No Shirt, No Dissent, No Service

Recently, someone interested in learning more about Downtown Church asked me if our church was liberal or conservative. I wasn't surprised or stumped by the question but I acted as if I was.

"Tell me what you mean," I asked.

The response was typical. My inquisitor was really asking me about our position on (insert polarizing social issue).

I'm not sure if my response satisfied his curiosity, but with another opportunity I'd direct his attention to Jonah Goldberg's contrarian take on brainstorming in The New Yorker last year. In it Goldberg explored recent research on the effectiveness of brainstorming in situations when the creation of original ideas was the goal. His conclusion based on the empirical data: brainstorming works best when dissent is encouraged.

In one study the creativity of individuals was tested with free-association exercises. When prompted with the word "blue" the individuals almost always associated "blue" with "green" or "sky". But when the same exercise was conducted in pairs and one of the two individuals knowingly provided inaccurate associations the responses were far more original.

"Instead of saying that "blue" reminded them of "sky," they came up with "jazz" and "berry pie." The obvious answer had stopped being their only answer. Even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them still expands our creative potential. In a way, the power of dissent is the power of surprise."

A surprising and unexpected thing has happened at Downtown Church. People with a variety of theological perspectives worship together. We don't always agree, and this makes some outside observers concerned with purity squirm. But what might typically be considered a deficiency, is for me an opportunity to be surprised.