Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
In a BBC interview, when speaking of her move to San Francisco, author Isabel Allende said “I have traveled all over the world and one thing that amazes me is that I can communicate with people. My story may be different but emotionally we are all the same. I tend to see the similarities in people and not the differences.” I can only imagine such a straightforward piece of advice must have ancient roots. Interestingly, Stephen Covey expresses the opposite sentiment when explaining the value of synergy: “strength lies (sic) in differences not similarities.” As we still live in a world where mothers are the primary caregivers, girls most often grow up learning from someone of the same sex. Men grow up learning from someone of the opposite sex. Women learn by sameness; men learn by contrast. This might well be why women are more often drawn to Allende and men are more likely to read Covey.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.
Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block
or obstacle in your brother's way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus,
I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself.
But if anyone regards something as unclean,
then for him it is unclean.
The Romans passage could cut two ways on the issue of whether we ought to focus on similarities or differences. Verses like the one above teach that we have God as a judge who frees us from the task of judgment. We don't have to be threatened by others who are different than we are. From there, we can choose to let differences be as they are and not concentrate on them, but instead find kinship in our similarities with others. Conversely, if we are not threatened when others are different from us, we can embrace those differences and examine them without a need to prove ourselves right, or another wrong. Such muscular engagement need not bruise us. Instead, we can embrace both difference and sameness as valid ways of knowing and learning. The passage in Romans which is teaching Christians of different understandings how to live with one another can be used to justify either path. There is value in learning by sameness and there is value in learning through difference. Each of has our own path and our own readiness.