I love the church. Deeply. I believe the church is the bride of Christ, the hope of the world, a light on a hill, and most astoundingly, the manifold wisdom of God. This past Sunday our church spent the entire worship service moving slowly through the Lord’s Prayer. A short sermon. Time of silence. Responsive readings. Singing. Tasting bread. At the end of the service a man got up and sang in a beautiful tenor voice, with just enough vibrato, the Lord’s Prayer. As soon as he was finished the worship team led the congregation in the singing of Revelation Song. It was beautiful.
It sounded like the angels were singing with us.
You see there are moments like this when church is good and right and I believe deeply in her. With all my being I believe she is the very presence of Jesus on earth.
But then I get on the internet.
I’m beginning to wonder how good Twitter and the blogosphere are for my soul.
You see, most Christians in the world don’t know about Thabiti Anyabwile’s post regarding homosexuality entitled The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and “Gay Marriage” (FYI, it is very graphic. Read with caution). But if you are on Twitter, you know. If you read blogs, you know.
I am not condoning Thabiti’s post. It was in poor taste, lacked nuance, dehumanized people, and ultimately, its main argument doesn’t hold water. It saddened me because it was in no way constructive to the dialogue needed around this issue. And just as much, it saddened me as Christians put on full display for the world how poorly we conduct ourselves when we disagree. This instance is one instance of many where tribal Christianity goes to war with each other because of disagreement.
When Christians don’t agree on issues, it gets nasty. Eat-your-own, stomach-turning-nasty.
This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky plea for Christians to never again disagree. I’m all for disagreement and dialogue. I can think of no better application of “iron sharpens iron” than a full on intellectual dialogue between two people who trust one another and love another. Trust and love. That’s the rub. If we are being honest, I don’t know if Christians really trust one another. Based on our actions, we might not even love one another. Not really. Because if we loved one another, we would listen to each other better. But there is a lot of loud, clanging gongs out there.
There was a time when I thought Christians fought just like everyone else. I grieved that. After all, as ministers of reconciliation we should be different and show the world a better way. But I am changing my thoughts. I don’t think we fight like everyone else. I think we fight dirtier. We use the Bible. We unsheathe our double-edged sword hoping to finish off our opponent with a clean cut to their religiously misguided soul. We justify this as defenders of the truth and dispensers of grace. We brandish our swords invoking God’s blessing on our noble cause.
We use the Bible as a sword to conquer rather than a mirror to see.
And when we do we end up cutting off each other’s ears and Jesus has to clean up the mess.
I’m becoming convinced that both the Christian Right and the Christian Left love the Bible. I know, shocking. That never gets talked about, but watch the arguments. Both quote scripture to prove their point. Both argue that Jesus would more fully endorse their perspective. Both claim their stance is more loving than the other’s and use scripture to prove their point.
Yeah, both sides love their Bible when it supports their perspective.
Let’s all take a breath and admit that we hold more in common than we portray.
I have this crazy dream where both sides sit down together around a table and break bread. I imagine these table conversations looking very different than their online counterparts. Obviously, there would be less cap locks, but I hope it would also mean less yelling. There is the crazy part of me that even imagines a light bulb moment when the two sides look across the table and see a person. Not a position, a person. Not an argument, a person. A person they may actually like.
The real truth is that we need each other. We need people to remind us to challenge us on what it means to love those outside the church. The second greatest command is to love our neighbor, and so we need to be pushed to fully examine, not only what that means, but if we are actually doing it. On the other side, we need people to defend the truth. Fidelity to the word of God is vitally important, and we need people to point us back to scripture. There will also be tension between these to camps, and that is okay. No, it is a good thing. We need each other. So we must figure out how to have the conversations in a way that is constructive and edifying, not in a way that deepens the lines drawn in the sand.
The Bible tells us to submit to each other. Have you tried that? It is much easier to demand the other person submit to me; my beliefs, my perspective, my hermenuetics, my theology, my causes. I can’t help but wonder if so many of the disagreements in Christianity don’t stem from a failure to submit to one another. What I mean by that, is submitting to listening to the other person. The actual person and not the straw man we would like to argue with.
As a pastor I have the privilege of meeting with couples for their pre-marriage counseling. It doesn’t matter how compatible two people are, they are going to fight. It’s inevitable. So when I meet with these young starry-eyed love-birds I give them one piece of advice: learn to fight fair. It’ll make your marriage more enjoyable. Learning to fight fair might just make the fights you are going to have be constructive.
Brothers and sisters, it’s time we learn to fight fair.
Maybe that means agreeing on what we all love:
This doesn’t mean we will agree on everything. We probably will still have some pretty significant disagreements. But we don’t have to agree to be unified. That is a misnomer. Scripture doesn’t even always agree with itself, but it is unified. The beauty of the church is when we embrace our diversity and remain unified.
So let’s stop worrying about offending “sinners,” although important. Let’s stop being the defender of truth, although important. Instead, let’s start being a people who love one another, believing that the world will be attracted to Jesus because of our love for one another.
So put away your sword, break bread, and open the book. Together.