Last weekend I attended our local county 4-H Fair. If, like me, you’ve never been an active participant in 4-H, the fair may be your only exposure to the organization. The fair is up for a little more than a week, and most of the vendors, rides, and attractions are part of a national circuit unrelated to 4-H. The heart of the fair – and the core of 4-H – beats in the exhibits of livestock, agriculture, arts, and skills demonstrated by young people who have worked hard all year to submit their entries. While 4-H has more members in urban and suburban counties, rural and farming communities have much higher participation rates. American rural communities skew conservative in their politics and religion, but the organization itself focuses on values that cross the cultural divide.
For me this tolerance is most evident in the vendors exhibit hall. These groups are unrelated to 4-H, and while the organization doesn’t endorse any of them, it does have final say on who can or can not exhibit. Most of them are completely non-controversial, but you might also be surprised to find some of them under the same roof in Indiana. Local Democratic, Libertarian, and Republican parties all seem to think it’s a good place to recruit. A Right To Life group, The Gideons, and Planned Parenthood are all present. Event organizers are smart enough not to put them beside each other, but there’s room for all.
Nobody protests or taunts anyone. Everyone seems to understand we are there in common support for the youth and the program. The four Hs in 4-H stand for head, heart, hands, and health and for at least a week we manage to direct them toward the common good without betraying our values.
4-H is not a Christian organization, but it sure sets a fine example of gathering around the table. So many Christian congregations adopt a decidedly liberal or conservative stance – often based on the preferences of the pastor – that it doesn’t take long to figure out “All are welcome” really means “all are welcome … to be persuaded to our positions on social issues.”
Yet we can have wildly varying positions on many controversial topics and still be dedicated to Christ. Instead of splintering into narrower and narrower definitions of “acceptable” Christianity, maybe we could take a cue from 4-H. We don’t all need to stand next to each other on every issue, but we can coexist under the same roof without shouting each other down. We can find common values and use them to help young people become better citizens of both the world and the Kingdom. We can understand the beating heart of the church is in the fruit of the vine and the bounty of the harvest present on the communion table. We can realize letting someone in the door is not the same as endorsing their values … but helps us to live ours.
Our reasons for excluding each other are our reasons, not Christ’s. Let’s gather around the table to hear what Christ might have to say about finding reasons to be inclusive. It’s only fair.
May be the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.