Connecting Across Our Differences

Posted: October 22nd, 2021

The second virtual Society of Adventist Communicators Conference (Oct. 17-19) gave attendees from across the North American Division more tools to connect like Jesus through media and communications. In the final keynote speech on the 19th, titled “Connecting Across Our Differences.” Pastor Joanne Cortes of Beltsville Seventh-day Adventist Church (Washington, D.C., area) shared some gems from her perspective as someone raised in a bicultural (Hispanic and Australian) household who felt “different.”

Pastor Cortes began, “We’ve all had moments where we’ve felt different, [disconnected], out of place, and at times, unworthy and lonely. But even though we felt different, there's still something within us that wants to connect, to know that we belong and we are not alone in this world.”

She continued, “God intentionally made us different to reveal different aspects of His nature. And through each person, we can experience and learn to appreciate the vastness of who God is.”

As we strive to Connect Like Jesus, here are a few things to consider:

1. Value people over biases and prejudices. We often have biases against people who are different from us; unchecked, these biases can lead to hatred, hostility and unChristlike behaviour. “Never stop reading about the life of Jesus and how He treated people,” she urged. “People were in love with Jesus and wanted to connect with Jesus because He valued people. Jesus changed the narrative in His time, and we can change it in ours, by loving all people [regardless of background, religion, gender, lifestyle, culture, etc.] and spending time with them.”

2. Value people over traditions. Cortes stated, “Some traditions are good, but if a tradition excludes or make someone feel out of place and not welcomed, that tradition has to be set aside.” As a real-life example, she mentioned seeing a smiling, hopeful young woman turned away from a church because she was wearing sweatpants, which was all she had to wear. Instead of receiving the support she so desperately needed, she received condemnation. In contrast, “Jesus valued people so much that no Jewish or manmade tradition was more important than healing people, eating with people, walking with people and loving people.”

3. Value people over comfort. Dealing with people can be messy. Connecting with people whose views or experiences are vastly different from ours requires empathy, listening intently and setting aside our comfort. “We would rather remain comfortable with like-minded people than open our walls to welcome people who are different. As a result, we have become irrelevant, stuck within the four walls of the church.” She concluded, “Church should be a place where we can all connect, where we embrace our humanity, and where we learn from each other as we journey together.”

A few other tips she shared for connecting across differences were:

  • Spend time with Jesus.
  • Travel, educate yourself and learn about other cultures.
  • Ask God for more empathy and compassion.
  • Expand your sphere.
  • Listen with intention.
  • Learn to be an ally and advocate for the marginalized.
  • Be willing to learn from other people.
  • Get to know people.
  • Don’t limit what God can do through you and others.
  • Embrace your humanity.
  • Be kind.
  • Lead with love.

She concluded, “God is too awesome to create us just the same. We are custom-made. It is OK to think and believe differently. It’s OK to disagree and have different points of view. It’s OK to look different. That’s what God wants. Don't try to confine people to fit your perception of who they should be. Instead, go out there and connect across differences; discover the special gift God has given each individual so the world can know how wonderful He is. Remember, connecting with people from different religions, cultures and backgrounds does not make you less Adventist. It actually makes you more [like Jesus].”