use separate ourselves and fence off our territory – shibboleths we can use to recognize our own and our enemies. Looking at Complementarianism the opposite of Egalitarianism, it’s begun to fracture so that some call themselves Confessional. In-group, out-group, sub-in-group.
For those of us blessed with the inability to just fit in, it’s extremely difficult to find a sense of belonging when everybody else is constantly calling themselves something else and playing together somewhere else. It wasn’t always that way. For a time, Traditional/Classic Calvinists were able to worship side-by-side with Arminians because neither one saw it as their duty to convert the other to their way of thinking and therefore weren’t insulted when taught by the other group. These two in-groups recognized themselves as sub-in-groups in the larger in-group of Christians. Something changed though – and that fellowship and unity was lost in an attempt to foster unity and fellowship by having everybody be on the same page and little or no diversity of thought or belief tolerated.
Conformity, as I had learned, became important in the secular world when education went from being one in one-room school houses to massive complexes with multiple teachers. It was at that time that people tried to train left-handed students to conform – all sorts of punishments were tried, kids had their hand tied behind their back, or they were slapped every time they tried to write left-handed. Some had the added bonus of being a religious establishment and could remind students that the devil was left-handed so it was inappropriate to be left-handed. It took a number of studies to determine that more harm than good had been done in a effort to make everyone conform to one kind of handedness. We learned that there’s a connection between being left-handed and right-brained, and kids who were punished for being left-handed often developed speech problems and had lower self-confidence. Even today, some still believe that the left hand is the wrong one, but this attitude has been challenged and found incorrect every time it’s brought up.
So it is with matters of faith, we can’t all just conform to one kind of faith, one style of worship, one way of music, one sort of prayers – true worship has to be in spirit and in truth – and the truth is that all of us are unique. We’re the product of our unique experiences and it colors how we view the world. If we come to accept that there isn’t anything out there that’s like us, then we have to come to accept that when it comes to our faith – there’s no faith out there that’s exactly like our own. What works for each of us is different. For some, the tradition of an established church – carrying on uninterrupted for centuries in an unbroken rhythm is what they like – ancient liturgy and it’s unchanging practice. For others, the tradition they know isn’t that old, but it’s not exactly brand-new either. It’s their grandparents church that hasn’t changed a thing since it started up a century and a half ago. They know all the hymns. For others, only the new songs speak to them and the movement of the Holy Spirit in new ways excites them to gather together. One faith isn’t better or worse than another; just different.
Which brings me to another label we often throw around without really defining for that very reason – humanity; more specifically masculinity and femininity has had no small amount of discussion. Men are this, women are that, men are that, women are this – endless stereotypes are thrown out as if they’re woven into us – written into who and what we are. But people are all unique, and that makes our masculinity and our femininity unique as well. Instead of condemning that other men aren’t as masculine as we are, and that other women aren’t as feminine as we are – we should celebrate that we aren’t required to conform to a standard of true masculinity or true femininity where some of our best traits are deemed undesirable. Women might be criticized for being too gregarious and not sufficiently quiet to be considered appropriately feminine. Men might be criticized for being too gentle and not sufficiently tough to considered appropriately masculine. Women might be criticized for pursing goals and dreams that include education and career, whereas men might be criticized for opting to be stay at home dads.
If this is what we’ve come down to – criticizing others who don’t agree with us, who don’t believe as we do, who don’t behave as we want them to – then it’s no wonder that Christianity is losing people. I wouldn’t want to be a part of a group of people who hate everything about me and are constantly trying to re-make me in their image. Who tell me everything I believe is wrong and everything they believe is right. Who will only consider me as one of them on their terms so long as I quit being my unique self.