Jim Johnson recently posted about a dialogue he has been having with an individual who disagrees with him on the issue of homosexuality, a connection that's all too rarely made in today's world.
It seems that in recent decades we've lost the ability to truly coexist with those who don't hold our viewpoints. The rise of the web has only accelerated that trend as anyone with an internet connection can find people who share their interests and viewpoints while shutting out those that they don't see eye to eye with. Compounding the problem is the relative anonymity of the internet, which emboldens some individuals to treat others in ways that they'd never dream of treating another human being in real life, and soon the world begins to look very one-sided. Those who validate my interests and beliefs are my friends, and those who disagree with me are idiots, enemies or both.
For those who think that Christians are any better, just try going to an evangelical message board and posting something (no matter how politely written and well reasoned) that challenges any one of conservative Christianity's many sacred cows (especially, but in no way limited to, the issue of homosexuality). Even many of those who are civil enough to refrain from flaming you and consigning you and your entire family out to the fourth generation to the pits of hell will respond in a condescending manner that reinforces my primary point: We as a society have forgotten how to live with those who don't agree with us.
Not that there's ever been a time when everyone was civil to everyone else (outside of particular groups like the Quakers, perhaps), but in less prosperous times people had little choice but to learn how to coexist with their neighbors, on whose generosity they might someday have to rely. We still pay lip service to the idea of "live and let live," and pride ourselves on the progress we've made in breaking down racial and economic barriers, but in their place we've segregated ourselves based on our opinions.
Not that I have a perfect track record in that regard, either. I've never been one to engage in flame wars, but I do sometimes feel threatened by those who don't share my opinions, especially on issues that directly affect me. I'd much rather spend my time with people I can agree with (and who wouldn't?). But is that really God's plan for the church, to be a club for the pastor's or bishop's yes-men (and yes-women)? American tradition has long been to separate ourselves along denominational lines. Those lines have begun to blur in recent years, but we still tend to steer clear of anyone whose doctrine isn't pure in our eyes. Even when it comes to politics Democrats and Republicans tend, more often than not, to attend separate churches.
The problem with those dividing lines is that God created each of us to be unique. If conformity had been his goal, he would have made us to all look and think and talk alike. By hiding among those who most closely conform to our own visions of perfection, we miss out on the many things that we can learn from the different experiences and perspectives of those who dare to disagree from us. We don't have to surrender our own belief systems in order to do this; we simply have to acknowledge that, as finite beings, we don't know it all.
Many conservative Christians would consider a homosexual-free world to be a significant step in the direction of utopia, but in reality they are stunting their own growth (and that of the church) by taking their convictions to such an extreme. Even if the conservative Christian belief that homosexuality is nothing more than a consequence of the Fall and contrary to God's plan were to prove to be correct, the fact remains that we are here for a reason, and as human beings created in the image of God we have something positive to contribute to the world whether or not we conform to the demands of the conservative church.
The converse of that is equally true, of course. I sympathize with those gay individuals who have been severely wounded by Christians, but trying to cut them out of our lives completely isn't the answer. Even the Fred Phelpses and Osama Bin Ladens of the world have lessons to teach us, not that they're likely to give us the chance (dialogue requires cooperation from both parties). In such extreme cases separation is, unfortunately, necessary, but I can still hope for the day when both sides are equally willing to view their opponents as human beings of equal value in God's eyes, and as individuals who just might hold an important piece to the puzzle we're trying to put together.
Until that day, I suppose I need to do my part to make it possible. Not that I particularly want to engage with those who view me as the story's villain, but it's got to start somewhere. Maybe tomorrow...