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Creating a sense of community during the holidays

by Rev. Jen Strickland and Rev. Jacob Buchholz, Claremont United Church of Christ

People can be quick to label. Our church supports same-sex marriage. We believe that people should be empowered to think for themselves rather than be forced to accept specific doctrines.

We believe that religious beliefs should never try to limit the discoveries of science. As a result of these positions we are often referred to as “liberal” or “on the left.” We are just as guilty in our community, though, of branding those who think differently than us as “conservative” or “on the right.”

In a country divided politically, it can be easy to thrust these labels on others because it allows us to create very clear boundaries. We want to know where people stand, who they support, and what they believe. Such divisions may push us farther and farther apart, but, we say, at least we know whose side we are on.

But do we really discover that much about another person by assigning them a label? People on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum from us might find that we have more in common than they ever thought possible, and most likely, we would find we had more in common with them.

As a church, we are sincerely trying to pursue Jesus Christ and become his disciples. The conclusions we have reached as a church have come from thoughtful, intentional readings of Scripture. We want nothing more than to love God and love our neighbors. All Christians share these sentiments, but we cannot reach this common ground when we resort first to labels. Our similarities as humans transcend even religious boundaries.

We succumb to this kind of behavior, though, in a myriad of spheres. In our places of worship, in our schools, at our workplaces and in politics. It feels as if our country is entrenched more firmly in our divisions than ever before.

We all sit in our own echo chambers and shout, only to hear our own opinions reverberating back toward us again and again. In a world dominated by the landscape of Facebook and social media we can unfriend and unfollow anyone with whom we don’t agree and surround ourselves only with people who will confirm what we already believe. We need not stretch ourselves or expand our horizons more than is comfortable.

The result, though, is that we have lost the ability to have substantive dialogue with people who disagree with us and we have lost the ability to join with those very same people to work toward a common cause. It is that second loss that is hurting us more than we could ever imagine.

There are many issues right here in our own community of Claremont that need to be addressed by a coalition of as many people as possible. How do we get resources to our homeless population? How do we reduce teen bullying and suicide? How do we help students at the colleges who are afraid of being deported?

If we separate ourselves along arbitrary ideological lines, if we label each other and refuse to work together, then we will never find solutions. The way forward is for us to lay aside labels and commit to stand united for a common cause.

We are not “left” and “right,” we are Claremont, and we must come together.