I remember as an undergrad at Duke, a friend pointing out to me an unspoken phenomenon on campus. In the quad facing the Duke chapel, a beautiful staple of my Alma mater, there were two stone benches on either side of the quad (Those benches with the ‘dedicated by a certain class’). If you were facing the chapel, the bench on the left was labeled the ‘black bench.’ The reason is self-explanatory, but just to beat a dead horse, it was the bench where most black students congregated and though not an explicit designation, it was called thus due to the implicit phenomenon. On the other side, there was the ‘white bench.’ Often not as populated as its counterpart, but still enough to be labeled as such.
I was sitting in the library of my seminary, and was reminded of this phenomenon. At what was I looking? Out of about ten four-person tables, only two were occupied. One was packed with OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) guys. For those who don’t know what OPC is, it’s a more conservative denomination of the Presbyterian Church for lack of a less stereotypical description. The other occupied table was seated with students who were more on the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) leaning. PCA is still conservative but less so that OPC. As a disclaimer, I don’t know for sure the exact denominations of the students I was observing, but was inferring from they’re theological leanings. But aside from the technical labels and caricatures, the funny thing to the division that was happening was the very fact that there was division. Though not hostile, within the school that teaches Christianity of which unity is important, it was rather interesting. So it begged the question. Why were they divided?
One possibility is that within each table, the members had something they shared or agreed with, while the two tables collectively did not share something that was greater then the thing shared within. Ironic. Because such segregation in the seminary seems to happen because groups hold onto doctrines and theologies more tightly then they do to the person of Christ. How can they not be united if the latter is that which is supremely held? (Of course, I could be totally wrong and they just never got the opportunity to spend time with one another)
This is not to say that we should ignore our differences. Blaise Pascal said, “Any unity which doesn’t have its origin in multitudes is tyranny.” But I wonder how we are to be accepting while at the same time holding onto truths we believe to be true.
Conversation. Civil, respectful conversation. Some times to have a conversation with people in disagreement is difficult, if not stressful. But as the great Mahatma Gandhi said, “Unity to be real must stand the severest strain without breaking.”
In the long run, though, to just be civil is good but not enough. That would only be an inhibitive method, for a utilitarian purpose. To have unity in diversity, it matters ‘what’ our truth is. The highest truth that we hold on to will translate into the type of unity we portray with those different to us. So then, what is our highest truth? Are they rules? Principles? Or perhaps, something more ‘human’?