My husband likes green bananas—or as he says, “yellow bananas with just a touch of green.” I like my bananas spotted. This caused some initial hilarious disruption in our relationship (as those who have listened to our marriage seminars probably remember).
But this morning, I was greeted in my kitchen by a most unusual sight: spotted bananas with a touch of green. As I looked at the bananas, it struck me that they have achieved a balance I am seeking to find. They have managed to fit into both categories, without fully embracing either.
I am struggling currently with finding my footing in a church where I no longer feel at home in prominent groups. It seems to be assumed that people like me can’t exist:
1) Can I hold unflinchingly to the authority of Scripture, while still believing women are part of the “priesthood of all believers,” and therefore could be set apart for ministry by prayer and laying on of hands?
2) Is it possible to believe that Scripture doesn’t forbid women being ordained, and yet feel we don’t have to push for it right now?
3) Can I hold firmly to the equality of men and women, while still embracing belief in different roles?
4) Can I promote moving toward employing women as well as men in ministry roles, while also looking for flexible solutions that the majority of the church can easily embrace conscientiously?
That’s just the beginning of where I am told I have to choose one side or the other—but I don’t fit either one:
1) Can I engage in close, loving relationships with my homosexual friends, while believing that homosexual behavior is condemned in Scripture?
2) Can I live out love by talking to homosexual friends about my beliefs from Scripture, while simultaneously embracing the difficult journey of staying in close relationship with them when they live by convictions different than my own? Is it possible for “that’s not ok” to come out of the same mouth as “I love you and I always will”?
3) Can I stand up for refugees, Muslims and disadvantaged people of all colors without being condescendingly told that “all lives matter”?
4) Can I speak out for immigrants in America while still opposing illegal immigration?
5) What about when I see things differently than others regarding food, music, clothing, and a host of other things? Can we dialogue together non-defensively about what beliefs drive our own choices, while simultaneously enjoying fellowship and respecting each other’s freedom to live differently?
I suggest that this is not only possible—it’s what the Gospel does to people. It leads us to move toward unity in the bond of truth, in order to fulfill Jesus’ prayer that we all may be one, as He and His Father are One.
As I have traced the church through the book of Acts, I find the church was remarkably diverse. Yet there is relatively little in Acts or the rest of the New Testament concerning worship style, dress, and other topics that must have varied tremendously. Could it be that when Jesus becomes central to our hearts and lives, it affects the way we handle conflict?
I see a strong theme that develops throughout the book of Acts as well as Paul’s epistles: the more mature Christianity becomes, the more people treat one another as equals. They move toward uniting, with “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.” (And I’m sure Paul would have added “black nor white” if it had been as big an issue then as it is now.)
This emphasis on unity is perhaps highlighted best by how the church responded to conflict. At one point, it dawned on Peter that Gentiles were not dogs incapable of being saved. He had a miraculous experience that allowed him to see the Old Testament in a new light. When he realized Jesus died for Gentiles too, he brought this message to the leadership team of the church. They listened—and sat in stunned silence for a little while trying to grasp a new worldview. Then they non-defensively accepted the fact that, as a group, they had been wrong. How were they able to make that transition? Because their identities were not tied up in being conservatives or liberals, but in being followers of Jesus.
Contrast this with the Pharisees and Sadducees—the two extreme conservative and liberal factions in the Jewish religion. They could unite on only one thing, the condemnation of Jesus. When presented with new light, they consulted their peers instead of the Spirit, and confidently crucified the Lord of glory.
I think the same thing is happening in the church today. The relatively small groups on either end of the spectrum are dominating much of the conversation on differences. They prevent the rest of us from publicly talking about the simple reality that most of us aren’t at those extremes. And if we were to focus on servanthood, unity and common mission, the vast majority of us could unite and find ways to work through our differences and find unity.
I don’t identify as a conservative anymore, but I’m not a liberal either. I’m still an almost-vegan, shorts-close-to-my-knees, homeschooling mom who doesn’t recognize most celebrities and doesn’t own a TV. I still live pretty much like a conservative. I just don’t identify as one—meaning, it’s not a part of my identity. Many conservatives probably think I’m a liberal, and liberals might think I’m a conservative. I’m learning to be ok with that, while not making it a triumphant “I no longer have to be like you guys; I’m above you by being balanced” type of thing.
I don’t identify with either side anymore because both “sides” keep making judgmental declarations about the other side being inferior to them. To me, that sounds like the Pharisees and Sadducees uniting against Jesus—uniting in preventing the prayer of Jesus being fulfilled “that they all may be one.”
I’m solidly committed to Scripture; that’s who I am. I have 28 fundamental beliefs woven into the fabric of who I am. Other stuff is going to be processed based on those things. But my lifestyle is based on Bible study and personal conviction, not peer pressure.
It’s messy, thinking for myself rather than just doing what people in my group do. But I think it’s what Jesus wants me to do. Studying for ourselves does mean we are vulnerable to following personal preference instead of conviction. That’s where earnest prayer and study—and non-defensive discussion with others—become invaluable.
Perhaps the hardest part of going all libservative is avoiding the pitfall we hate so much—condescension toward those who “aren’t like us.” You know, the liberals, the conservatives, the people who haven’t found “the balance” like I have. Because that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid—the superiority complex. There’s nothing righteous about self-righteousness. In fact, the thirst to exalt ourselves by stepping on others is the very essence of sin.
The canyons of prejudice, hate and division are already fracturing both the world and the church. It won’t be long until the pendulum swings in the opposite direction, toward unity at all costs—even the cost of truth. We must prepare for that cataclysmic prophetic movement now, by showing that our love for God and one another is strong enough to lead us to unite in truth.
Welcome to the libservative movement. Join us as we seek to be “thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thoughts.” We need you. We need as many people as possible. Because if prophecy is accurate (and I’m hanging my life on the conviction that it is), we need to stick together. According to Revelation 13, the world and the church are heading for an intense ripping apart at the end of time, as Satan tries to prevent Jesus’ prayer from being fulfilled in the church. Our love for God must become strong enough to cause us to love one another. “Hearts that are filled with the love of Christ can never get very far apart.” (Ellen White, Adventist Home, p. 94)