by The Rev. Robert C. Morris email@example.com
An old Chinese proverb says, "In a time of trouble, a wise man keeps silent," but I feel reckless, so here goes.
My hope, as expressed herein (about 2 pages), is that we - as many of us as possible - can do something almost unknown in Christian history: either live creatively in the tension of our currently irreconcilable differences (by finding some deeper common ground), or separate with a charitableness not yet demonstrated by the history of Christianity; separate still recognizing that we are, somehow, members of the same family, followers of the same Christ.
Most of the "dialog" of the past decade or more has consisted of each side asserting itself more and more vigorously against the other-quite sincerely, yes; but to little avail.
Welcome to history. Patriarch versus Pope; East versus West; Catholic against Protestant; Anglican against Free Church; Church and State against Anabaptists . . . and on and on. I grew up hearing Footwashing Baptists villified by Baptists who saw Jesus' invitation as "symbolic" and vice versa. See how these Christians love one another.
So, here we are again-one religion, two interpretations; nay, multiple interpretations. Most everyone sincerely, conscientiously "following Christ" and "obeying the Gospel" in their own eyes. Really. The Christian world is, once again, well into separation into at least two major camps, though how the final lines will settle is still uncertain. Nothing new; a virtual characteristic of the religion.
The real issue is what we will do this time around. We don't have a very good track record of this. We're really good at the Dark Stuff- Anathemas. Burnings. Excommunications. All manner of vocal abuse (Luther and others of his day were quite skilled at scatalogical attacks!) We're excellent, as religions go, at Bible Barbs and Scripture Swords. Look at the record. As a famous Man once said, "By their fruits you shall know them."
Here we are again. The real issue is what we will do this time around that's different. More faithful to the Spirit of Christ Jesus.
I'm not saying truth doesn't matter- but the search for Truth so often ends up with at least two read-outs from the same Text and Tradition- even and especially for people who are seeking to follow the will of God. So, as we seek Truth, we may expect (if 2000 years is any indicator) multiple results. The NT seems to indicate that Peter, James of Jerusalem, and Paul had a tad of difficulty with this stuff, too.
I'm not saying justice doesn't matter - but the search for justice, civilly or ecclesiastically, is not simply a matter of who is the most absolutely certain of their position. Each side is, in fact, seeking to follow God's Justice as they see it. Really. Each side mutters, more and more, that the other side doesn't "get it."
The simple fact is that we are not agreed on what form God's Justice should take. I'm clear where I stand: full civil rights and full church affirmation of gays and lesbians willing to abide by the Christian commitments of fidelity in monogamy. But I know that others would see God's justice-making for lesbigay folk working out other ways. I do not think that their beliefs are always and everywhere, prima facia, homophobia. People of good will really do differ! (I do not speak of those of any opinion who use religion as a vehicle for personal malice. Leave them to heaven.)
We don't agree. We have differences that may be irreconcilable.
The issue is what we will do about that.
Option 1: War (or Sheer, Unadulterated Secular Politics, which is the non-military form of War)
The search for God's Justice often ends in war or some kind, when one side decides to duke it out to the finish. The much-cited example of slaveholding ought to remind us that millions of people DIED in that war, and hundreds of thousands were maimed, wounded, and permanently damaged. I know it is heresy to say it, but, in the grace of God, do we know there was NO other way to accomplish the entirely just and necessary task of Emancipation? "If any would set out to go to war, let him-or her- count the cost," (said the famous Man).
Followers of the Crucified One might perhaps consider that Jesus chose another way: "Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword." The other way is hard enough the Church has seldom sought to find it.
Paul, in fact, in the bitter conflict between those who would eat meat offered to idols and those who wouldn't urged the more "advanced" who had fewer fears and scruples to be more compassionate toward the others, instead of trouncing them as benighted fools. The Christian community was to set another, and more difficult example of resolving community conflict. Not all of those asking for avoidance of win-lose political voting are seeking to deny justice to lesbians and gays, but to seek a more Christian way of decision making than the cultural fashion we've been following. Not all those pressing for a vote mean to pursue a purely "secular" mindset-they feel genuinely illuminated by "dreams and visions" of the New Covenant to "do a new thing" as Isaiah says. Either way, voting, or a more Quaker style discernment (that would be a change!) - agony is sure to be a close companion.
Option 2: Separation and Cold War
This is the usual state of Christian division- "Well, they (almost) might be real Christians, but . . . Let me tell you how wrong they are. 1, 2, 3. . . " I grew up knowing by heart the 12-15 ways Methodists, Baptists, and everybody else were wrong and (almost) certainly headed for hell. (What a relief it was for me to find the generosity of Jesus Christ - who chose a Zealot and some fishermen and a formerly demon possessed lady as disciples and ate with peasants and rich alike - as an alternative to this dread masquerade of his Teaching.)
Option 3: Living Together in Disagreement while Practicing Charity.
Let's be really, really clear about this. The parties to this conflict don't agree. We're at a stalemate about that, for the time being at least, and into the foreseeable future.
So why not try something the NT actually encourages? Some are "of Paul" and some "of Cephas". But Christ cannot be divided. Is it imaginable that the Anglican Church could model something almost unprecedented in history, and hold together WITH an increasingly sharp division of interpretation and practice. Could we have open and out gay-welcoming parishes and "recovering" gay-welcoming parishes and "abstinent" gay-welcoming parishes. Could we do that with all our unhappy divisions, even down to allowing (heaven forfend!) 1928 PB parishes? We would have to "forbear" one another in love, as Paul insists. He should know. Look at James sending emissaries after him at every point tidying up his message with their footnotes. Yet, thunderclaps, expostulations, and all, Paul stayed "in communion" with the James and the Jerusalem Church, and (apparently) they with him.
We have a chance to do something almost new in Christian history. Something in the spirit of the great Anglican Settlement of the Reformation, as well as in the Spirit of Christ. Only this time we don't have the Queen and her Police Power to enforce it.
Someone asks, in the dialog, "How can there we reconciliation if there isn't acceptance?" Well, I'm not sure I accept everything about my wife, or child, or priest-but I can surely be reconciled to them in the sense of the give and take of living, and the love I bear in my heart for them, including the things I can't agree with. I can accept the person without accepting every opinion, or behavior. We don't have to be at enmity with each other.
This, of course, can't happen unless there is some willingness to actually listen to people who are not expected to be converted to our viewpoint by the process- and to listen deeply enough to hear their own experience and devotion to God expressed, and accepted. This might lead to some agreement on what makes for essential unity in Christ. Perhaps it is the willingness to accept Jesus Christ as God's revelation, as Savior and Master, and to follow his Way to God with all we've got, even if we can't always agree on how to do that. Perhaps it is accepting others who say that they are seeking to follow Jesus, even if we don't want to hang around with them. Perhaps its getting on with our own call to a world of spiritual and physical hunger, genuinely lost souls, instead of passing judgment on "another's servant" (See John 21 and Romans 12).
Option 4: Separation Without Recrimination
And if, in the end, that doesn't work to hold the family together, then what will we do? Something new, I hope. Some of us, at least. Part amicably. Part with sorrowing love, rather than self-righteous recrimination. Commend each other to God, and pray God's blessing to work through each other to do good, even if our ways seem alien and strange to each other. Pray for God to correct each of us in God's own good time as God sees best.
That would be a refreshing new chapter in the Struggles of Christ with his people. They'd talk about it for centuries to come. And maybe, in their own time of trial, follow our example.
Robert C. Morris
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