potential social fallout of changing your thinking

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.

  1. 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)
  2. 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?
  3. 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?

3 thoughts on “potential social fallout of changing your thinking

  1. Bill says:

    Different thinking isn’t a problem unless it’s also contradictive in some threatening way.

    All groups have a core and a periphery. Healthy groups manage those dynamics with grace, but the core of the group generally tends to maintain their hold on the group’s true identity.

    Peripheral ways of thinking tend to be welcome about inversely as much as they tend to threaten.

    Social groups can be accepting of a member without accepting everything about that member, but you’re asking about what individual members can do when the find the group to be unacceptable.

    Bottom line: Fighting for unpopular change is very ungroup-y. Sometimes it can be the right thing to do, win or lose. But it’s usually lose. It’s much better to leave, but most don’t.

    It’s far easier to tear down than it is to build up.


    These thoughts are largely based on my own experience.

    The same dynamics probably applied in the ancient world, in principle, but there are lots of good reasons why reformational thinking & action were rare, in practice.

    To say Jesus & Paul were the key factors in the NT dynamic is not only obvious, it’s an understatement. Who else promoted that kind of positive, pioneering upheaval?

    Just my thoughts. Wish I could *actually* help…

  2. Ben says:

    Thanks, Bill. These are very helpful additions. There is a bit of a dialog between the “gatekeepers” of the norms and boundaries and the individual whose thinking is evolving in different directions. Would you say there is more, less, or about the same amount of group upheaval as previous eras?

  3. Bill says:

    Group dynamics are most often turned by dynamic individuals. Some spark has to start the fire burning.

    These days, there may or may not be more upheaval. But we do seem to have many more would-be fire starters.

    Just to be clear, Jesus & Paul were fire starters. The rest of us should not rush quickly to spark such upheaval.


    I’m glad you say the folks involved are talking about things. I’m sure the gatekeepers are most concerned with how everyone else may be affected.

    Upheaval’s not always bad. It can be God’s will. But it’s not easy, and I don’t wish it on anyone.

    God, bless the Body of Christ.

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