In the last blog, I talked about how our spiritual development moves along predictable stages, unless it gets stalled. We covered stage one and two. You can read about that here and also see the books I’ve linked on this interesting topic.
Today we will talk about stage three, a happy, wonderful time in faith development. Stage three is all about “belonging.” For most of us, that involves being involved in some faith institution like a church, temple, or mosque.
It is a time of tremendous spiritual growth. For the Christian, which is my faith tradition, it is a time to learn. If you’re lucky, you will learn to read and study the Bible, as well as teach others to do so. You might be taught how to pray, serve others, share your faith, and perhaps get to take a life-changing mission trip to share your faith in another country. It is a warm and loving stage where you are on the inside of a faith culture.
Unfortunately, a sense of “us versus them” develops by necessity at this stage because the goal of any institution is to keep nurturing its members. So, we are encouraged to invite people in. Those on the inside are “us.” Those on the outside are “them.” On the inside, we have our own language, music, and often unspoken rules that separate us from “them.”
People often ask if Institutions like churches can grow beyond level three spirituality. It’s very rare because how could they exist without people staying inside to run the show, give money, and help each other? Institutions need committed members to stay healthy but many folks, if they start to grow beyond stage three spiritual development, begin to feel stifled and look for support outside of the institution. Some churches with wise leadership create spaces for these people to continue to grow without leaving their faith community.
This understandable limit to institutional change can become problematic when there is a clear line drawn around who is inside and who is outside. When those unlike “us” are looked down on or defamed for having different beliefs, it can become toxic spirituality. I’ve known of churches that will “disfellowship” members for not behaving in ways they don’t consider proper, like dating a non-Christian, being a feminist, or, heaven forbid, being gay. To find yourself pushed outside of that warm and fuzzy circle can be devastating. We will discuss this phenomenon more in the next blog when we get to stage four.
I’ve noticed that for me, the current political climate has pushed me right back into stage three, thinking. It’s easy to villainize people on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Apparently, other countries like to stir up this discord on social media in incredibly smart psychological warfare to keep our nation divided. If you don’t believe me watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix . I’ve been trying to limit social media and skipping political posts so as not to participate in so much level three thinking.
You can see the benefits of stage three faithing. But there are drawbacks to staying in it for too long. Suppose we seclude ourselves from other ideas and keep people different from us at arm’s length. In that case, it can lead to all kinds of problems. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other issues arise when our circle is too tight; we don’t allow everyone to have a voice at the table.
Does this make sense to you? What benefits and drawbacks have you experienced in stage three faithing?