One way to understand a person with whom you disagree on religious, cultural or political issues is to trade Bibles with that person, each person reading the verses that the opponent has underlined in his/her Bible. Such an exercise would probably not sway either person, but it could produce two important benefits.
First, it might reduce the temptation to self righteousness. If opponents are both using the Bible to defend their position it makes it much harder for either person to be smugly superior.
Second, it might help both persons to realize that the opponent has carefully thought and prayed through an issue, too — a realization that might curb the tendency to go into attack mode.
Our nation seems to be so polarized these days. What’s worse, so are our churches. We tend to gravitate to congregations where people are either conservative or liberal, biblically, politically and culturally. Such an arrangement makes it easy for one congregation or denomination to marginalize another. Churches are divided over abortion, homosexuality, marriage, patriotism, healthcare and public spending; rare are the churches where the opposing opinions are equally represented or tolerated.
There is little wiggle room in the church any more and those who seek consensus are often portrayed as soft-headed and soft-hearted. A couple of years ago my own denomination voted down two highly respected clergymen, one conservative and one liberal, who co-sponsored a statement acknowledging what every United Methodist has known for 40 years: we United Methodists strongly disagree on homosexuality.
The statement, which was relegated to the garbage can, recognized our contrary opinions in print and urged United Methodists to disagree in love. It’s a bad sign when urging people to love one another can’t win 51 percent of the vote.
I hope I never reach the place where I can no longer admit that I was wrong. I’ve spent much time thinking and praying through issues, reading material on all sides of an issue and trying to construct a defensible position on many issues with integrity. Nevertheless, I want to be able to admit with humility that I’ve been very wrong on some things and could be very wrong on others.
This openness to listen carefully to others and to be prepared to change one’s mind runs smack up against another thing we Americans prize: the courage of our convictions. If you’re not sure what that sounds like, listen to some preacher warm to his/her favorite topic by preaching to those who most agree with him/her. Or listen to an elected officeholder rally voters in his/her own political party or lobbying group. Nothing clarifies issues more than speaking to your biggest financial and moral supporters.
I have taken some strong positions in this column over the years. But today I want to acknowledge that people who read the same Bible can draw very different conclusions on the religious, political and cultural issues. What one person of faith calls Biblical obedience is identified by another as apostasy or heresy.
Would it be too controversial to suggest that we might disagree with each other in love?
Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.