Their political and theological opinions have moved dramatically to the left over the thirty-plus years I've known them, while mine have stayed pretty much where they were when we were all on the same wavelength. This is not to say that my convictions have undergone no change -- they have. But while I am less dogmatic in some ways than I used to be, in other ways I have reached a point where I think the issue (whatever it is) has been decided, and I'm not really open to the recycling of old arguments.
That said, the one thing I'd like to do is to accord to all my friends -- of whatever convictions -- the respect they deserve. If you used to be politically conservative, and now you support Obama, well, I'd like to believe that you have reached that position through a process of deep thought. I don't want to demonize or dismiss or issue ad hominem attacks -- such as, "you only believe that because you are a (fill in the blank)." No, I believe that ideas need to be explored, and the personal histories of those promoting them are not to be used to discredit those ideas without significant cause.
But -- I know these guys. I know their personal histories, their struggles, their hopes, their disappointments. And I see things in their personal stories that I suspect have seriously affected their opinions. In both of the cases I know best, my clergy friends have been subject to major exposure to leftist thought by those they have depended upon for emotional support. In one case, the change in thought has happened along with a prolonged search for peer relationships; in the other, the change happened suddenly in conjunction with a major family crisis, including a divorce and remarriage. And it seems to me that "peer pressure" is an issue not only for teens but for adults -- including those who fancy themselves men and women of conviction.
And what of my case? If I have mostly stayed as I was, is it because I have few significant peer relationships which could penetrate my mental world? Am I still the little boy who lived in his head, immune to influence? And if that is so, is that healthy -- never mind whether my opinions are correct or not?
I don't know. What I do know is that I kept looking throughout my youth and young adulthood for the fellowship that would support me in my beliefs and in the vision I was following. I never found it. The UMC allows me wide latitude to be who I am, but I can't say that I trust it completely. I have been an obedient son of the Church, so I believe I have given at least as much as I ask in return. But, in the end, Christ found me wandering outside the bounds of the Church, and D. and I found our way in without much help from those already inside. Perhaps my convictions have changed little because they are ultimately not derived from my environment, but in despite of it.
Are my ideas better because they come from within more than from without? No. Ideas must be examined on their own to assess their worth. But if my friends' ideas have changed largely because of the social environment they have come to inhabit, that would mean that establishing a rapport in which we could talk about them would be more difficult. They would be defending relationships while they think they are defending ideas. I'm not sure they would be open to my pointing that out.
The result is a diminishment, a loss. They are still my friends, but I find myself censoring myself in talking with them, because I don't think we can really talk about the important stuff any more. And that's sad.