The June MSA Seed Sampler is entitled Encountering the Other. In it we have sort to present the viewpoints of those who are different from us and who view faith in ways that may seem foreign and even offensive to us. In her introduction our editor judy Naegeli states
The great challenge of the Christian faith is learning to love—God, neighbors, and enemies. Part of that task is remembering that everyone is created in God’s image. We would do well to try to see that image in every person, and especially in our Others. And if we are looking for it, we may actually see God reveal himself to us in new ways.
Since this was published last week there have been quite a few comments both agreeing and disagreeing with the viewpoints expressed. The question that continues to revolve in my mind is: Who is my other? Who are the people that I refuse to listen to because their viewpoints are outside what I consider to be orthodox theology?
It is not only the recent Seed Sampler that has made me think about this. Attending the NAIITS symposium this last weekend also made me realize how easy it is to disregard and even abuse those who think differently from us. Native American theology sees God differently than my white Eurocentric theology does. African theology and Latin American theology are also different based.
Part of the reason for this is that we all ask different questions as we read the Bible, questions that are based on what we struggle with both as individuals and as a society. For most white evangelical Christians the questions we ask are confined to ones about issues of sexuality and the right to life. The recent killing of Dr George Tiller who performed late term abortions is another example of how easily we can demonize and even be willing to kill those who don’t share our viewpoints on these issues. Like you and I, this man was a person made in the image of God whether we agree with his viewpoint or not. He was also a person of faith, gunned down in a church.
Liberation theology has arisen in Latin America because Christians there are more likely to ask questions about what the Bible has to say to people who are oppressed. And in Africa Christians are asking questions about how the Bible addresses issues of poverty and racism. Indigenous peoples are asking questions about land ownership and the exclusivity of Israel as the chosen people of God.
The most challenging question of all for me is: What can I learn about God and God’s purposes by listening to these people? Each time I encounter someone who thinks differently about God and Christian faith than I do, I have something to learn. The image of God is present in everyone I encounter and the challenge for me is to recognize and affirm that image. God is far bigger than I or my limited understanding of God portrays. This doesn’t mean that I always agree with those who are different but I do need to be willing to listen and to accept the fact that God might be working in their lives in very different ways than God is working in mine.
I need to listen to others who think differently or my faith becomes stagnant and dry and spiritual life becomes stunted.
Who is your other? Who are you unwilling to listen to and accept as a person made in the image of God? How could our lives and our faith be transformed if we became more open to encountering and listening to the other?