Choosing to be Christians together

February 17th, 2016

Once a month, I attend a gathering of ministers in the small, Southern town where I serve. Some are ordained ministers, while others are lay people who head up a variety of ministries. Oftentimes, I am the lone representative from a mainline denomination. There is only one other ordained female pastor who attends. No one has been anything but kind and welcoming towards me, despite my differences, some more obvious than others. And yet, it is frequently a struggle for me to sit there in silence as certain assumptions are made about what political beliefs and social views we all hold in common as Christians. I often wonder if I might be run out of town if I voiced my disagreement or, at the least, be labeled a heretic.

I often think that it would be easier for me to stop going to these meetings. If only I didn’t hold such strong convictions about the Church or about community and Jesus’ wish for unity of those who believe in him, that we may be one as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:22). If only I wasn’t a part of a tradition that, straddling Catholicism and Protestantism, has such a strong commitment to ecumenical relationships, maybe I would find it easier to sequester myself in my own denominational structures. At least in my own denomination, even if we don’t agree on certain issues, we hold certain things in common.

From these meetings and from relationships with others on the more conservative/evangelical Christian spectrum, I have learned that there is much to admire. I admire their ease with and passion for Scripture, the way their lives are oriented towards the Bible, something I don’t see much of with mainline Protestants. At least in my community, they are able to organize effective service ministries, addressing issues of hunger and homelessness.

However, despite my full belief in the words of the Nicene Creed, my commitment to prayer, the sacraments of the Church, and reading the Bible, I know that many of them would not consider me to be a Christian, would not consider me “saved,” if they knew my position on LGBT issues or that I tend to vote Democrat. And so I have to watch carefully what I say at these meetings. I have to control my facial expressions so I don’t give myself away, and it’s a shame because I truly believe that the Body of Christ is big enough for all of us. I believe that we’re better and stronger together, that we’re able to accomplish more Kingdom work in our communities when we work side-by-side instead of at odds.

My hope is that they can learn from me and others like me just as I have learned from them. Perhaps they can appreciate the beauty of liturgy and sacrament as I have appreciated their facility with extemporaneous prayer. Perhaps one day, we can tackle the systemic issues that cause poverty and hunger and homelessness rather than just dealing with the symptoms. Our call from Christ is into unity, not uniformity. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12, the foot cannot say it is not a part of the body just because it is not a hand. And if the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? Each tradition, each denomination has its gifts to the whole Body of Christ. Too often, we focus on our differences in polity or doctrine than on what we have in common — Jesus Christ.

To be honest, I was considering taking a break from attending these ministers’ luncheons until I was on silent retreat earlier this month, where the speaker reminded me that we’re not called into relationship only with those whom we agree. After all, that is a circle that only grows smaller until we are the only ones standing in it. So I pray that God continues to teach me through those who differ from me, even when those differences are painful. But I also pray that others are open to what I might have to teach them. The more I live and learn and pray, the more I realize that faithful Christians can come to different opinions on the same issue and that doesn’t make either of them a lesser Christian. In fact, how we deal with those disagreements might indeed show the world that we are Christians by our love. 

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