If you just landed here from Mars, it might be possible that you don’t know that we earthlings are quite tribal. We congregate based on commonality. And the more things we have in common the better the community and the less difficult the relationship.
At church, we gather together around a shared belief system. But church-goers are more selective than just the belief system. We pick one where people are similar to us on the educational and economic level. We pick a church where most of the people are the same color as us. We pick one that shares our interest in musical and preaching styles. We pick one that shares our political party preference. But try as we might to have everyone in our church be just like us, we still end up finding out that people are different from each other. So churches keep working to help more people be more like each other.
In chapter ten, Diana says that a remarkable aspect of these thriving mainline congregations she researched was that they were becoming more diverse, rather than more homogenous. These congregations were embracing the principle of ubuntu, as expressed by Desmond Tutu, that, “a person becomes a person through other persons.” They believed that people who voted Democrat became better people by honoring and learning from those who voted Republican. They did the hard work of trying to develop a Sunday-school curriculum that worked for both the biblical literalist and the not-so-biblical-literalist.
This isn’t just a tolerance-mindset. Or a don’t-ask-don’t-tell mindset. This is where people say, “We may not agree and we may come from very different ways of life. But I know that I will be a better person from knowing you, listening to you and honoring you.” It is active relationship building.
Just this week, new polling shows that only 25% of white people and 40% of black people have friends of another race.* What would the numbers be for straight people having gay friends? Christians having Atheist friends? The middle-class having friends in poverty?
Butler Bass’ churches believe that a life in God, in the way of Jesus means intentionally reconciling with those who are different without demanding that they become the same. That it is in the tension of difference where growth, vibrancy and truth emerges.