Tolerance or Celebration?

November 1, 2007

I have been thinking today about a post I wrote last spring, linked here.  It is entitled “The Coming Out of the Church” and explores the relationship between Community and Justice.

If it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse, I know these issues have been beat to death in the U.S. church, but I am in a part of the country where they are very much still at play and so my daily life still reminds me how much work there is to do.  So for those of you out there who have already moved way beyond this stuff, indulge me.

Communities existing solely to perpetuate community, exist in a very particular place on Fowler’s scale of faith development.  It strikes me that many in the Anglican Communion are in this place.  (I would not put Nigeria/Uganda in this place I refer to– I think they are reacting to a much more self-interested, less developed place, trying to isolate themselves from globalization and resulting cultural change, but that’s another story.)  Certainly communities that value community for community’s sake must grow at their own pace and cannot, should not, be forced to “grow” into the next Fowler stage– but I am also just realizing that in the meantime there just may not be room for all at those tables.  Time may be the only thing that can heal that injustice.  Surely we must be diligent in shining the light of the gospel on the dark corners of the church, but those communities whose very structures are woven with distrust and even disapproval of the other will take time in combination with polity and education to change.

Tolerance is a word that came into my consciousness today, and it is just not something I can buy into.  For homogeneous communities, tolerance may be a huge step forward but for me it feels like going backward.  I want not tolerance, but Celebration of difference — yes!!  But that requires that the community not only tolerate the ‘other’, but to have a genuine interest in getting to know him or her!  That is very hard to do in a place where community means homogeneity (is there a relationship between racially/ethnically/openly GLBT diversity and openness to the other??  Openness to other ways of doing theology?? Other doctrines and beliefs??  How many times do you hear “I don’t see color – I’m color blind” in these places instead of “I love your color!  Tell me about you!” Isn’t there a theology that comes out of that experience of the Holy in the everyday?).

And homogeneity is exactly the question on the table:  is the Church’s responsibility to ensure that doctrine remains homogeneous or is it the Church’s responsibility to provide a faith, a trust, in the Holy which sustains us all for those times when we cannot find it individually?  Theological point of view is, in my experience, tied directly to diversity- to ethnicity, to race, to culture, to sexual orientation (of course there are exceptions).  Does the Church need to consist of those whose doctrines and beliefs are uniform, or can we be unified in celebration of theological, cultural, and other differences?  If the latter, how much difference can we accept within our unity?  I don’t know the answer, but I’m pretty sure it is the right question.



2 Responses to “Tolerance or Celebration?”

  1. Linda Says:

    The question of unity is one I struggle with, too, as is what it means to be part of a church community. Is it better to be an active, supportive member of a community whose mission and methods you value but whose faith you do not share, or should you find a place (Unitarian maybe?) where your role isn’t necessarily defined by faith, only by a willingness to share, love, and serve?

    Can a group’s beliefs ever actually be uniform if the individual members have never examined their individual faith? Or do they just have to commit to one version? What do the individuals do with the unresolved/unrepresented portions of their beliefs, or is it enough for them to buy in to the mainstream system and they don’t question it at all?

    I interviewed two teenagers a few years ago as part of some coursework, and I asked them about their faith and beliefs in a higher power. Neither teen knew the other, but both came from open-minded households, where Christianity was the main underlying belief system, but where church was never a major part of their lives. In one household, the mother defined herself as Buddhist, but she still went to church with the family when they did go, and the kids were active in the youth program. But that teen felt like all the openness had made it harder to have faith in any one thing, and she was left feeling faithless. I regret my children will probably have that same sense of ambiguity.


  2. Jeff Says:

    Thank you Linda, that is very interesting.

    My experience has been very different.

    While I can see how faithlessness would steep in in some situations, I find that intentionality is what makes all the difference. Congregations that make a deep effort to raise the intentionality of their congregants to live into the questions, always discerning, always seeking the holy in their everyday lives, find faith more accessible than do many more conventional parishes which teach answers to the questions bound by the tradition.

    I think education and the way the education is done makes all the difference. And before somebody jumps on me, I am not throwing out tradition. I am just suggesting that there is a way of presenting it as the sole authority and there is a way to present it as a continuing narrative of which we still yet have a part to play. The latter requires us to take it more seriously, I think. If we don’t– then conflicting traditions, as well as the cultural influences that you speak of Linda, will get the best of us, and we will simply be left feeling ambivalent or ambiguous about the whole thing.

    That’s my take, anyway.


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