Why Can't We All Get Along?

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My apologies for being a little bit behind on the blog. Things have been busy lately around here with Jim’s retirement and some other distractions. But, we’re back now, and we’ve got a timely question cued up for today.

Right now as we speak, our Methodist brothers and sisters are gathering at their General Conference. As was the case for we Presbyterians a little while ago, they have taken up the question of same sex marriage. And, unfortunately, like the Presbyterian church, it seems as though our Methodist brothers and sisters are on the verge of a pretty big division and split over the issue.

As we look up and down even the highway in our own neighborhood, it would appear that the Church of Jesus Christ is no stranger to splits. There are (according to a thorough Google search) somewhere between 20,000-50,000 Christian denominations world wide. Some of the issues that divide those denominations are political, as in how the church runs itself. Sadly I’d imagine some of those divisions are partisan political, in the way that you imagine. And some of those are over deeply held theological issues. Looking at that many denominations out there, you may be tempted to ask “Why can’t we just get along?”

According to scripture, you might notice that we’ve never been able to. From the beginning, Jesus’ merry band of 12 disciples were constantly fighting and disagreeing with each other, sometimes in comical ways. The once persecutor of the church Saul comes in redeemed and rescued by Jesus as Paul, and he is met with skepticism and division. The churches that very same Paul planted and established find themselves divided and split almost from the beginning. Where there are 2 or 3 Christians gathered, there among them are 4-5 opinions.

Personally, I think some difference of opinion is good. I think diversity in the body is good. What I think is ugly is when those divisions and disagreements cause us to harm each other. When we are more interested in seeing what’s “wrong” with another Christian’s viewpoint than we are in seeing what’s beautiful, we’ve missed it. When we make others feel unwelcome at the table of Christ, we’re off the mark no matter how “right” we are. When our views, politics, and policies refuse to allow us to see the beauty in other Christian traditions, that’s when we’re in trouble.

A few years ago I had the occasion to attend a friend’s wedding in the Catholic church. I was just out of seminary, and so my theological radar was working overtime. I was thinking about each and every element of the service, each and every word of the prayers and hymns, the tradition, the liturgy, and shamefully I was thinking how much I disagreed with it all. But then about halfway through the service, I stopped and thought to myself “This is a beautiful way to sing the Gospel of Christ.” All of a sudden I was stripped of my disagreements and instead replaced them with awe and wonder at a beauty that I’m not often exposed too.

For me, this is how you work through the division. Instead of asking what theological sticking points we have, perhaps ask what makes another tradition beautiful. Instead of demonizing those with whom you disagree, perhaps look deeply for the /imago dei/ residing in their personhood. Where you need to draw a line in the sand, do so. There’s nothing wrong with sticking up for what you believe in. But make sure it’s done in love, charity, forgiveness, and grace. Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit says Paul in Ephesians. It doesn’t mean we’ll get it right every time, but we can certainly try.

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