Let me tell you about an incident at a training day recently. We were in little groups for workshops and this one topic was about “diversity”. We were asked, as often women group leaders often ask, “How do you feel when you encounter different people, that is, cultural or religious diversity?” One of the chaplains told of an incident where he responded with a gay client he knew well. As soon as he reported what he had said (Though I suspect it wasn’t offensive in the context because he knew this person very well) I thought, “O good grief the PC brigade will jump on that!” (I need to say that I disagreed with his response… but thankfully his heart is bigger than his theology) Sure enough the group leader came down on him very sternly. He, with a twinkle in his eye said, “I didn’t think it was too bad, I could have said … (and shared a couple of humorous lines often heard in male circles)” I chuckled and the “accepting diversity” group leader glared at me. “It isn’t funny!” she scolded, “No - it’s not funny at all!” I was asked by another group member for a reaction and tried to put my thoughts on how a non-judgemental response could have been thought through, but I think the leader had put me in a box by then. Now I happen to agree with her stance, but I thought her reaction was too serious and counter productive.
In reflecting on the whole group interaction later I got to thinking that she was not modelling the behaviour she was trying to encourage. She was trying to encourage an “accepting of diversity” stance by chaplains, but she was being very judgemental herself when diversity was encountered in the group. How do we avoid being “judgemental liberals”? How do we avoid “being fundamentalist about not being fundamentalist”? I recall watching a church conference debate panning out and there were the “evangelical fundamentalists” on one side and the “ecumenical liberals” responding. Even then my youthful mind got to thinking that psychologically these people are the same! They have different words and theology, but attitudinally they are all “rigid-fundamentalist-dogmatics” in their reactions.
I have sometimes encountered truly spiritually mature people who are very often the quieter ones in a group. They will listen and reflect for a long while before they respond. Then, and only then, they will respond gently with warmth and a tentative but incisive question. They go through a much deeper process before they respond. They have heard carefully the apposing argument or the point of view they disagree with. They have then reflected on why that person has said what they have said. They have thought empathetically about where that person is coming from. Then in their mind they have asked the question, “How best can I constructively open up this person to another point of view?” Then, in a loving fashion they have moulded the appropriate question that shows respect, and yet might in a constructive way help the other to see different perspectives. That is why they are often the quiet ones. They spend time moulding and shaping a constructive, caring approach. It is not about themselves and their opinions; it is about showing love to the other, understanding the other and gently guiding toward mutual growth.
I often have to pull myself up. I can get very judgemental about other peoples judgemental attitudes, without seeing that I am doing exactly the same thing.