As we talk about unity, one of the ideas that keeps resurfacing is that "unity does not mean uniformity," but I realize that this is something that probably deserves its own discussion, rather than simply being a footnote or something asserted quickly as fact and moved on from.
One of the greatest challenges to unity is the idea of uniformity - the notion that our coming together means that we agree with or approve of what the other party is going. If we choose to be part of something with someone we think is wrong, doesn't that mean that we actually think they are right? Doesn't that mean that we are, by our very participation, affirming their point of view? And certainly, there are some who, when we choose unity, will choose approval and will take that as a commendation of their own views and as permission to move ruthlessly forward on their own account.
But that's not what unity is, and even if some take it that way, it should not stop us from choosing unity.
Unity agrees more on the goal than on the path. It affirms that we all have the same thing in our sights, even if we see it differently. It says that we want to move in the same direction, even if we don't see the same paths lying in front of us.
And the truth is that we do this all the time in small ways. We often get in silly little fights over this stuff all the time with those we love. But it doesn't stop us from choosing it all over again.
Just think about the last time, maybe, you decorated the house for Christmas. (It's a little early, I know. We haven't even had Thanksgiving yet.) Everyone wants the tree decorated, but there may be disagreements on what it should look like when it's done. Some want the tinsel to go on first; others, the lights. Some have a method for untangling the lights, while others just jump right in. Any time there is more than one person working on the same project, we see clearly what it means to have unity even in disagreement - because we see that there is more than one way of approaching and accomplishing the task. But none of us is serious when we say, "You know what? Forget it. We're not having a Christmas tree this year." We may throw the decorations on the floor in a huff and walk away, but we all know that someone is going to come back and finish it...and we will all enjoy it.
The dirty little truth about this world, what it seems that they don't want us to figure out, is that we're not as different as we seem. We don't have such drastically different goals from one another. Not in politics, not in the church, not in our communities. What we have are different approaches.
In politics, we can look at the idea of "healthcare for all," which has been a major talking point for a number of years. Now, there's no one out there saying, "No. You know what? I don't think everyone deserves healthcare. I don't think [certain demographics] are worthy of doctors and hospitals." No one thinks that. It's just that some think the open market is the best approach to providing quality care, while others believe that more centralized control and oversight is the best way to go. Our goal is the same, but our approaches are different. And all the media hype makes us seem further apart than we are.
The same is true in the church (although we have our own sort of media hype - we call it 'gossip'). We have all of our little pet ideas about what is good and what is not, and we're quick to dis-fellowship with those who don't agree with us from beginning to end. With those who maybe have a different emphasis within even our same bubble.
Here, the Gospels give us the perfect example of what we're talking about. Here, we have four stories about Jesus told by four men who traveled with Him (some, told to other authors, of course). Each of the Gospels has its own perspective and its own emphasis, but they all have the same goal in mind - to tell the story of Jesus to those who need to hear it, to bear witness to the events that they had seen with their own eyes. No two of these Gospels is told in the same way. And yet, we don't sit around reading them, saying, you know what? Matthew got this so wrong. Or John messed up on this part of it.
No, we take the truth that each gives us and we are able to put it together in a way that is meaningful for us to accomplish the goal that they all set out to meet - to develop an understanding of Jesus. In fact, our faith is richer for having four different accounts to harmonize. Our faith is deeper for seeing Jesus through four sets of eyes. Our faith is better off when those we choose unity with have a different emphasis than we do. It may bother us sometimes that the details are slightly different, but none of them change who Jesus is.
The same is true on just about everything we come up against in our world - our understanding and our response are richer when we have more sets of eyes on it and seldom is the main point changed by its details. And we're not as far apart as we seem on things. All we have to do is remember that we're working toward the same goals, even when our paths differ, and choose to keep pressing on in that direction...together.
Unity. Not uniformity.