One of the most important life truths I learned in seminary didn’t come from a book. I unintentionally attended Baptist seminary at exactly the time the conservative Baptist faction was taking over the denomination. I was blindsided and clueless. I was aware there was some kind of battle going on in the denomination, but I had no understanding of it, nor interest in it. It had nothing to do with me or my reasons for going to seminary.
Yet, I was on the battleground, so, understand it or not, I was living it. Every student was on one side or the other, and if not, others would put a label on them anyway. The moderates called the conservatives “fundies,” and the conservatives called the moderates “liberals.” Although 30 years later people proudly wear the “fundamentalist” and “liberal” labels, in those early warring days, I don’t recall anyone referring to themselves by those terms.
It was a confusing time for me. Not only did I not know where I fit into this war, I couldn’t seem to get a grasp on what the war was even about. In retrospect, I think that was because I was hearing incompatible stories from each side. The root seemed to be about “believing the Bible,” which the conservatives said the liberals didn’t do, so I decided I must be conservative. But the hateful accusations the conservatives made about “liberals” didn’t fit anybody I knew on either side.
Since those years, I’ve done a lot of praying, reading, and processing, and I no longer wonder (though I’m still gravely concerned) about that denominational war. Likewise about the related ones that inflame our politics. What I want to share with you from those years of processing is this: When all we know about the other side is what our own side tells us, we know nothing, and we will never ever grow in understanding. Whether the battle is about the Bible, or abortion, or racism, or patriotism, or women, or LGBTQ . . ., we do not begin the lifelong process toward understanding until we begin listening openly to those on the other side.
If I want to know how Domino’s pizza tastes, should I just ask Pizza Hut, or should I go to the source? If I want to know why “liberals” fight against abortion laws, should I just ask my conservative network, or should I ask my “liberal” cousin and my “liberal” co-worker? Listening openly to both sides of an issue, from the sources themselves, can lead us to deeper understanding, wider wisdom, and genuine love and appreciation for all our family members and neighbors, no matter what labels they or someone else has attached to them.