Thursday, May 08, 2008

Love Bombing and Heterodoxy in the Church

In an increasingly alienated society, it is not surprising that a place like church can be an appealling place for many people. At its best, the church does a wonderful job of cultivating a community that feel connected to each other. Of course, it would be naive to think that the church is merely a social club, for it is true that people congregate at church for a reason, namely worship. And indeed it is in that context, at the deepest levels of human existence we connect, making this connection all the stronger. At this point, the identity of the individual starts to merge with the congregation, and the community becomes not a group of different believers, but one body of believers together.

As appealling as being part of the group may be, group identity can have a sinister side. There becomes a point at which the identity of the individual becomes so subsumed in the identity of the group that their uniqueness begins to become redundant, either because they forget their distinctiveness, or they are subtlely pressured to fall into line. Dudley Hyde, speaking of his experiences of towing the party line, made the following observation:

In the institution we call the "church" there are lots of rewards. People will sincerely welcome you. They love outsiders who genuinely want to be insiders. They may fawn on you and do all sorts of things to welcome you. And we all like being welcomed! But beware of the price of the "free lunch". The price is conformity. Growing like the people we are with. Soon you find yourself talking their language, singing their songs, even subscribing to their beliefs, because you don't want to be "the odd one out". I never overcame my sense of guilt at my hypocrisy.

Perhaps it may be said that virulent non-conformists like myself want to have their cake and eat it too, in the sense that we want to be part of a community, but we want to retain the right to think for ourselves. But surely their is room for individuality in the body of Christ, where we can gather around in worship of Christ, notwithstanding our differences? I guess the question for me is whether the issue is one of striking an appropriate balance, or whether community is not so dependant upon common belief and practice as we wish to make out?

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