Sing with me!
….Red and Yellow, Black and Normal,
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world!
In 1954, psychologist Muzafer Sherif conducted what is now known as the Robber’s Cave experiment. The participants in the study were 24 boys, all roughly 12-years old, who were from basically identical backgrounds. Essentially, the experiment demonstrated the speed with which people form cliques and engage in hostile behavior towards those who are not a part of us. Apparently, everyone assumes, “I’m basically good and normal, and everyone who is not me is not basically good or normal.”
It’s a fascinating concept, this tendency to view with suspicion anyone who isn’t like us, doesn’t behave like us, doesn’t talk or think the way we do. Perhaps what the Robber’s Cave experiment can’t be used to rationalize the drive for conformity, but stay awake long enough and I think I can show you how this is problematic for us.
An unspecified number of years ago, I attended the Baptist convention in the country of Phlegmstonia with my buddy. Ed, who spends most of his time standing at the back of any given room leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, stuck with me and introduced me to all the usual national leaders whose names I never managed to hear. Ed understood.
Some songs came along, and everyone made rhythmic happy noises and agreed that yes, it was truly great to be worshipping together. After a rousing version of something or other, Ed got up to introduce a group of singing Christian brothers and sisters who had come from some unpronounceable place off in the mountainous jungles somewhere.
(If I seem vague about some of this, please remember that I hear poorly under the best of circumstances. Add in the fact that we were using a language that I’ve not formally studied and you’ll see why comprehension of aural matters escaped me.)
The singing troupe took the platform and really wowed everyone, even me. They were from an indigenous tribal group that had recently been seized by a divine drive to evangelize their people. The clothing was indigenous and the musical instruments leaned heavily on bamboo-based materials. The songs were done both in the dominant language of the country as well as in the heart language of the singers. It was great. At the end of their allotted time, the convention moderator took the platform and remarked that “…the music was quite uplifting, though that sort of style is not exactly suited to proper worship times.”
Apparently, only guitars and pianos are acceptable for worship. Bunch of deviants…
Want another example? When Deaf Christians set up chairs, they usually opt for a large semi-circle. Many Deaf social situations are discussion-oriented, and sitting in a half-moon allows everyone to see everyone else in the room. When the hearing folks arrive, know what they do? Re-arrange the chairs in rows, thus apparently, wantonly, and rudely cutting off anyone on the second row and beyond from participation.
Chairs in rows? Heretics!
At Baptist churches across Venezuela, ladies typically serve the Lord’s Supper, not a group of male deacons. They collect the offering as well.
And so the song goes…
“…Deviant 1, Deviant 2, Deviant 3, and Us
We are precious in His sight…”
From musical style (hymn books vs. power point) to preacher’s attire (ties or tie-dyes?), meeting sites and language fights, there’s always them…and there’s us. And trust me: He loves us all, even you bad Christians.
Calvinist? Traditionalist? Reformed?
Piano? Drum? Reed pipe?
White? Latin? African-American?
We carry within us the seeds of dissension simply by the outrageous act of being unique. We develop our priorities and wants and felt needs. We sit in our enclaves of homogeneity and assume that we are developing inspired ideas because we are reading inspired words. Whether in innocence, ignorance, or arrogance, we isolate ourselves from others not by our mutual differences but by mutually insisting that we’re the norm and you’re the perverse.
Forgetting all the while that we are part of a single body of Christ, and that our differences are often a reflection of divine acts.
Male vs Female? See Eden, Garden of.
Race? Impossible to spread out and fill the earth without heterogeneity; see also Babel, Tower of.
Musical instruments/style? Filling the earth equals different materials for creating instruments.
TraCalFormed? Don’t we consistently argue for hermeneutical freedoms and theological tensions? And from whence does that flexibility arise – His word and Spirit?
This is not a plea for ecumenicalism, joining in unity to dilute our theology to the degree we’ll no longer be united with Christ. I’m just puzzled by the degree to which we consistently view the Different as the Deviant. I struggle to grasp why we so often reject partnerships and friendships based on differences that are not as great as they seem.
I guess in part I’m being driven to wonder about this line of questioning due to some partnerships that I’m trying to bring to life. Other pastors and leaders insist on standards for cooperation that are unreasonable or unbiblical. We can only do workshops if we meet at their church. We can only teach (without public arguing) the pet doctrinal themes they adore. We can only gather for card games and laughter if we first lay out all the rules for the fellowship and a list of acceptable people in attendance. We can only work together, it seems, if I become Them. Anything else is a threat to them personally and to the strength of their church.
We all balk and stammer while the world burns.
It is beginning to break my heart, because I just want them to be normal…like me.