Living a Theology of Contrast Instead of Opposition
By Bridget Eileen Rivera
I've been thinking a lot about "positions" lately and what it even means to hold a position.
When people ask about my "position" on "homosexuality," it's rarely in the interest of broadening their own perspective, understanding my own, or (God forbid) adjusting their beliefs. Instead, it's usually because they're looking for a category ("I'm side a" or "side b" or "affirming" or "celibate") that allows them to quickly box me away into one of two teams: the good guys or the bad guys. But what if I don't want to play for a team? What if I'm tired of the good guys and the bad guys?
What if I don't want to play for a team? What if I'm tired of the good guys and the bad guys?
I think part of the problem is that we've allowed ourselves to become unable to conceptualize a belief system different from our own that isn't also antagonistic to our own. If it's different, it must be a threat.
As a result, "positions" become increasingly defined not by the personal convictions that permeate how we live and think and hope but by the battle stance we take in a never-ending war to protect ourselves from "them." The discourse is not so much about growth and understanding as it is about winning and losing. And if that's the case, then it makes perfect sense to sort people into the good guys and the bad guys.
Now granted, good guys and bad guys really do exist. But a lot of times "good guys and bad guys" are just people who happen to see the world differently. And should difference of perspective really be the deciding factor in who becomes the enemy?
Working Towards a Humble Theology
It seems to me that we've lost the ability to believe what we believe with humility. Too often, we treat our own viewpoint as though we see through the eyes of Jesus Christ himself. So when people disagree, we act as if they differ not with us but with God. We might as well make ourselves out to be God.
But the only person who knows how God views the world is God himself. There's a reason we call our beliefs "beliefs" instead of "knowledge." We don't know. We engage the mysteries of life in faith, not certainty, and we trust that God's grace will redeem our plentiful blindspots, because if it doesn't, then all of us are doomed.
Embracing a Theology of Contrast
So I guess I'm tired of living in a world where, "I'm right; you're wrong," determines the nature of discourse. What if I'm wrong, and you're right? Or what if we're both wrong? Or even more radical, what if we both have a piece of what's right?
There's a time and place for telling people they're wrong, don't mistake me. But there's also a time and place for admitting that we could be wrong too. And quite frankly, I see far more of the former than I do of the latter in theological discussion.
My good friend Mary Sue Dauod put it to me this way: at some point we've gotta learn how to live in "contrast but not in opposition," to borrow her language. We don't always need to oppose perspectives that don't fall in line with our own. Living at peace with our faith doesn't require combat. We can choose to live in contrast instead of conflict.
We can choose to live in contrast instead of conflict.
Don't get me wrong. There's a time and place for opposition. But there's also a time and place for cooperation. And when it comes to gender and sexuality, I think it's time we learned how to cooperate. We can live in diversity without living in animosity. We can do our best to be faithful to the witness of Scripture while, dare I say, affirming the best efforts of our siblings in Christ to also be faithful to the witness of Scripture. Their best is no better than ours. All of our works are like filthy rags.
Letting Go of Battle Positions When it Comes to Gender and Sexuality
So I guess I'm saying, at least when it comes to gender and sexuality if not for a great many other things too, that it's time to put aside the "I'm right; you're wrong" nature of discourse and pick up humility instead. Certain things are definitely worth fighting for, such as the ancient creeds of the Christian faith, but other things are worth adopting a posture of humility for. And I've become more and more convinced that gender and sexuality are among those things that require grace, not warfare.
So here's to living in contrast instead of conflict. Here's to living at peace with our faith and not casting suspicion upon those who live differently. Here's to becoming a conscientious objector to the battles we've been told to fight and honoring God's grace as it falls upon all of us. I'm tired of insisting that I'm right. I'm ready to acknowledge that my best is no better than yours.
Bridget Eileen Rivera is a writer, speaker, and educator completing her doctoral studies in sociology. She runs a popular blog called Meditations of a Traveling Nun, where she engages issues touching faith, gender, and sexuality. You can learn more about Bridget's personal journey on her blog or follow her on Twitter @TravelingNun. This article first appeared on her blog, and is reprinted here with permission.