Diversity. It is a popular buzz word these days. It usually has to do with multi-culturalism and is often used favorably by those in the “left camp” of the political arena. My use of it isn’t political and I have no agenda. I just keep thinking about it.
Last year, a good friend suggested I do the NANOWRIMO challenge. I did. I had fun challenging myself. I actually made myself write a deliberate “romance”. For me, this is a great challenge. I don’t “do” romance. Oh, and I should admit, true romance afficionados would not consider it “real” romance. I don’t do physical romance or emotional “porn”. I just can’t. However, as a writer, I knew that adding in this element to a story would help me give my characters depth in the future so I did it. Most will be cut during revisions and editing but I am glad I did. But this isn’t the kind of diversity I am talking about.
This year, I am doing the NANOWRIMO again but my topic is vastly different. This year I am tackling spiritual “unity”. The opposite of diversity. Mainly, I’m trying to show the tendency of Christians to become uniform in belief and practice the longer they fellowship with one another and how if taken to an extreme, this can be spiritually dangerous.
Now please, don’t misunderstand me. I believe in unity among the saints. Paul stated that there is ONE Lord, ONE faith, and ONE baptism, ONE God and Father who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:5-6) I don’t think that all beliefs are equally valid and acceptable. I do believe in absolutes and in absolute truth. I believe that God cares about how we live, the choices we make, and the effect that those choices have on the body of believers.
However, I have seen a disturbing tendency over the years, particularly online. Robin Williams showed it in his brilliant performance as Mr Keating in Dead Poet’s Society. There is a scene where he calls three or four young men and asks them to walk around a square. He deliberately chose four young men who were vastly different in temperment and personality. They started walking around the square casually at first but within seconds they were marching in unison and then exaggeratedly as they realized what they did. This is a perfect example of what I am talking about.
My first online experience was on a forum for Christian women and a forum for homeschooling parents (mostly Christian women as well). I found it fascinating how often a woman would hear of a curriculum or a family conviction and take it to heart. Discussions came in predictable waves. Head coverings, dresses only, entertainment, degrees of submission, child training- you name it, they discussed it. Unit studies, textbooks, principle approach, classical and Charlotte Mason went in regular waves as each education style came and went in the discussions.
Now these things aren’t bad things to discuss! I happen to enjoy talking about them myself. What bothered me slightly then and even more now is how any distinction slowly disappeared. What I can’t figure out, is why this happens?
I started Hearth Keepers when a friend wanted a place to encourage other women in rising early. Almost immediately, it evolved into a place where almost anything was and is discussed. One of the first things I did was open the “Controversial” forum. I wanted a place where people could discuss things- things that could be controversial. We have a huge spectrum of believers. Independent Fundamental Baptists, Messianics, Reformed Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Charismatics, church of Christ’ers, non-denominationals, Catholics, and everything in between. Can you imagine our discussions?
We’ve discussed eschatology, head coverings, speaking in tongues, history, women’s roles in the church and the home, politics, baptism, Calvinism, social programs- the works. I loved that we had a place where we could discuss and then agree to disagree. We have had, in the past, a few members who felt a compulsion to try to “unify” the body on every issue. It was as though any difference in thought meant that we were not unified as a body. If Jane celebrated birthdays but Joan thought that birthday celebrations were extra bibilical, this was considered a bad thing.
Now I don’t know if this is an area that we “should” unify or not. I’ll grant you that there is no room for debate on whether or not we are saved by the blood of Jesus. The fact is, we are. Period. No amount of opinion, circumstance, or faith can change the facts of scripture.
Not everything is like salvation. Some scriptural principles, for instance, have more than one application. Wives are told to honor and respect their husbands. However what is honoring and respectful to one man might insult another. Scripture doesn’t dictate how we do everything we’re told to do. Scripture is vague on some topics. A fine example is the eating meat offered to idols idea. Paul specifically said it was perfectly acceptable, nothing wrong with it, but on the other hand, if it bothers someone, the person is more important than your meat consumption! Methods and principles. They vary.
One woman is dresses only. Another is not. Both are concerned with modesty. The principle is modesty. The method is how they define it. This is a popular topic on our controversial board. Just what constitutes modest apparel? Even if we define modest dress as dresses only, we then have to determine what dresses are modest. Are skirts decent? Do we go for a Laura Ashley approach or do we try for a modern look? Something in between?
This is what happens on the board. The thing I like about Hearth Keepers is that our dresses only women are encouraged in their convictions without our non-dresses only women feeling obligated to change their dress style. In my novel, however, I didn’t do this. I took everything to a logical conclusion. If one family chose to live out their faith in one way, would other families see the fruits and choose to emulate them? If they emulated them, how far would it go? From choosing an appropriate article of clothing to the style of that clothing to the length of hair, and then to entertainment choice and appropriate activities for children it could become cultish. So I took it that direction.
I didn’t do it because I believe that emulating others is a bad thing. Paul said to imitate him as he imitated Christ. We are supposed to learn from the wise choices of others. I did it to show what happens when we make identicality a virtue. I tried to show what happens when the beautiful diversity that God has created in us is traded for uniformity. God created us all so beautifully different and yet we try so hard to conform. In my novel I’ve shown what happens when the desire for uniformity overwrites a person’s own uniqueness.
At what point do we stop? If we create the “Christian uniform”, the “Christian music”, the “Christian past times”, and similar things, at what point do we decide on “Christian colors”, “Christian flowers”, and “Christian candles.” Where does personal preference come into play? Why do we decide to stamp out individuality? Why does one family have to look identical to another? Why do two homemakers have to look identical to one another. Why can’t one enjoy sewing or knitting and another enjoy photography or auto mechanics?
What happens to the church when we become cookie cutter cut outs of one another? I like that on Hearth Keepers, the name on the door of our personal churches doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends. I like that our parenting styles don’t have to be identical. I like that one family can love using cloth diapers and I’m not looked down for preferring disposables. I like the theological diversity on the moderation team. We have a “charismatic Lutheran”, a word-of-faith charistmatic, two Evangelical Free (one worshipping in a baptist church), a Presbyterian or two, a conservative Lutheran, one that I don’t know what church she attends, and me… the paedo-church of Christer! We’re not aiming for an ecumenical approach to worship but we do lay aside our theological differences where it begins to divide us. We love the Lord and all hold a single core of beliefs regarding the personhood of God, the Bible, and salvation.
We’ll debate our differences enthusiastically in the “mud room” and laugh about circus peanuts and mice in the general fellowship forums. We may disagree on how to honor our husbands but we all agree that we should. Sometimes I think that is why the “Mud Room” is my favorite forum over there. It is where we allow our differences to shine brightest. Elsewhere on the board, we tend to blend and meld only showing differences of favorite colors or music styles. We tend to defer to one another and leave some topics at the door of certain forums. This is a good thing. I think it’s kind of our way of not exercising our Christian Liberty in order to honor a sister’s preferences and this is good.
However, I really love it in the Mud Room when the “choir robes” come off and our personal taste in clothing really shows One woman wears calico jumpers while another wears jeans and flannel shirts. One wears cute capris and a layered camp shirt/tank top combo and another wears a bohemian skirt and a peasant top. Of course, the clothing is just a metaphor for what I mean. I just mean that I love seeing the diversity even when I may not agree with it or be comfortable with it. I still like it. I like hearing how other churches do things. I like hearing how other marriages make their problems work. I like hearing how others work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. It is what keeps us from becoming completely homogenized.
Of course, I think the draw back of a forum like that is when personalities clash. There is always someone who gets their feelings hurt. There is never an excuse for deliberately hurting another and it should always be avoided but sometimes that other person is one who looks to be injured. Stronger personalities sometimes intimidate others. Sometimes people simply have little patience with debate so they don’t participate. And then, there is always the problem when a person cannot articulate what they mean. They try to define or describe their thoughts but they become jumbled and a more articulate person can easily tear the ideas to shreds without realizing what they are doing.
Draw backs like these make moderating forums like this touchy. At what point do you cry, “foul” and put a stop to the game before someone is seriously injured? We’re talking about adults in a discussion. If the adult isn’t capable of handling themself, do the mods try to do it for them? That just seems wrong somehow. So, things go round and round.
Regardless of the draw backs, HK will always have the Mud Room if I have anything to say about it. It is the one place where I know people feel free to open up and be themselves. I remember the feelings of relief and surprise to discover how very different most of us were from one another! It was beautiful. Instead of a wholecloth quilt carefully stitched into a predictable grid, we are a patchwork of beautiful colors! I see the rich tones of some, the gentle hues of others, and the marvelous variety of textures and prints. Whole cloth quilts are often lovely but I prefer a beautiful scrap quilt any day.
So, I guess where this is going is, are we losing who we are in a sea of uniformity? Do we feel free to disagree with someone and honestly say so? Do sub-groups of Christian culture have to become so melded that we can’t see the individuals amongst us? Can we not be as diverse as God created us without having to imitate the world to do it? Why do we let the world have the corner on the market of diversity?
Why do we blame others for our lack of identity when we discover that we’ve become another cloned sheep in the flock? There is peer pressure everywhere… even if the peers have no idea that they’re exerting that pressure.