Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another,
a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8
by Mara Joy Norden
I really want to delete a recent thread on my Facebook page. In the original post I declared my commitment to stay in relationships with people in my denomination who disagree with me on same-sex marriage.
The post struck a nerve: to date there have been 100 comments on the thread following the post. Some comments expressed solidarity and affirmation, and many comments challenged me deeply (and not always gently). In my responses I have done my absolute best to seek understanding and acknowledge the new blind spots these exchanges are helping me see. Also, with every new comment, I fought the temptation to delete the thread, make the vulnerability stop, and go back into my safe little world where I am quiet and no one can hurt me.
Hiding my tenderness is a lifelong habit I’m trying to break. I’m trying to make a new habit: showing up. It’s hardest with issues that are close to my heart, like full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church, and when I’ve been hurt. It’s hard to show up because it’s risky. I’m convinced that I’m right about same-sex marriage, and I’m convinced that Christians who oppose same-sex marriage are wrong. But what if I can’t prove them wrong? What if I feel stupid? What if they reject me? What if someone brings ecclesiastical charges against me? What if it turns out that I’m wrong?
But keeping my mouth shut is also risky: I’ve often felt ashamed of myself when I don’t speak up. I’m learning that LGBTQ people suffer in very real ways because of my silence.
Showing up with my tenderness and my convictions is uncomfortable, messy, and risky. Listening to other people as they show up with their tenderness can be uncomfortable, messy, risky. And showing up is essential for pursuing unity, purity, and peace.
Remember, unity doesn’t come from uniformity but from celebrating diversity brought together in Christ. Purity can only be achieved through deep connection with each other Christ, not through moral correctness. Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of shalom for all. All of these pursuits require struggle. Showing up. Risk. When I don’t show up, when you don’t show up, unity, purity, and peace are all diminished.
Showing up in a way that builds unity, purity, and peace requires a capacity that not many people have: paradoxical curiosity. Peacebuilding scholar John Paul Lederach says that the gift of paradox allows us to hold together things that contradict, conflict, or differ so that we can “locate a greater truth.” When combined with the holy discipline of curiosity, the gift of paradox suspends judgment and complexifies issues beyond the polarization of “for” and “against” so that people can find not merely common ground but something higher and deeper that can transform even violently opposed forces into a unified community where justice is done and shalom reigns.
Did you hear me say “suspend judgment?” This is risky. Will other people think I agree with them when I suspend judgment? Maybe. Do I let harm continue as I suspend judgment? No, with God’s help. But I refuse to demonize people whose viewpoints I oppose, even when they are doing harm; I commit to seeing them as people whom God loves. I refuse to let others demonize me or see anyone as anything other than a full human being loved by God.
I will keep working on my new habit of showing up. The Facebook post will stay up: God might use it to help us pursue unity, purity, and peace.
Mara Joy Norden pastors The Community in Ada, Michigan.