By Keifer Dooley
There has been a lot of talk about unity going around. Unfortunately, there also seems to be a big mix-up. Across the board, unity is being confused with uniformity.
A common misconception is that to be united everyone has to do everything exactly the same way and believe exactly the same details on every issue from A to Z. At least, that’s how unity seems to be interpreted by a majority of people. This misconception seems to be occurring in the church, in politics, in general.
As an easy example of why this is a misconception, take the United States of America. Today, 50 vastly different territories, or states, are “united” behind a common idea—“freedom.” Now, imagine if we called ourselves the “Uniform States of America.” That would change things significantly.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., brought together a deeply divided country, not by highlighting northern or southern differences in opinion, but by putting an emphasis on “American values.” Widespread disagreement over many very important issues abounded, but MLK was able to unite the country for racial equality in the name of love. A diverse population united for a common cause.
He would later say, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
MLK’s words echoed those of the greatest teacher of all time, Jesus of Nazareth.
In John 17:23, Jesus was in the midst of prayer to His father, imploring on humanity’s behalf. Despite all of our differences in race, in culture and opinion, in talents, in upbringing, in wealth, power, prestige or status, we can be united because of Jesus. “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Bill Johnsson writes, “Unity is not possible without diversity, otherwise, it’s just uniformity.” Both in the church and in the world, recognizing that all of our differences will shape individual worldview in dramatically different ways gives us the opportunity to meet each other in a place of respect, whether it be wildly differing viewpoints on topics like worship style, immigration, the ordination of women, or legislation for business for the well being of our environment. We must recognize that striving for uniformity, whether religious or secular, will lead to the ultimate demise of an institution. Unity within a diverse group of people promotes prosperity and growth.
Of course, it’s not an easy call. It sounds good in theory, but in practice, it’s very difficult to meet others with differing opinions in a place of respect. A good starting place is to identify the following:
A common identity
Surprisingly, “identical opinions” is not on the list of important items to identify before achieving unity. It’s a difficult concept to recognize because it seems counterintuitive, but consistent consensus will degrade unity over time. In fact, most organizations, businesses, nations, etc., will actually find that they struggle with stagnation when the entire group is always in agreement. Recognizing that conflict can lay the foundation for improvement, Solomon penned the following, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
As you navigate your world, seeking to be a faithful follower of Jesus while confronting challenging differences in opinion every day, consider practicing the following admonitions:
Be willing to listen.
Get to know someone different than you.
Show kindness, compassion, and respect at all times.
Work to keep communication and support open.
See beyond words, recognizing that fear often motivates actions.
This call is especially important in today’s climate of polarization. You’ll find that this issue of Mountain Views addresses a range of sensitive topics, including mental health and the future of the church. Many of the authors are young people, choosing to share because they love and value the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Rocky Mountain Conference. And, while the expressions will not be uniform, it’s imperative that as we fulfill our calling to share the name of Jesus and the good news of the Gospel, we continue to call each other to a greater standard. While a uniform consensus may never be reached on every issue, we can still be united behind our common identity as Seventh- day Adventists and our shared values of love, relevance, collaboration, integrity, and diversity. Furthermore, we can be united behind our goal to know Jesus and to make Him fully known. Or, even more simply, as Paul stated in Colossians 3, “put on the virtue of love, which binds all others together in perfect unity.” The words of King Solomon are also relevant here: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”