Stanley Houerwas is one of those theologians known for provocative statements; I suspect he enjoys making people think. This is from his book Dispatches from the Front: Theological Engagements with the Secular – “Mentally handicapped folks are segregated, not because they cannot learn, but because they are segregated for being not like us. Furthermore, we fear those who are not like us.”
My initial response was to check out the copyright date of the book, it was published in 1994. In my mind the societal fear of differences may have been true a generation or two ago, but not in 2012.
Have we made progress? Do we still separate from one another based on how we are different? During the last election cycle President Obama regularly said, we are not a collection of red states or blue states we are the United States. I like the idea that our unity trumps all the things that divide us. I cannot help but wonder if disunity and differences are what we cling to.
Just listening to politicians talk about each seems to confirm how divided we are. Politics is not the only place of division. Sunday morning worship is still one of the most divided hours in the week. There is Conservative and Liberal options, multi-racial churches are still the exception, family values divide gay from straight, we have hymn churches and contemporary music churches.
This trend extends well beyond church and politics. Communities divide over school districts, crime rates and ethnicity. What will it take to get beyond our fear of different? When I speak to DOOR participants I spend a great deal of time explaining the different is only different. When we fear different the possibility is created to define different as bad, evil or sinful.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage to tame our fear of different. When we do this a whole new and exciting world of possibilities open up.