During every school year, I ask my high school students if they give in to peer pressure.
Inevitably, all of my kids claim to be individuals who “don’t care what anyone thinks” and don’t give in to pressure to conform. However, I look at a room where most of them are wearing the same clothes, listening to the same music, watching the same television shows, and texting the same things on the same cell phones.
I always ask, if you are such individuals, then why are half of you wearing the same Hollister t-shirt and jeans?
Their outraged responses calm when we start discussing how conformity creeps into all of our lives whether we think so or not. We want to belong. We want affirmation. We want to be a part of a community that accepts us. These things are basic emotional needs that are part of the human experience. It is foolish to think that all of us of all ages don’t crave these things on some level.
The Church is no different.
Pastor Nate’s sermon on “Penguin Christians” was the first time I have ever heard this topic addressed.
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve heard hundreds of sermons on Christian non-conformity throughout my life. The difference is that those sermons were all about Christians not conforming to the world. I had never heard about Christians not conforming to each other.
The more I think about the amount of conformity expected in the Church, the more I see it everywhere.
One of my favorite examples is politics. It’s one of my favorites because I have very different political views than most of my Christian friends. I have solid Scriptural reasons for why I believe what I believe politically, and my friends have excellent Scriptural reasons for why they believe as they do politically. However, I’ve spent most of my life not openly sharing my views. Why? Because it was expected that ALL OF US thought the same as MANY OF US. There was an assumption that “all” real Christians would vote for a certain candidate or think a certain way.
This is patently false. Just look at the people Jesus chose to surround himself with: people of all different economic backgrounds, occupations, personality traits, opinions, and flaws. The disciples were hardly a group of individuals who all looked alike and thought alike.
Another place we can look is the early church and the problems it experienced. Paul spends a lot of time in his epistles discussing the Church as a place where everyone has unique gifts to contribute to the healthy, thriving body of believers. He also spends a lot of time discussing conflicts within the Body of Christ and how they need to be handled and resolved for the sake of the Gospel.
Working together is a BIG DEAL to God. Being a unique individual is a BIG DEAL to God. Neither one is optional for The Church and its members. It’s a big enough deal that we need to focus on it and stop making assumptions and drawing conclusions about fellow Christians based on what we think they “should” think or “should” be.
And I think just talking about this issue is an excellent way to start. The first step of any process is identifying the issue at stake. Now we have. Take a bold step and start looking at your own heart. How do you expect believers to be just like you? What differences make you uncomfortable?
If we were all honest with ourselves, I think we would find a lot of expectations for conformity lurking within. Start looking!