Beginning a couple of years ago, every minister in the Central Atlantic Conference of our denomination – the conference FCC belongs to – was required to take something called Boundary Awareness Training. It is intended to help us navigate the sometimes complex ethical and emotional territory that our work can lead us into at times. The point of ethical and emotional boundary training is to help protect the well-being of clergy, the individual members of a church, and the church community as a whole. In that, boundary training is necessary and good. The same can’t be said though, for all boundary training.
Over the course of this past summer, talk of unhelpful boundaries continued throughout our political and religious discourse. The need for a wall to keep out one group of people based on their ethnicity. Banning another from entering our nation based on their religion. But that is not the only unhelpful kind of boundary training we are deeply engaged in at this time in our society.
We seem to increasingly separate, label, and either approve or reject others based upon their agreement with our worldview in general, or worse, on one specific issue. This despite the fact that surveys frequently suggest that the majority of us largely agree on more things than we disagree. Yet, more leaders and more members of society make blanket assessments and statements that place other people and groups in nice, clear boundaries, never mind the scientifically well-documented case that human attitudes and behaviors are much more fluid and contextual than they are set and generic. This way of approaching issues and other people produces two greatly harmful results. It restricts our ability to see things and people in anything other than either/or terms. In addition, it restricts our willingness to interact with those who we have set those boundaries around. In the last few months, I have heard the following comment more than at any other time in my life that I can recall: “I can’t (won’t, don’t want to) even try to talk to those _____.”
Both are spiritually empty and significantly unfaithful responses to those we differ with, especially since we are the people of a God who is embodied for us in a Jesus who was committed to breaking down barriers between people – a Jesus who ate and socialized with, let alone refused to reject, those he differed with the most.
Maybe that’s beyond us just yet. But it’s not beyond us to try and be more conscious of the unhelpful boundaries we set with others. It’s not beyond us to try a little harder to understand why someone’s worldview is different from ours. It’s not beyond us to try and stop using quick and easylabels for others. And it’s not beyond us – or shouldn’t be – to try and see those we differ with as human beings who God still loves...without boundaries.