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Ahead of the Curve?

by Rev. Dr. Mike Gregg, pastor, Royal Lane Baptist Church, Dallas, TX

Everett Rogers, an American sociologist, developed the theory of diffusion of innovations, which includes familiar terminology like innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. He created this theory in 1962 as a bell curve to describe how and when people responded to technology. In today's modern world, we think of the innovators and the early adopters as those standing in line overnight to purchase the latest Apple technology, while the laggards still maintain that smart phones are not important. While Rogers' terms apply to our reaction to technology, they can also describe our actions as Christians in modern society.

As a progressive Baptist community of faith, most of us believe that Royal Lane is an early adopter when demonstrating Christian love and justice in the community. We have long been members of the Alliance of Baptists, North Dallas Shared Ministries, and Baptist Peace Fellowship. We collect food and funds for the underprivileged of Dallas each month and maintain housing on the property to provide for those most in need. We participate in community-wide discussions regarding immigration, racial justice, and mental health. We believe in inclusion and diversity and extend hospitality to all people including LGBTQ individuals. Within the church, we differ from the public sphere in that we can dialogue through different perspectives and disagree while still sitting together in the pew and collaborating together to achieve shared congregational goals. By Baptist standards, it would seem as though we are ahead of the curve with regards to implementing Gospel values.

While we appear to be early adopters by modern standards, how would Jesus judge our actions on Rogers' change adoption curve?

By Jesus' standards, we might be perceived as late adopters or even possibly laggards. God tells us in Isaiah 55:8, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." How would Jesus react and advise us to react to current events? Do you remember the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman? Jesus did not consider her less than him because she was a woman and/or a Samaritan - both reasons to ostracize according to societal values of the day. Jesus extended kindness, courtesy, and comfort to her. Where might Jesus fall in supporting women today? My guess is that he would be a source of comfort to victimized women and act as a voice for those too paralyzed to do so for themselves.

Jesus was not reticent of expressing his disapproval of behavior that opposed his message of love and kindness to one another. In Matthew 21:12, Jesus does not simply explain why it is not acceptable to conduct business in the Temple, he actually violently overturns the tables. In viewing racial, economic, and social injustices that are part of modern society, Jesus would likely be on the front lines demanding equality and justice for all God's children. When we participate in the public sphere and petition for change, we are embodying the spirit and actions of Jesus as he turned the tables and demanded a focus on God and access for all.

Even as he reached out to those marginalized in society, Jesus' greatest message was love and forgiveness to those who created the most profound of wounds. Nailed to the cross in excruciating pain and dying, Christ did not admonish those causing his death or those stealing the few garments covering him. Rather than condemn, Jesus chose to intercede to God and seek forgiveness for those abusing him. His example requires us to move beyond insults, criticism, and blame to love, consideration, and ultimately forgiveness. This is a clear indicator of how we should react to those whose social and political viewpoints differ from our own.

At Royal Lane, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to be early adopters like Jesus, to usher in an age of collaboration to achieve justice and equality, and to lead with a message of hope both within the congregation and the Dallas community. Reflecting on the Rogers bell diagram, where would you like us to be - lagging behind or ahead of the curve?

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