Do I belong here?
It’s a question each of us has asked at least once in our lives. Whether it be a new job, a new town, a social environment, and yes…a church, at some point we have all asked ourselves if we have a sense of belonging within that particular moment. For me, it happens quite a bit. Although I’m not socially awkward—well, not too much anyway—I always hold hope that I’ll be accepted for who I am and what I believe. I think the trick is not being too abrasive about stating those beliefs, and being capable of hearing others’ opinions without losing my mind.
Sound easy? It isn’t.
Each of us hold opinions regarding a great swath of issues. The one thing that all people hold in common is their passion behind those opinions—opinions stated as belief quickly turned to ‘fact’. Conversation seems to be a lost skillset today, in its place rises diatribe and raising one’s voice to be heard over others. The art of listening has been replaced by the need to ‘be right’; we no longer seem to care about other perspectives, only our own understood agendas.
If this seems like a harsh judgment, well…it’s simply my opinion. I have watched for the last decade as people tear each other down in the name of righteousness, spouting reasons for their own understanding in ways that diminish other’s beliefs. It happens on all fronts. We have stopped arguing about the issue itself with any integrity; we have started arguing just to be right and feel better about ourselves while simultaneously pinning down people who oppose us.
The context within which I currently present this argument is that of the church. We have traditionalist members, we have progressive members. We have members who just wish to ignore the shouting and kneel in silent prayer. The problem we face as a church (worldwide, not simply Resurrection) is that we are moving further and further from each other. Without the ability to have a civil conversation, which has become very difficult in the last few years, we are becoming entrenched. I see memes and gifs on social media all the time stating, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” and then has the type of people ‘welcomed’ to it. Oddly enough, that welcome isn’t very welcoming at all. There seems to be a typology emerging in the current Episcopal Church: You must believe this way, agree with ‘us’ or we will decry you as a bigot or hatemonger.
Where, for years, the traditionalists have been gatekeepers to the church (and they have…just ask any woman or person of color), it seems that the pendulum has swung and now those traditionalists are being told that they should go somewhere else. I see it on Episcopal blogs, in chatrooms (yes, those still exist) and hear it from the mouths of some in authority. I wonder, if in the name of inclusion, whether or not we’ve over-corrected and are now seeking to do the same thing that was done in the past—namely, to eradicate and exclude those within our ranks that hold what we deem as an archaic theological viewpoint. I recently witnessed a conversation between two Episcopalians that went like this:
Person one: “I don’t really like Rite 2…I wish we’d go back to Rite 1 a little more and worship in the old way”
Person two: “Why? It’s weird language and nobody talks like that anymore. I don’t see the point in being all old in our worship.”
Person one: “Well, the old way is how I grew up and I really love it. I just miss it, that’s all.”
Person two: “Well, the church isn’t the same as it was when you were growing up. And now we’re trying to get new members. You must not care about the future of TEC. Maybe you should consider leaving.”
Seriously, this is what I watched transpire on the internet. Since when did we lose the ability to disagree with compassion? And before you ask, yes I do believe that we had that ability at one point. I want us to be able to be different from one another, but to do so together. We have far more that binds us than that which separates us. We just have to be able to allow one another to hold opinions without shaming or judgment.
If someone disagrees with you, let them. Give them that grace. Allow for a space where The Episcopal Church—and to be honest, the whole church of God—can be what it ‘was’ for some while also venturing into what it ‘will be’. We’re about to enter another election cycle. We’re about to disagree with one another quite a bit on who we want this country run by and the best ways to do it. We’re about to enter into an election of a Bishop; we’re going to disagree with one another on who the best person will be. But what we need to remember in both instances is this: We care deeply about our faith, and we care deeply about the state of this world. It’s not the ‘who’ that should separate us, but rather the ‘how’ that should unite us. Our differences should serve to make us stronger, not strangers. Our perspectives should come together to find the best possible solution for the future and not continue to divide us into factions at war. The kingdom of God on this planet is far too big to be broken apart by small-minded arguments. We have the ability right now, at this moment, to choose to be better than we have been. We don’t have to agree, but we do need to start listening better. We just need to start listening again, period.
I know we can’t do this overnight, but we have to start somewhere. We have to start hearing each other again, in church and in the world. We’re not doing our children any favors by treating each other like enemies or shouting over one another to be ‘right’. Church can be a place where different perspectives intersect and live in communion, a safe space for all people across the spectrum of beliefs to come and sit side by side, exploring faith and engaging in the paradox of truths, so that everyone feels as though they belong. I urge us to be that. To concentrate on loving God through loving our neighbor as ourselves. That means everyone. Everyone.