I suggested last week that I have a few ideas as to how we can develop community with those people around us who we might disagree with on fairly substantial and important issues. This is different than a religious community or even any type of interest-based community where we might have something in common that brings us together. I am talking about the socialist sitting down with the capitalist or the Christian sitting down with the Muslim. These are people who have some pretty substantial differences in worldview about central tenets of their respective belief systems.
As Christians, I think that we are in a very unique position to build community even among people who are much different than us. I think that our position is unique because we believe that all people are created in the image of God. Certainly, we are all sinful human beings, but we also have inherent value because of this position. Not every worldview holds this affirmation of the dignity of every individual person.
If all people are of equal value and created in the image of God, then we have a reason to begin loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. It is not possible to hold this belief while simultaneously believing that some people are less valuable than we are.
As a point of clarification here, it is important to realize that Christians do not need to affirm everything that everybody does. For perhaps an overly obvious example, I do believe that our bodies are temples (1 Corinthians 6:19), and we consequently need to take care of them. I do not believe that taking heroin is consistent with that teaching of Christianity because it destroys our bodies and would therefore say that taking heroin is wrong and inconsistent with a Christian worldview.
I can simultaneously believe that my friend who is taking heroin is created in the image of God and inherently valuable as a human being while similarly saying that he or she should not continue engaging in this destructive activity. Making a particular choice does not diminish the inherent value that comes with being human, but that does not mean that I have to affirm that choice or encourage it in any way. In fact, I can even oppose my friend’s behavior and tell him or her that this type of destructive behavior is wrong and ought to stop.
However, no matter how I feel about the choices other people make, I still run into this inconvenient truth that I need to love my neighbor as I love myself. Therefore, if we’re going to actually try to build community, we need to agree that each individual has inherent value. For Christians, we ought to be able to do this rather well if we are actually living consistently with our faith. For people of other belief systems, you might not believe that God endowed each individual with this value, but in order to get over the barriers to building community, I think we have to come to this common ground. We have to recognize a baseline that no matter how much we agree or disagree with other people, there is a sense of inherent dignity for all people that needs to be respected.
I don’t think we see a lot of this one in our current political climate where it is easy to demonize the other side as almost subhuman. No wonder we have a hard time with community. We can’t even start from this first baseline step.