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Jeff the Baptist, vol. 1, #5

Accepting Without Adopting

How do we embrace those with whom we disagree? Is it possible? Is it asking too much? Should we lower our sights? Despite my bitter invective last column, when my short fuse cools, I know in my heart that it is far better to lay aside our differences and seek cooperation with one another, no matter how high the walls that divide.

We all have a certain kind of person in our lives that brings out our worst. You know the kind I am talking about. They make you see red. It's almost as if you become a different person around them. Around them, you try and try to keep calm, breathe deeply, spread love around you, and then they hit the switch that makes you come unglued. The ones who hit my button seem to be fundamentalists, especially of the patriarchal, homophobic variety, so I'm going to write about them. Just insert your provocateur wherever I refer to mine. Anyway, knowing they have such an effect on me, how can I get along with them, let alone embrace them. How can I hope to?

Before I begin, I should probably mention that I believe that Fundamentalism in America has a short lease on life. You cannot hold back Biblical exegesis forever. You cannot refuse to acknowledge evolutionary theory for very long while enjoying the fruits of the new Darwinian approach to disease diagnosis and eradication. In a world of increased communication and shrinking distances, you cannot continue to wall out new understandings indefinitely.

Paradoxically, I believe that Fundamentalism, as it has been with us in these last one hundred years will grow louder, precisely as the number of its adherents shrink, year by year. Even now I believe the noise level disproportionate to the effect. As we know, network broadcasters are in the business of catching our attention. Bad news sells, good news doesn't. Thus, Dale Turner's very thoughtful column comes out every Saturday with barely a ripple, on the front page, of its rich spirituality. Yet, Jerry Falwell warns parents that one of the Tele-tubbies is sending subliminal messages designed to turn their children into gays and lesbians, and it hits the stands everywhere.

What's more, on the political scene, there is a lot of commentary that suggests that the influence one of the most visible political animals of Fundamentalism, the Religious Right, is ebbing. There is a suggestion that its effective power peaked in the '96 elections when Dole courted the Right only to alienate so many mainstream voters that he found himself handing the election to Clinton. Even the Right complained about a lack of conviction among the Republican Party during the last mid-term elections, which is one of the reasons, I expect, that Pat Robertson just announced for 2000.

I think this decline is largely due to the failure of the movement's leaders to provide for the future. At the risk of sounding glib, I think the leaders are basically a bunch of power-hungry types who want all of the glory for themselves. Thus, we see embarrassing declarations by Falwell that the Anti-Christ is currently living in the Middle East, which is a clear sign that the apocalyptic End Times are coming. The simple fact of the matter is that Pastor Falwell is getting old and like Paul, rather selfishly I think, wants the whole world to end while he's around to see it. He simply cannot accept the fact that the Divine plan may not be as centered around his efforts as he likes to think.

Be that as it may, Fundamentalism is sure to be with us for a while. So, to return to original question, how does one embrace those with whom we fundamentally disagree?

Well, first off, I don't think it pays to open the Bible when you are sitting at the table with fundamentalists. You already know that you disagree. In fact, it almost seems as if the only thing that you can agree on is that you disagree on just about everything. At first glance, that may very well seem to be the case. But, probe a bit deeper and I believe that we find something very different.

The presence of God inside me is also inside my fundamentalist counterpart. I simply have to trust in that. What's more, if I insist on the sanctity of my beliefs too much, I become blinded by my pride to the grace within her. I deprive myself of the chance to experience that presence of the Divine within him.

I count on that presence of grace within others, whether they turn to it regularly or not. (Sometimes, I swear, it is the only way that I hope I can reach someone.) No matter how zealous the group, there is always someone within with whom we can work. There is always someone who is also on the lookout for the presence of the Divine within others. I want to thank you, readers, for reminding me of that. In a phrase, I think we need to focus on accepting each other without adopting each other's beliefs.

With that hope in hand, I think the next step is to find something that we can work on together. Again, I think this part is not as difficult as it first seems. While it is true that my idea of "spreading the Word" is hardly a place to begin with (I think more in terms of getting milk and medicine to people who need them than asking them to recite a two thousand year old story), I do believe there are many other areas in which we simply have yet to try.

A partial list follows, by no means exhaustive. Any of these will require a mass effort, working to change the minds of not only ruling governments (including our own), but also of those who have an interest in keeping things the way that they are (and let us not kid ourselves, they are powerful indeed). I'm convinced that no matter how wide the divide between faith traditions, the gap could be bridged working at problems such as these:

1. Global peace.
We discard it as a pipe dream, yet we've never really tried. Included with this goal would be the end of our current curse: bioweapons development. We have figured out so many ways to kill ourselves. For a change let's figure out ways to get along peacefully. We're coming to end of this century; when it began, walking on the moon was considered a pipe dream, too. If there is one thing common to every country, it is the presence of spirituality. It's time to bring that force together and make peace a reality.

2. Harmonious relationship with our environment.
Did you ever find it odd that with all the taxes we pay in this wealthiest country of the world, we're afraid to drink water straight out of the tap? When I was a kid I used to love sticking my head under the faucet (not that my Mom liked it very much). I refuse to buy bottled water now, just for this reason. I still have problems accepting that there is pitcher with a water filter in it above the twentieth century kitchen sink. How did we ever let things slide so far? We find companies these days buying a slick "green" package from a public relations firm while sludge continues to be dumped into rivers both here and overseas. Who has the time to research which company is doing what? I say, let's get the Church (universal) involved. It's about time, and we have all the theological justification that we need.

3. Eradication of our most feared diseases.
AIDS, the variations of TB now appearing in Africa, the new outbreaks of cholera, the new hantaviruses that come out of nowhere leaving destruction, pain and suffering in their wake. We rush to honor our generals, build monuments at fields that ran with blood, and compose ballads to wholescale slaughters. How long, oh, how long before we honor our healers instead? Why not start now? The Church (again, universal) is in a unique position to begin the work to make that happen.

Perhaps after we've joined hands and actually brought one of these seemingly impossible dreams into a reality taken for granted, we'll find that our differences are not so great after all. Perhaps we'll find that, with hearts beating as one in purpose, the presence of God within each of us will overflow as a swollen river does, combining all into one vast flood of compassion, refreshing all with our love. Perhaps we'll find then that the impossible dream is not so impossible after all, it is merely a reality yet to be experienced.


- Jeff the Baptist


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