Navigating Shifting and Competing Values

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When I have done strategic planning with congregations of older members, it is common to hear their values expressed as family, community, and faith. But all these are changing. Family has changed. There are fewer nuclear families and more extended-families, blended families, single-parent families, among others. Communities are changing as well, including their expansion given the global nature of today’s world. Community is bigger and broader than anything the earlier generations ever imagined.

Faith is changing as well. For younger generations, the dominant values are often authenticity, inclusivity, and diversity. Authenticity is about being one’s true self with no pretenses. Inclusivity and diversity are about welcoming and including others even if they are different than we are. They include valuing everyone despite differences. For older generations, faith is often seen more in conformity to beliefs and rules of behavior they were taught and accepted. These conflicts are seen most dramatically today in how people of faith view same-sex marriage and how they see their proper relationship with persons from other religions. Some of the conflicts churches are experiencing come from the boundary place between these two different sets of values. For those that value authenticity and inclusivity, these debates are about allowing each person to be his or her authentic self and accepting others despite differences. For those putting more value on tradition, they are concerned when what they are encouraged to believe goes against their understanding of biblical teaching. They may feel they are being asked to cross boundaries that compromise their faithfulness.

As we face differences of opinion, we need to hear one another and listen carefully for the values the other is expressing. We need to make decisions that are respectful of the changing world in which we live.

Jesus lived at a time when the values of his day were also in flux. His work was very much boundary-crossing work. His was the movement of a faith that was exclusively Jewish to a faith that was inclusive of everyone — the Gentiles. The Apostle Paul speaks about these changes when he says in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

As our churches try to navigate these and other boundary-crossing issues, it will be easy to hurt one another because we are looking through different lenses. As we face differences of opinion, we need to hear one another and listen carefully for the values the other is expressing. We need to make decisions that are respectful of the changing world in which we live. None of us has all the answers. We are called to listen thoughtfully and respectfully as we navigate at the crossroads of our world. I pray that we will see our changing world through the lenses God intends for us, not necessarily the ones with which we are most comfortable.


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About Author

Judy Worthington is pastor of the Franktown United Methodist Church in Franktown, Virginia.


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