Yesterday Lisa and I were in a business being helped by a young woman. We really liked her. She had a sweet spirit, was very helpful, kind and engaging. After a while, she noticed on the forms that I was a pastor. She was happy about that and quietly let us know that she was a believer too. She began talking to us about how difficult she found it being a Christian in her work environment. She struggles. She shared her experiences with her own church, other Christians, and the churches in the area and how divisive they are. She asked me questions about our church, our worship style and all that. I really enjoyed our conversation. It was, I think, a mutually encouraging encounter. We even talked about getting together with her and her husband because, being new to the area, they would like to have more fellowship with other Christians. But the whole time we were talking I had this knot growing in my gut. Her theological and ecclesiastical position was obviously more conservative than mine. I could tell by the way she talked that she was used to a more traditional expression of Christianity and was comfortable with that. I don't mind that at all. That wasn't the issue. The issue was that I was concerned that she was going to find out about me, my blog, my cartoons, my theological position, my history and the history of my church. Stained and blemished at least. I was worried that she would find me and my church scandalous and wouldn't want to associate with me anymore. This kind of tension always brings me back to Paul's wisdom in Romans 14:10:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?The judgment comes from those who think they are holier than others, live more righteous lives and are more pure than their sinfully compromised brothers and sisters. The despising comes from those who think they are more developed, advanced and mature, beyond the law and freed from traditions and regulations. This is the problem with the Christian community and even the spiritual- or faith-community in general... conservatives who judge liberals and liberals who despise conservatives. This is the problem! We are either perpetuating this terrible cycle of division or we are victims of it. Often both! This discomfort I felt while talking with this wonderful woman probably tells more about me than her. But my feelings aren't unfounded. It has happened to me many, many times. I love fellowship with Christians different than I and work hard to create that kind of diverse environment within our community. But my experience has generally been that many Christians, usually more conservative ones, prefer to separate themselves from me and my kind. The painting is one I did a few months ago that expresses separation from others.