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This year has been an interesting one for me. Due to diverse speaking engagements or personal encounters with friends, I have learned about people’s passions and commitments to particular social issues. These interactions enriched me in different ways as well as challenged me. I felt inspired by people’s passions, humbled by my lack of knowledge on some issues and eager to learn more. Overall, I was grateful for the opportunity to attempt to walk in their shoes.
During the same period, I was working on a series of lectures on Christian unity that I had to deliver at one of the local seminaries here in San Antonio, Texas. In preparation for these lectures, I reviewed again the book Ecumenism Means You, Too, written by my good friend and colleague Steve Harmon. In this book, Harmon provides 10 practical suggestions that common Christians may use to promote the visible unity of the church.
One suggestion states that after deeply establishing your roots in your own denominational tradition, it is beneficial to adopt another denominational tradition. Harmon, a Baptist theologian, describes how he has embraced the Anglican tradition as his second tradition.
By observing and comparing their own tradition to a second tradition, the goals are for Christians to be more appreciative of the distinctiveness of their own tradition, enrich their spirituality and ecclesiology, and be more equipped to serve the local and universal church. In summary, by adopting a second denominational tradition, they will become better Christians.
As I considered this, I thought, what about embracing a different social issue that for whatever reason has not been one’s priority?
Our social concerns are a deep part of us. Our commitment to these issues may come due to our own or a loved one’s painful experiences with these issues. Regardless of the way that we discovered or embraced those social concerns, I consider them a sacred calling that God has instilled in a person’s heart and mind.
These concerns are a gift to the church and to the world. Often a ministry starts in our churches due to the concern and passion of a particular member who is able to encourage his/her church to confront this particular issue. Perhaps many of us have read about or witnessed how a personal concern became a communal, ecclesial one that in time brought a positive transformation to our broken and hurting world.
However, these personal social concerns can become, at times, so focused and intense that it is hard for a person to see beyond them. This is common due to our limited vision, perspective and resources. During these times we need to remember that we are called to exist in community, and that we are better Christians and church members when we live and serve within the church.
The apostle Paul used a meaningful image to describe the church: the body of Christ. As such, the church is formed by many members who have different functions. These members are necessary parts of the body, and must work in harmony so that the body is healthy enough to perform its functions and accomplish its goals of being light and salt in this world to the glory of God (I Corinthians 12).
If we are called to live in community, as the body of Christ, and if it is true that all social concerns and passions are sacred and a gift to the church and to the world, how do we become good stewards of all of these gifts?
Regarding our own social concerns, we need to embrace them by learning about them, and finding productive ways to work with them. All this should be done with the hope of transforming our broken world and making God’s reign more visible here on earth.
Regarding others’ social concerns, I need to recognize that in the same way that my social issues are extremely important to me, others’ issues are equally important to them.
Thus, if we are to live in community, we need to find ways to support all church members on their particular journey to fulfill their sacred calling regarding specific social issues. How do we do that? By intentionally listening to each other (stories and concerns), by learning about the other’s issue, and by supporting each other in such a way that we become true allies. This alliance includes sustaining each other in prayer as well as helping to increase networks, connections and resources in this area of ministry.
Now, I recognize that we are limited human beings, and that as such we have limited time, energy and resources. So, while it is not feasible for one person to be truly involved with all social issues, at least, following Steve Harmon’s lead, we should consider embracing an additional issue that for whatever reason has not been a priority for us.
Since there are so many social issues and concerns, I have made it my goal to adopt a new, different issue every year. This means that I will be intentional about reading on this issue, listening to people who are affected by this issue, and connecting with persons and organizations that have this issue as their main focus of service. In other words, I will attempt as much as possible to walk in their shoes.
I invite you to also consider ways in which you can attempt to walk in someone else’s shoes. By doing this, we will enrich ourselves, and consequently become better church members, companions and allies in the journey, citizens of the world, and witnesses of God’s love.