5 Lies We Believe About Belonging

December 20th, 2016

It is no secret that our current social and political situations are, well let’s say a little contentious. The loudest and most prominent voices are the ones from the political polarities and most moderates are tried for treason by their own parties. Our political culture has ingrained in us, “if you are not 110% for us then you are our enemy.”

Homogeny has become a prerequisite for affiliation and a marker of true faithfulness. To offer, what once was considered, faithful descent has been made equivalent to treason and honest inquiry of your own affiliations are answered with a fearful and indignant “et tu, Brute?”

Much of this circling of the wagons mentality has been the direct manifestation of the fear (mongering) and feeling of instability that has gripped much of our country.

Just the other day I was observing an online Facebook exchange where one person was talking about a person of Muslim faith who she regularly saw and conversed with. Since the attacks in Orlando the person of Muslim faith has averted her eyes and has tried to not be in public as much. The person posting said they were sad for her and wanted to reach out to her to console her and let her know that she was loved and should not feel badly for being a Muslim.

By the way, the person posting is a conservative Christian.

Almost immediately there was an onslaught of posts ranging from derogatory remarks about how the Muslim woman should feel ashamed to even accusing the Christian who posted of being a Muslim. What was an overtly Christian action (reaching out to someone who is feeling alienated, isolated and in obvious pain) was met by other Christians with disgust, accusation, and vile ridicule.

Any step out of rank and file is met with fear and anger.

In recent months, I have hear from a number of people in my consulting work, in my church, and in my personal acquaintances who are pondering the question,

“If I do not line up in totality with the religious institution or faith leadership I am involved with do I no longer belong with said institution or leadership?”

Or more plainly,

“Can I belong in a community that has a diversity of thoughts and opinions on subjects that matter deeply to me?”

The roots of these questions are based on a series of lies that we have been cajoled into believing about what it means to have community, dialogue, and ultimately belong. I believe if we can reexamine our assumptions of belonging and broaden our definition of community we can begin to leave the questions of scarcity and exclusion and move into larger ecclesial communities of openness, diversity, and embrace.

The Lie of Homogenous Community

There is a belief that has permeated our collective psyche that tells us in order to belong to a group you must either adopt or subvert to change all of the group’s ideas, methodologies and beliefs. While there are certainly “ties that bind” all groups, the number of these ties are far less than most people believe.

The Lie of Our Difference Separate Us

We are a people who define ourselves by our differences. Not only have we defined ourselves by our difference, we have separated ourselves based on these differences and the list of “essential differences” has grown exponentially. In her study on the importance of diversity in groups, Katherine Phillips expounds on the intrinsic benefits of being in close proximity with those who differ from us on every level.

“Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups. It seems obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, non-routine problems. It is less obvious that social diversity should work in the same way—yet the science shows that it does. This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.”

The Lie of Tension is Destructive

Many people will leave a community that has a richness of thought and diverse opinion simply because of a disdain for the tension that it sometimes creates. For many, the word “tension” is a negative word whose incarnation should be avoided at all costs. In Tom Rath’s book Strengths Based Leadership, he notes that conflict or tension is a crucial component for teams to reach their full potential. Patrick Lencioni comes to much of the same conclusion in The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni goes on to take it a step further and says when an individual avoids tension at all costs, tension that arises from diversity of thought and opinion, then there is good chance that person is not really committed to the team (or community).

Tension is not destructive, it is the fertile seedbed of creativity and growth.

The Lie that Minorities are Unwelcome

I want to broaden the scope of what I mean by minority here. This can be anything from a demographic minority to a person with a minority belief or opinion. Unfortunately, this is a lie that often times the institution can knowingly or inadvertently perpetuate. If a community is functioning under the guise that tension and diversity make us whole and homogenous belonging makes us fragmented and rigid and feeble then minorities are not only welcome but are seen as a valuable and integral part of all communities and how we function as a together. The voice of the minority, whether it is demographic or minority belief or opinion, speaks balance to the majority thought (if there even is a majority thought, I believe this is assumed more than it is an actuality) and gives those not in the minority an incredibly needed and meaningful vantage point that they otherwise could not see or appreciate.

The Lie that Majorities Have Rule

Like I said earlier, I am not sure really how many times “majority opinion or thought” actually coalesces around an opinion. Most who do have varying degrees of agreement and scruples on any given subject. What is important to remember for any majority of opinion, demographic or thought is that they will be the majority only until they are not. What I mean by this is that majority thought or opinion is not eternal, it is temporal. The only guarantee is that it has not always been the majority belief and it will not remain the majority belief. A healthy community will not find themselves threatened by this but rather inspired and encouraged that they still have perspectives to hear and experiences to learn from. They can find this peace because a healthy community does not find its meaning in being a part of what the powerful majority believes but rather power in the minority voices who bring forth new perspectives and thoughts on what we thought we knew and understood.

STEPHEN INGRAM is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of “Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time.” ORGANICSTUDENTMINISTRY.COM

This post was originally published on OrganicStudentMinistry.com.


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