No more sides!

March 5th, 2015

Jesus was able to make friends with people who were unable to make friends with each other. This was a deliberate choice on his part—another way of revealing what life in the kingdom is supposed to look like. This approach caused him to lose friends who were righteous or who were sinners.

In short, dualistic thinking is unable to take us where we need to go in restoring intended honor to the bride of Christ. Dualistic thinking (while necessary for making legitimate comparisons and fostering appropriate differentiation) too easily leads to either/or thinking—which leads quickly to a hierarchical way of thinking. In the “good, better, best” world, egotism (the fallen self) quickly assumes superiority over a person or group. We pray the prayer of the Pharisee: “God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else” (Luke 18:11 CEB), when in fact we are exactly like other people. We are all sinners. There is no righteous person, not even one. Not even one.

But taking sides and ascribing superiority to one side or the other (actually both sides claim the higher ground, and that’s what leads to the derogatory interaction) only creates a downward spiral where one group vilifies the other group—and in the case of differences between Christians, we make sure we do this “in the name of Jesus.”

E. Stanley Jones, in Growing Spirituality, clarifies this even more. Referring to St. Paul, he wrote: "The Greatest Christian said, ‘I am controlled by the love of Christ.’”1 This cuts deep. It is possible to be controlled by the love of achievement, of success, of a cause, of one’s fight. To be controlled by the love of Christ is different not only in degree but also in kind, in quality.

Jones did not write these words from the ivory tower. Rather, he wrote them nearly fifty years after he first set foot in India and saw the sides that were dividing religions, the Christian church, and the state. In fact, he saw it while sailing to India, observing prejudice as caste and class had divided India into multiple factions. From the outset he realized that he could not be on any side but rather had to pray for a new way to minister.

The words, “it is possible to be controlled by . . . a cause, of one’s fight,” like never before have proven true in the debate about same-gender relationships, and have proven true in almost every manifestation of factionalism. E. Stanley Jones, as a solid Christian, never stopped believing there was a better way. And by grace, he found it. And once he found it, he made it a mainstay in his life, his relationships, and his ministry.

Consider the ministry of Martin Luther King Jr. As he watched the hatred between black and white people escalate, he too realized that he could not be on a side. Neither the Black Panthers nor the Ku Klux Klan held the key to the future, even though each group claimed it did. King found his better way when he read E. Stanley Jones’s biography of Gandhi; King wrote in the margin of the cover page, “This is it!” And from that day forward, he embedded his portion of the civil rights movement in nonviolence, often referring to it as “the strength to love.” Many other women and men in history—ancient and modern—gave up dualistic thinking and the either/or, right/wrong debates that arise from it.

In the debate about same-gender relationships (and other divisive issues that we face), we have reached a time when no side can take us where we need to go. The time for pejorative attitudes and polarizing actions is over—or at least it should be.

Staying together is a sacred act—a holy experience. We have become patterned to disagree and divide. But the witness in the Trinity is to unite and to be one. Human oneness will never match divine unity, but God’s unified nature and God’s action to redeem all things in and through Christ is the model for our attitudes and actions. Rather than starting with the assumption that the best we can do is to have some kind of amiable separation, we say instead, “We will not separate. We will stay together in prayer, in conversation, and in action—believing that this kind of spiritual tenacity will create some kind of forward progress.”

This article is excerpted from the 2014 Abingdon Press book For the Sake of the Bride, which is about using the roundtable to settle church disputes.


1. E. Stanley Jones, Growing Spiritually (New York: Pierce and Washabaugh, 1953), 124.

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