I like talking about religion — what people believe and why, how faith affects our actions, where people find meaning.
I’m sure there are fancy seminary words for those concepts. I have a minor in religion, which is to say I know just enough to have had all of my youthful assumptions upended.
But religion is one of those taboo subjects you’re supposed to avoid in regular conversation — disagreements over faith have led to quite a long tally of violent conflicts, after all.
A photo with the following words challenging that adage has circulated around the internet and recently landed in my Facebook feed: “Being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack of understanding of politics and religion. What we should have been taught is how to have a civil conversation about a difficult topic.”
Religion is a difficult topic. It’s essentially an effort to answer enormous questions about meaning and purpose. And the variations of those answers form a vast diversity of faiths — some with wide differences on foundational concepts, others with more similarities than the average faithful attendees may realize.
That meme asks us to understand those differences and similarities and points out that many of us have not been taught how to do so.
I was taught just a bit about other religions as part of an elective world geography class my freshman year of high school. My Sunday school teachers and pastors taught me a lot about one very particular corner of the religion of Christianity.
College, as it did on many topics, taught me how little I knew about any of it.
It is from that starting point of not knowing that we can start conversations about faith (or politics for that matter) — not abandoning any of your beliefs but rather coming to listen about another person’s journey.
Instead, we find ourselves painting one another into corners over issues like sexuality, salvation, identity and sin. We abandon important discussions like how to care for refugees and orphans or understand Scriptures’ direction on morality and instead retain shallow understandings of even our own faith because of our inability to have civil conversations about difficult topics.
The United Methodist Church engaged in a lot of conversation last week about one of these particularly difficult topics: sexuality, or more specifically whether to allow LGBT people to become ordained and whether clergy can perform weddings for those LGBT people.
It was a conversation and churchwide vote filled with emotion and conviction on all sides. Some of it was civil. Some of it was not.
I believe some better understand their position and the other sides of the issue after having been challenged to enter into careful conversation.
Yet the tendency of our current culture to divide people into enemy camps was also evident in discussion during and surrounding the vote with the use of words like “outmaneuvered” and “winning.”
Many on all sides of the debate are hesitant to speak openly about their thoughts for fear their position will be misconstrued as hatred of others or an abandonment of truth.
We can dig in so hard on “our side” that we ignore the existence of nuance and the worth of other people.
I’m grateful for those I’ve come across in my life who have graciously challenged my assumptions about faith and myriad other topics.
While we may not always agree on an issue, if we come to it from a place of honesty and vulnerability, we’ll likely both leave the conversation with more understanding of ourselves and one another.
If I can engage you in a civil conversation about beliefs, doubts, assumptions and perceptions, let’s grab a cup of coffee.