The year was 1970, and the cultural divide in America was deep and wide. People barricaded themselves behind seemingly insurmountable social walls: “hippies” versus “clean-cut,” establishment versus anti-establishment, pro-Vietnam War activists versus pacifists.
Southern California, where I grew up, was exploding with free-spirited, barefoot “flower children” hitchhiking up and down Pacific Coast Highway.
It was a time of great unrest and uncertainty for many parents and grandparents. And within churches across America, pastors grappled with how to reach a generation more interested in rock 'n' roll than in the Rock of Ages. For some, the solution was to preach vigorously against the moral decay in culture and decry the unrest erupting all over the country.
Some churches responded by planning counter-protests of their own, calling for young people to repent of their waywardness by smashing their “evil” rock 'n' roll records at the altar or collectively tossing them into bonfires. Such events made a scene and made the news — but they didn’t stop kids from growing out their hair, challenging the status quo and asking hard questions.
That was the scene at a glance, but let’s zoom in for a close-up.
On a Saturday in a typical suburban Los Angeles home, a 40-something woman wearing a blue polyester dress, with polished nails and perfectly coiffed hair, sat with her Bible open on the round maple table in the breakfast room. Seated across from her, with their elbows on the table, were two long-haired guys in T-shirts and torn jeans. One had a white headband with the letters “A G A P E” on it tied around his forehead.
The woman’s name was Pilar, and she was my mother. The boys, Eugene and Mark, were my new friends. I invited them into our home that Saturday because they had shared the Gospel with my 13-year-old self on the grassy lawn of a college campus a few weeks prior. I had given my life to Jesus that day and had them to thank for it.
These guys and my mother had nothing in common. Yet, there they were, sitting comfortably together, engaged in a vibrant conversation. They knew they were each other’s “people” because they were united in their love for Jesus.
When I first became a Christian, I didn’t change my style to fit in with “typical” Christian girl attire. I kept my ripped jeans, halter tops, tapestry dresses and huarache sandals. My hair stayed messy and incense and patchouli oil were my favorite scents. I still liked boys with long hair and even longer beards.
It took a few weeks for my mom to realize the inner change that had taken place in me. I was no longer disengaged and disrespectful. I quit ditching school and coming home late with glassy eyes. I was interested in reading my Bible, talking to her about Jesus and actually listening to what she had to say.
Christ tore down the walls of my heart, the walls I had formerly erected against my mother and against people like Eugene and Mark.
Decades later, the nation is once again divided across every possible line. Sadly, we also see dissent and despair within the Body of Christ, the Church.
We’re naturally drawn to people with whom we share similar backgrounds, interests and experiences, and there’s nothing wrong with that — unless those affinities become walls that exclude others or cause division.
More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus told his followers, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT).
Can the same be said of us today?
If we are not careful, those of us who are “in Christ” may stereotype and label people. Those who don’t know Jesus become “them” in our eyes. We are tempted to distance ourselves and forget that before coming to Jesus, we too were without God and without hope in this world.
The Bible teaches us that in order to reach someone with the Gospel, we must lay aside our preferences and our prejudices. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. He was routinely criticized and condemned for his friendships. Religious leaders called him “... a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19 NLT). Even his inner circle of 12 disciples was made up of men who would not have ordinarily spent time together: fishermen, a tax collector, a Zealot and a traitor, to name a few.
Jesus, of course, knew what he was doing. Day by day, he was teaching them to tear down the walls of their hearts.
Tearing down our own walls doesn’t mean we shape-shift to identify with whomever or whatever is culturally relevant, but we must be willing to listen and learn and do our best to understand where someone else is coming from.
If our identity is in Christ, then we can no longer hide behind the walls that keep us comfortable but disconnected. As Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:19-22:
“This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all — irrespective of how we got here — in what He is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now He’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day — a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home” (The Message).
So, consider whom God may be challenging you to love. “Your people” might surprise you.
Cathe Laurie is the wife of Greg Laurie, Senior Pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship and featured speaker for Harvest Crusades and Harvest America Evangelistic Outreaches.
She is the founder and director of Virtue, the women’s ministry at Harvest Christian Fellowship, which for over 40 years has helped women discover a deeper relationship with God through studying the Scriptures. She is a Bible teacher and featured speaker on The Virtue Podcast with Cathe Laurie. Through the pages of her book, As I See It, and her devotional blog read nationwide, Cathe brings a distinctly feminine perspective to show how Scripture speaks to all the basic issues of life.
Cathe and Greg celebrated 47 years of marriage in February (2021). They have two sons: Christopher, who went to be with the Lord in 2008, and Jonathan; two daughters-in-law, Brittany and Brittni; and five grandchildren, Stella, Lucy, Rylie, Alexandra, and Christopher. Cathe enjoys hiking and reading and has lots of fun cooking in the kitchen with her grandchildren.