Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On Being Divisive and Becoming One

I've mentioned before that one of my passions is for unity in the Church.  I've posted that's one of the reasons I have real concerns about Ordain Women, is that it seems a breeding ground for contention. I'm going to come out and change my stance.  Because in the last six months I've studied so intently in and out of the temple and had such wonderful spiritual experiences, especially with my husband in the celestial room, that were prompted because of Ordain Women and the questions and discussion they are raising.  I no longer begrudge their existence.  I do think it makes my job harder, as a moderate mormon feminist, advocating for policy changes instead of ordaining women.  But I think they need to be there, even if I don't agree with their actions or their tone. 

And it starts me thinking about our commandment to become one, as the Body of Christ.  I cited that in my newspaper article in the Standard Journal.  Unity does not equal uniformity.  How can we become Zion?  By everyone exercising their free agency in only the way that makes you comfortable?  Is it possible that by having diverse opinions and thoughts and perspectives on how we are to build Zion, that it strengthens the church.  Are people who are different only welcomed in our culture and in our Church, so long as eventually they step in line and act and think and dress like the majority?Elder Uchtdorf says, "Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this Church." 

As a Mormon Feminist, I often end up sharing my opinions that may be different than others'.   I often am told that I shouldn't care about the things I care about, that I'm looking beyond the mark, that I'm being ungrateful, that I don't value what I've been given, or that I should just focus on loving and serving others (as if my having a different opinion on Mormon culture or church policy makes it so I'm not loving and serving others).  I've also been told I should just keep my questions, experiences, and opinions private - that putting them in public is dangerous and wrong, mostly because it shows that a member of the church doesn't agree with how some things are being done.  That I'm disagreeing.  And we shouldn't disagree in public. 

Rachel Held Evans, an Evangelical Feminist, does the same thing in a much more widespread manner than myself, she has her own post up about how she is accused of being divisive all the time, below I've quoted my favorite part of her response.  Please go read it in its entirety at the link above:
But when I began writing about gender equality in evangelicalism, it became apparent to me that no matter how careful my tone, no matter how reasoned my arguments, no matter how gentle my critique, my work would inevitably be characterized as “divisive.”
“How dare you challenge a man of God?”
“The world can’t see us disagreeing like this; it hurts our witness.”
“We should be talking about more important matters.”
“Let’s just focus on what we agree on and let these minor issues go.”
“Can’t this be settled privately and not publicly?”
"You need to calm down and stop being so emotional."
“Stop being so divisive. Jesus wants us to be unified.”
One of the easiest ways to discredit another Christian is to label their questions, concerns, or calls for justice as too "divisive."  I don’t like being divisive. Believe me. But I don’t like being silenced either.  There has to be a way to discuss controversial, difficult topics—even on social media—without resorting to outright hostility on the one hand or sanctimonious silencing on the other.  And I wonder if it begins with acknowledging that friction doesn't mean division.   We Christians suffer under this rather fanciful notion that no one in the early church ever argued about anything, that the first disciples of Jesus sat around singing hymns and munching on communion bread, nodding along in perfect agreement about how to apply the teachings of Jesus to their lives.  But the epistles would suggest otherwise. 
The epistles would suggest that when you throw together a group of people from vastly different ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds there is going to be some serious friction. Within the early church raged debates over everything from the application of the Mosaic law, to whether Christians should eat food offered to idols, to how to handle the influx of widows in the church, to disagreements around circumcision, religious festivals, finances, missions, and theology.
So when Paul urged the Ephesian church to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” he followed this with an acknowledgement of the Church’s diversity, in which there are “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
This Body is still growing, so there will be growing pains. 
But if we love one another through these growing pains, “then we will no longer be infants…instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
I suspect Paul combined this call for the Body’s unity with an acknowledgement of the Body’s diversity because he knew that unity isn’t the same as uniformity.
We’re not called to be alike; we’re called to love.
We’re not called to agree; we’re called to love.
We’re not even called to get along all the time; we’re called to love each other as brothers and sisters, as people united in one baptism, one communion, one adoption.
Maybe we need these differences to be animated, to be alive, to mature. Maybe friction isn’t a sign of decay, but of growth.
The world is certainly watching. But this doesn't mean we hide our dirty laundry, slap on mechanical smiles, and gloss over all the injustices and abuses, conflicts and disagreements, diversity and denominationalism present within the Church;  it means we expose them. It means we talk about them boldly and with integrity, with passion and with love. I suspect that talking about our differences is better for our witness than suppressing them, and I'm sure that exposing corruption and abuse is better for our witness than hiding them.
And when it comes to injustice, a far more important question to me than "What will the world think if they see us disagreeing?" is "What will the world think if they don't?"
I love that last line.  What will the world think of us if we are always of one opinion, thought, perspective, and dress?  It may not reflect our doctrine that free will is our most important gift that we treasure above all else.  If we create circumstances where there is only one way to be a good mormon, to use your free will in only one acceptable way, I believe that is when we may be looking beyond the mark.  This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  All are loved and welcomed at the table.