8 ways those from more liberal-progressive and conservative-evangelical persuasions can better love each other

colossians 314

* it’s going to be a busy 2 weeks on the blog and then i’m going to take all of july & august off so i can enjoy my kids home from summer, work on faith shift, and focus on refuge stuff that really needs some attention. i am going to miss you and it will be freaky to not think in blog for that long but after 2 weeks with lots of posts, you’ll probably be sick of me and ready for a break, too!  i’ve got two different series of posts for this week and next week. this week is “healing the divides” week, centered on ways to heal divisions between us from all kinds of angles & next week is “grief week”, centered on some experiential exercises to grieve church & faith losses, and other kinds, too (yeah, just a little light summer reading!). there are all kinds of divides between people, but one of the deepest and most apparent in blog-land, wider-church-conversations, and real life is the deepening chasm between those from a more liberal-progressive persuasion and those with more conservative-evangelical views.  here’s a start at healing some of what separates us; i thought it would be a good one to kick off this week. 

//

while i’m a firm believer in inter-faith dialogue, i think a far-overlooked topic is how hard intra-faith dialogue really is–especially the tricky conversations between those of a more liberal-progressive persuasion and those more firmly committed to conservative-evangelical roots.  i can’t stand labels, and i am at risk here by naming these two groups, but let’s face it–we are having a hard time living in the tension of our differences!

and we make up a big part of this crazy beautiful thing called The Church.

some of you are so over it, thinking why even bother, there’s no chance we’ll ever be able to figure this one out so we might as well spend our energy elsewhere. i feel it, too, and all this talk about theology when the world is crying out for hope makes me a little crazy. i think sometimes it’s a great distraction  and i have some pretty serious doubts that Jesus would be excited about the time, energy, resource and heart that is often spent this direction. i kinda think he’d say “get off facebook, stop reading blogs, and go offer some cups of cold water for Christ’s–i mean my—sake!”

at the same time, i can’t bury my head in the sand and hope for the day i wake up and we’re all getting along.

we are stuck with each other in this mess.

and there’s only one way out–Love.

love hurts.  love is hard.  but it’s what we are called to.

the world is watching.  those hanging on to their faith by a thread are watching. the future generations are watching.

and  so far what we’re offering them are deep divides, angry answers on the internet, homogenous churches and ministries, fear, and disdain.  we’re either fighting or fleeing.

i believe there’s a third way-a more mature way, a harder way, a better way.

but it will require so much freaking humility and work and God’s crazy-supernatural-help to get there. on our own, we’re toast, but maybe God could help us learn and practice some better rules of engagement for both strains, ways to hold this space more safely, to live in the tension of our differences, to break down walls instead of build them.

here are some thoughts off the top of my head, ideas for those with a more liberal-progressive and conservative-evangelical persuasions to better love each other.

1.  remember first, that other person is a child of God, made in God’s image. dignified dialogue always starts with this.  it doesn’t hurt to also remember, they’are also probably fighting some kind of battle (because we all are). we need to lay down our stereotypes of each other that cause us to often close our hearts and our minds to each other from the get-go.

2.  respect each other’s biblical conclusions.  the Bible is a unique and amazing book, but the most damage gets done over claiming our individual biblical interpretation is “God’s truth.” none of us can see with God’s perfect x-ray vision; every view we have is “through a glass darkly.” let’s be more honest, the truth we believe is the truth we’ve decided to believe, and we must respect each other’s conclusions without just shredding each other’s biblical scholarship.  we may see the Bible differently, but folks on all sides of these conversations are somehow honestly wrestling with it. it is important to respect that.

3. lay down our “if they would justs…” this means trying to get the other person to see it the way we see it or change our position or confess the error of our ways or grasp that one other point that we’re sure will shift everything. if our agenda is mutual love, respect, and understanding, we’ll be okay. if it’s about winning, managing, out-bible-versing, or out-smarting each other, we’re just going to inflict harm and still get nowhere.

4. never pull the “but God says” or “but it’s clear in the Bible” card. seriously. this one has got to go if we are going to bridge these deep divides. walking humbly with God includes being humble about the way we’ve come to understand things about God.  a much better alternative is, “i feel like God is stirring this up in me or leading me to this conclusion or i’ve wrestled with this with in scripture and here’s where i’ve landed…” but let’s own it instead of pulling a trump card which immediately shuts down every conversation.

5. acknowledge our own blind spots.  we all have them. i am a crazy justice & mercy person and have faces of certain friends always in front of me, and sometimes it prevents me from seeing the bigger picture. i am allergic to anything that smells of judgement of me and can sometimes close myself off to honest critique. i can be prideful and smug and sure.  we all have different blind spots that are important to notice, acknowledge, and respect how they are playing into these conversations.

6. celebrate what we do agree on. sometimes it’s just a little bit, but like the power of a mustard seed to move a mountain, a common thread can strengthen and sustain relationships more than we might expect. underneath our differences are some real gems. i’ve seen it happen, and it is so pretty.

7. always put relationships above our positions. positions aren’t worth it, people are. this means staying friends, agreeing to disagree, tabling conversations, laughing at the ridiculousness of what we’d let divide us, and honoring hearts above personal convictions.

8. trust that God is big enough for our differences. in fact, maybe that’s what he’s trying to tell us. while our small brains focus on theological differences, maybe there’s another story that is harder to embrace–that Christ’s love could bind us all together in perfect unity and is wide and deep and strong and high enough to hold all our best-shots-at-all-this. that real peace, shalom, is all of our differences held together and tangled up together to make something beautiful, diverse, and powerful.

this is tough stuff.  i am so sad at our easy way out–to build walls, to force people to be in or out, to demand answers, clench fists, to harden hearts, to fight, to flee, to make groups-that-are-a-bunch-of-people-who-believe-all-the-same-thing.

yeah, i am hopeful and crazy enough to believe we have a shot at doing this better, but goodness gracious we’re going to need God’s help.

what would you add to this list?

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

36 Comments

  • Thank you so much for this Kathy. I have to admit that I am someone who is “over” trying to engage with others on the other side of the fence. However, this article will help me specifically in my relationships with my family, whom I still dearly love (and who dearly love me) but with whom we disagree on SO MUCH.

    Reply
    • thanks for being honest about that because i know so many in the same boat. totally get why, too, but glad that this is helpful in some other relationships.

      Reply
  • Thank you Kathy that was wonderful. And don’t be so hard on yourself – I’ll miss your postings here. Have a good break and all the best with your “Faith Shifts”.

    Reply
  • You bring so much to the table, my friend. So many of your posts are really like iron sharpening iron for me. Thank you so much!
    Now … no apologies! I love that you’re taking time off, that’s something most of us should be doing, but we’re not courageous enough or wise enough to go there.
    I so appreciate you, dear sister in Christ … no matter what our differences! What unites us is stronger and more substantial!

    Reply
    • thanks, linda, i am so glad you are here and that somehow we are connected in spirit and heart. i am really glad i made that decision and committed to it not only with jose & a few close friends but here, too. it makes me have to actually do it!

      Reply
  • Needed this today of all days. Thank you thank you thank you, kathy…

    Reply
  • A beautiful list, Kathy. Thanks so much. Now. . . to live (and write) this way!

    Reply
  • You always know how to present to make the biggest impact. And boy did I need this! I must reread many times over! After I read God’s Word though!

    You will be missed the next 2 months. But maybe I’ll save your next posts and just read 1 a week or something. Have a great time with family (oh so important) and with all your pursuits.

    Reply
  • It is so easy, is it not, to use our religious/Biblical/theological ideas to keep us at arm’s length from other people, to avoid really loving our neighbors and building genuine relationships with people who don’t look and think exactly like us? Then again, that really is the purpose of religion, isn’t it? 🙂

    Reply
  • So good, and so timely. Love is tricky, that is for sure. I have a quote in my office that says something along the lines of “I don’t have time to hate the people that hate me, as I am too busy loving the people who love me.” It is hard enough slogging through recovery to love people well, let alone the people who don’t spout the same things. I am grateful for a community whose love is not predicated on what I can regurgitate. 🙂

    Reply
    • that’s such a great quote. your office wall is full of so much inspiration! i do love our wild little community and just how crazy it is to live in this much tension.

      Reply
  • f anybody cares…..there was also a chain blog with posts on unity that goes so well with what you’re saying.

    http://www.alanknox.net/2013/04/chain-blog-real-relational-unity/

    My post on that chain basically said I thought the steps to unity were:

    1. The first step in having relational unity is understanding that I am not perfect. I have to acknowledge that I have strengths and I have weaknesses. I think wrong things. I don’t understand or practice anything perfectly.

    2.Step 2 is understanding that God is purposeful in who He puts into our lives. He does actually choose us to be around those who are very different from us. He molds our hearts by shedding His light on our strengths & weaknesses – and He does that best in close honest relationships with others that are different from us and being willing to be honest about our differences. We need to teach our children how to DISAGREE with others… nobody knows how to disagree lovingly and stay close! He is purposeful in who He has around us!

    3. Step three is understanding that although God uses us each others lives, it is not our job to focus on each others’ perceived weaknesses but instead, focus on other’s strengths. To LOVE. Bring out the best in others, focusing on Christ in them (the strengths God has gifted them with) is a form of love. God molds us in relationships NOT when we are always trying to teach each other (aka focusing on or pointing out others weaknesses) but He molds us by having an open heart and looking for what we can receive, take from the other. What can I see good in (whomever) that I can learn from? Looking for the best in each other. We all instinctively know that God wants to use us in each other’s lives, so it’s easy to focus on how we can correct others…. but the shift instead should be – how can God use this person to correct or teach me?

    So if we understand that we are not perfect, that God is in control & deliberately wants us to be around people different from us, and that He desires us to have an open heart to see what we can learn from other…. then we are ready to start practicing unity!

    Reply
  • Pingback: Reconciliation Replay (June 20, 2013)
  • So you’re basically asking us to become liberals by 2 and 4. No thanks. Jesus>Gorgias

    Reply
  • I think these guidelines also apply well to discussions among Christians of different cultures.

    Reply
  • I think I may need to read through this prior to each time I try to engage with my conservative brothers and sisters in leadership. In South Dakota, progressives and moderates aren’t doing jack in terms of state-wide advocacy, but the religious right is very active and organized. At the very least, we can find ways to work together on issues like gambling, human trafficking, and children–even we’re going to come to very different conclusions about marriage, guns, and social programs. We need each other, and more importantly, Christ calls us to be the Church together.

    Reply
  • Just have basic respect for the other person. Don’t wish harm to befall the other side. Don’t try to punish the opposite side either.

    Reply
  • How come you capitalize Jesus? It’s inconsistent.

    I have serious qualms with #7. My job is in a church with whom I vehemently disagree theologically. I regard many coworkers with affection, but the only way for #7 to work is in an environment of repression. Our relationships are limited by the fairly large number of topics we just can’t talk about. It drives me up the wall. It’s SHALLOW! The urge to bicker with the preacher is almost irresistible. If I were to testify to what I honestly believe I would be fired. But oh, well. We have to AGREE TO DISAGREE! Yippee! It’s more important to play nice than for Christ’s will to be served. Adding the weight of Jesus to church business proceedings makes everything ten times more difficult.

    Reply
  • Pingback: 10 Ways We Can Build Bridges Instead Of Bomb Them | At the Threshold

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *