We live in times of social upheaval (how’s that for an opening line ;-)—haven’t we always? As I’ve grown over the years, I’ve found students like me tend to wrestle with some fundamental questions, and sometimes shifts in our thinking have significant social implications. As we learn, we become more self-consciously aware of our own identity within our social networks and institutions. I thought I’d throw out a few of the questions I have discussed with friends, particularly related to church denominations or theological perspectives we’ve grown up with and either left or stayed in as our own thinking has evolved.
- What are the similarities and differences between my changing values and those of my communities?
- Which values are core and which are more peripheral?
- How much do I value the similarities over the differences? (or visa-versa)
- How likely are the areas of difference to change in the direction I would like them to?
- Is there anything I can do to help reform or change my social group in a more positive (acceptable to me) direction? How?
- Are there others within my social group that think the same way I do?
If so how many? Who? (Are any of these leaders or power brokers?)
- What are the major barriers to change within my social group?
- Are there other factors that might lead to change?
- If changes are not likely (at least not any time soon):
- Is there room within my community for people that think in significantly different ways?
- If not, will I be able to “put up and shut up”—toe the party line?
- Do other social institutions more in line with my views exist?
- What is the likelihood of starting a new movement (however small)?
- What are the relational (or economic) implications of leaving my current social circles?
- Are there other (social) factors that are more important than sharing certain worldview ideals?
“Should I stay or should I go?” If I start shifting away, what kind of ties do I want to maintain with my old community? Are these not the types of questions new believers and converts have had to ask throughout the ages?
These are still raw reflections in light of some of the social identity reading I’ve been doing (related to developments in the early church)—thinking of past trajectories in terms of identity questions. I’m curious how much this line of questioning resonates with some of your experiences. What other big questions have I forgotten? Does the transition between different religious communities (or the development of new groups, sects, denominations) tend to happen in a slow drift or result from a more cataclysmic events? What are other key factors?