For a while my dad had a liberal Catholic retired vicar in his congregation who would occasionally help out. Dad and he were talking about communion (and I think he thought Dad was being a bit fussy!) Dad said: “Over the years quite a lot of blood has been spilled over these issues!” to which the reply came “but none of mine!”
To me this illustrated three points, the first that there have always been disagreements amongst Christians, second that Christians have not disagreed in a loving and Christ-like way (burning and torturing those we disagree with seems catastrophically at odds with the one who says “love your enemies”) and thirdly what is our response -is it to say that things don’t matter or aren’t important or do we find a way of graciously disagreeing well in a Godly and respectful way?
Although in our culture we do not torture and execute one another but yet we behave badly to those we disagree with. Sadly the conservatives attack the liberals both saying they are “not proper Christians” or “thinking compassionate human beings”. In recent years both sides of the women priests/bishops debate behaved badly as have both sides in the ongoing debate on human sexuality. Yet too so often sadly the local Church politics can become toxic over all sorts of petty trivialities when we lose our Kingdom perspective. Sadly, too many people have left Churches bruised not by God but human sin and spitefulness.
What does it mean to “seek first the Kingdom of God” where we are seeking primarily to see God’s will be done on “earth as in heaven” which often means that we may have to surrender our ego’s, status quo bias or modern-day pharisee seeking to thwart the work of the Spirit, before we start throwing stones have we gone before God in prayer (interestingly in my former parish my most obstructive and difficult person didn’t attend a single prayer meeting in the 8 years I was there, which I think was not co-incidence).
Too often as Christians we are far too prepared to give someone a piece of our mind, but never a piece of our heart.
Each of us has a responsibility to choose how we behave towards one another, chose whether we separate from the crowd and speak up for righteousness. It is amazing how one person can change the direction and atmosphere of a meeting. Are we people that bring peace or escalate conflict? Do we abide by the principles of is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary or Kind -if not it is sinful behaviour.
On one occasion I spent a whole day trying to make peace between two church members about where and how high plates were stacked in the church hall kitchen, neither would apologize or reconcile with one another.
How as Churches resolve our major disputes if we cannot even live in peace within our own Christian communities?
Christianity requires us not only to hear a sermon on loving our neighbour, nor to just highlight it in our Bibles, but to actually live it out in how we treat one another.
We badly need to not only discover what is/isn’t orthodox belief but learn what is orthopraxis behaviour. Too often (on whichever side) we have not just “won” debated but lost people we have grieved the spirit of God, divided the body of Christ and alienated those we are called to reach!
We live in a world that tolerates everyone and everything, but I think Jesus didn’t tolerate people but rather loved them. I do not want to be the kind of Christian that just tolerates people.
Nor do I want to be in Church which exists in an uneasy truce where people are apathetic about their faith and choosing not to think in a grown-up way about the elephants in the room, but instead lean to behave as Christians as we engage, listen and love on both sides of any debate.
Our culture has fallen for the lie that if we don’t agree with people, we must hate them! This is made worse by how we weaponize words on social media. The truth is we can embrace people we disagree with in a healthy, respectful and loving way, indeed often we grow and flourish when we engage, debate and journey with those whom we disagree with rather than trying to live in an echo-chamber of only engaging with people who think the same as us. Indeed, it is the friction within our relationships and within our thinking that often is the catalyst for God’s refiners fire that helps us understand ourselves, one another and God better.
My colleague Dave (a Christian) does an RE lesson with a humanist, both disagree with one another on the answers to life’s most important questions, but can still be friends with honesty and authenticity. They are not saying ‘it doesn’t matter’ but rather modelling how to disagree well with grace, respect and listening to each other.
Jesus let people disagree with him, walk away from him and wasn’t afraid to speak up and speak out when he disagreed with things.
We are called to love one another even when we don’t agree, to read the Bible and pray together, being honest about when we disagree with people but that doesn’t mean we don’t love them.
I long to see the local divisiveness of Church politics evaporate by people loving one another and living out their faith.
I long to see the big issues of the day resolved by loving one another, reading and praying together and even when we may not agree over doctrine we still choose to hold together in unity as the people of God, the body of Christ and not grieving the spirit of God.
This maybe messy and uncomfortable but what an amazing witness to the world, we may be an odd and diverse family but one that hangs together even when we disagree and clash our love for one another holds us together as a community of grace.