So a Homosexual Man, an Amish man, and a Presbyterian Pastor walk into a gas station… No, this is not a joke, although it certainly sounds like the start of one! This past Tuesday night I (the Presbyterian Pastor) walked into a gas station in rural Virginia to find what appeared to be an Amish man and a Homosexual man shopping for snacks for the car and paying for their gas. Of course, the fact that one man was driving a car means he was certainly not Amish, and my assumptions of the other man’s orientation were based purely upon his appearance and mannerisms. I am fully aware of the danger of stereotypes, but as I made my way to the facilities, I thought “What if they were an Amish and a Homosexual?” What if they were a separatist and a non-conformist? There are certainly wide ranging differences in our understanding of morality, as would be exemplified by the three of us in a gas station, but also great similarities and possibilities for consensus.
The three of us in my imagined story in the gas station would not be more different. The Amish are an Anabaptist group descending from the 16th century, a group my theological ancestors persecuted, often to the point of death. Praise God we have stopped attempts at consensus through bloodshed! The Amish are best known for their manner of dress, rejection of modernity, conservative morality, and extreme separatism. Conversely, Presbyterians are focused, not on separating from culture but on transforming in through the power of the Gospel. The Homosexual man bases his view of morality upon personal liberty and desires, allowing behavior in opposition to both the Amish view of morality and my own. His view of culture is that we should be free to do what we want. How does one work towards moral consensus in all of that?
Let’s assume for just a moment, ignoring the fact that he was driving a car, that the first man was indeed Amish. And, putting aside stereotypes, the second man was indeed a Homosexual. All three of us paid for our snacks. The Homosexual did not argue with the cashier that he should be allowed to take his snacks without paying because he did not feel like paying for them. The Amish man did not argue that it is wrong for the government to tax his purchases and then use those fees on non-Biblical judicial practices. And I did not argue with the cashier that he should understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and how my paying for my sales tax and my purchases was validating the cashier’s place in our society and creation as a worker. Instead, we all simply paid. We all shared consensus that we were morally obligated to pay for our purchases. We all got in our respective vehicles and drove down the road on the right side of the median. Again, consensus. How did this happen and why does it not happen on larger issues?
It would seem that the problem lies in our recognition of differences. I said three men, all Virginians, all driving in automobiles, all stopped at the same gas station in rural Virginia, all purchasing gas and snacks for the road. We were all American, and I would add, all roughly the same age. And yet, the fact that I noticed first was that one appeared to be German Anabaptist and the other a Homosexual. We as humans are naturally drawn to differences rather than similarities. And yet, when our forefathers created our constitution, they did not focus as much on differences as on similarities, on consensus. Consensus is not always found by debating our differences until we come to a solution but often in finding where we already agree and then using those agreements to discuss the differences. There is a point at which the Amish, the Homosexual, and I all agreed in that gas station: there are limits on personal freedom. We all sacrificed liberty to pay the cashier and protect his liberty as a store owner. When we focus on differences, we are focusing on division. When we focus on already shared consensus, we begin from a position of unity. There is already much consensus to build upon that would be helpful in the debates currently swirling around Washington, consensus very similar to our acts in that gas station, and a point which I will attempt to prove in the second half of this thought in my next post.