How can we not agree on what’s important?
Robert Ashton is urging us to pursue a new spirit of co-operation and understanding as we enter the new decade.
A recent email exchange illustrated to me why it can be so difficult to recruit new members to any congregation. It started with an email from a man I’ve known and respected for more than 30 years praising me for writing a book about homelessness. He’s an ordained Minister and it had been several years since we’d been in touch.
But when I mentioned how becoming a Quaker a few years ago had transformed my life, his response was to say that he believes that the foundations of Quakerism to be flawed. He went on to say; ‘Yes, so many of the main denominations, Church of England et al, have deserted and betrayed the true message of Jesus.’ He then quoted 17th century puritan Richard Baxter who clearly was not impressed with our Quaker willingness to focus on ‘the light within’ rather than the scriptures.
This exchange strengthened rather than weakened my faith, but others could have been rattled and questioned their beliefs. Few I suspect would choose to leave an inclusive, tolerant worshipping community for one that has strong anti-gay and anti-Muslim views. But I may be mistaken, because I see extremism gaining ground in many aspects of our society. We all need to be wary of that.
But debating points of theology rather detracts from the common challenge. Those of us who belong to a worshipping community, of any denomination, have found God in a way that we personally find comfortable. I am sure there many faiths because God knows that we are all different and that one size will never fit all.
American psychologist Barry Schwartz made the point that when presented with too much choice, or no choice at all, we all tend to do nothing. To be successful therefore, Christian outreach needs to offer people a small number of options, in an unbiased way, so that they can make an informed, yet intuitive choice.
Let’s make 2020 a year when we collaborate constructively and creatively to grow our congregations.
The photo above is courtesy of Israel Peni on Unsplash.com
Robert Ashton is an author, publisher, social entrepreneur and Quaker. He has recently published a book exploring the subject of homelessness, called Any Spare Change?: One man's quest to understand rough sleeping.
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