“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2
How easy it is to use this scripture to justify our self-righteous refusal to go along with any ol’ thing. Not that you would do that, of course, but my own history of self-important nonconformity began in third grade. I didn’t exactly refuse to write a report on Miss Ohlberg’s lesson about evolution; I just let her know that I didn’t believe it because, duh, the Bible said God created the earth in six days.
Nowadays I’m pretty sure creation reflects more than a week’s work (duh) and that “be not conformed to this world” is not biblical license to resist whatever we disagree with and then go our own way, smug in our political, theological, cultural, or just plain ornery correctness. No less a prophet than the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned against that very thing.
Even as Dr. King excoriated the church for conforming to the social evils of racism and classism, he noted that “nonconformity in itself may not necessarily be good and may at times possess neither transforming nor redemptive power.” Faithful nonconformity starts within.
“By opening our lives to God in Christ,” King said, “we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists and freed from the cold hardheartedness and self-righteousness so often characteristic of nonconformity.”
Resistance without transformation creates a culture of correctness that, if you think about it, is little more than another kind of conformity to the world. Only when we have been freed from the self-centeredness of our ways and reborn to the life of Christ’s way can we begin, with humility, to discern God’s will for justice, equality, peace, love, and wholeness for all.
Creative Spirit, transform my heart and mind that I might more clearly follow your way of love. May I be conformed to nothing so much as the rebel Jesus.
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.