Unity or Uniformity, There Is a Big Difference…and it really matters.

This blog is being written exclusively for my friends who are church-goers. If what I say applies to you outside of church, great. Either way, thank you for taking the time to actually read this.

Today I am compelled to speak out in response to a few conversations I’ve had in recent weeks where someone was describing a problem they have had in their church and someone in the congregation interjected something like the following.

As we begin to discuss______ it is important that we first commit ourselves to unity because that is the most important thing.

Most often such a statement is followed by…

God wants us to be unified more than anything else and here is why…various Bible verses are quoted and suddenly the room becomes eerily quiet with everyone afraid to speak up.

I know the paradigm very well because for way too many years not only did I embrace it, I taught it. I also hurt several people and most painfully for me, I hurt my own children. The thinking is that if you teach your little ones to submit without question, they will be able to submit to God without question. (well, and church leaders too) I will save my thoughts on raising children for another time because for this blog I simply need to talk about the differences between unity and uniformity.

Anyone who has donned a uniform at work can easily understand what it means to function in a role with uniformity. Take for example the level of compliance expected of one working in a military uniform. We all expect certain behavior when we see a person dressed in the marine dress blue vs. the army camo green because well, they behave differently and wear the specific uniform to create that expectation. The concept of unity based on uniformity works quite well as long as everyone is trained to act a certain way and to wear the same clothing.  Take those uniforms off, however and what makes those men and women unified is who they really are and often that is reflected in what they choose to wear.  As I think about church behavior, there are times when we literally shoot ourselves in the foot (hands, arms and legs too) by the demand of uniformity through submission to authority. I don’t think there is any question that when Jesus hit the scene of Judaism he ruffled multiple feathers because when he started out in active ministry he refused to comply with the very uniformal Jewish authorities.

One of my favorite portions of the biblical text is from Luke 4 where Jesus comes into the picture and makes some very well dressed uniform oriented people pretty upset. In my other blog entry I called A Broken Box , I talk more about this but for this entry let me just say, Jesus was the prime example of what REAL unity looks like and it took place in many, many diverse places and with many, many diverse people and I might add caused no small amount of trouble. Have you ever thought that he was actually crucified for stirring up so much trouble with their very comfortable and predictable system?

Experience has repeatedly verified for me that all too often churches are really the least actually unified places in America because the expectation of uniformity is so incredibly high, the beauty of the mosaic that is said to be the real Body of Christ on the earth cannot even present itself. Think about the people Jesus went to, the people he ate with, the people he partied with, the miserable lot he chose to ask to follow him! THEY were given ideals to embrace in order to tranform their own hearts with the hope that as they did they could empower others with what they understood. The forming a church with doors, windows and crosses had nothing to do with it.

Our lives have been greatly impacted both by Jesus and by the pressure of church uniformity over the years. When our daughter’s struggle with mental illness and our son’s declaration of atheism arrived at our feet, we had a choice. We could hang our heads in shame for not measuring up (I taught at our church’s Christian school and Dean and I both led lots of ministries devoted to children) OR we could actively listen to our kids. We chose them. As we did that, THEY opened up the real for us.  They were astute at identifying the hypocrisy in our lives, the incongruities in our faith and most of all, the absolute ill fit of the uniform we’d devoted our lives to. We had to deal with a lot of pain and hurt but it has been so very worth it.  If we have done anything right as parents, it has been that we have valued our children and honored who they are in this world and dropped any expectation that they validate our own choices in life.  It has worked out beautifully.

I write to unload my heart’s burdens…

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