I had kind of a difficult day at church this Sunday. Somehow my Sunday School class got started talking about a hot political topic of the day. Doesn't matter what topic, I'm sure you can imagine the scene. Most (all?) of the people in the class seemed to be on one side of the issue and there were a lot of fiery words about what Christians should do and how Jesus would respond. I sat and did not speak, although I had fire in my belly, because I fall on the opposite side of this issue. I care about protecting relationships, though, so I kept my mouth shut. Because my mouth is really good at hurting people I love.
The truth is, the conversation that day made me feel unwelcome. Listen, I'm a Democrat in a county where 60% of voters voted for John McCain in the last Presidential election. I'm the only Democrat in my immediate family. I am used to having differences of opinion with people around me and that's okay. I can hold my own in a political debate. The thing is, that's not what the gathering on Sunday was meant to be about.
"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."
This is a saying that is pretty commonly used in churches like the one I attend. What they are saying is that there are things that are absolutes, that we all must agree on. Basically, the source of our unity as believers is Jesus. In Matthew 16 Jesus asked his disciples who they said he was and Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (vs 16) Then Jesus said, "on this rock I will build my church." (vs 18) On that rock, the rock of confession of faith in Jesus, he builds his church. To me, that's the definition of "in essentials, unity."
So, what about the non-essentials? What this means to me is that some of us believe strongly that drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin, while others of us indulge from time to time (this is the old example, the one I can remember being used in Sunday School lessons when I was younger). It also means that some of us are actively opposed to gay marriage while others of us see room for that in their beliefs. It means that some Christians believe that opposing the death penalty is an important aspect of a pro-life ethic while others believe that the death penalty is a necessary deterrent against the spread of more violence. It means that Christians can have differing ideas on the roles of women in the church. It means that one Jesus-follower may believe in a literal 7 day creation while another may believe in evolution. The truth is, scripture allows for so much interpretation because none of us has perfect understanding.
I think that a problem in the church in American today is that we have followed the current political trend and have split into factions. It seems that now we have "liberal" churches and "conservative" churches. So if you find yourself in a conservative church there isn't really room for more liberal interpretations of things and vice versa. I think we miss out on important ways to grow and learn and serve God better when we don't allow for other voices. Practicing the idea of "in non-essentials, liberty" allows for a beautiful diversity and give and take among believers as we work to sharpen each and "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." (Hebrews 10:24) It doesn't mean that we don't hold our differing beliefs dearly or even attempt to convince someone to think like we do but I think it does mean being open to hearing other views and creating environments that allow for that kind of openness.
So that leaves us with "in all things, charity." What is charity? Love. This summer Helen memorized Colossians 3:12-14 as part of getting ready for camp. It's good to help your kids memorize scripture because, guess what happens? You memorize it too! Anyway, this passage has become an important reminder and guide for me: "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." This is the desire of my heart, that above all I show love in all my dealings with others. That what people remember about me isn't that my opinion about something is different but that I radiated love. 1 John 4:8 says that if you don't love, you don't know God because God is love. I know God and I pray every day that my actions make that knowledge clear.
I'm not sure if this post is ending where it started. I guess it doesn't matter. I feel like I don't know how to lovingly communicate when I disagree with people. Maybe I'll learn someday. Or maybe I'll just continue to keep my mouth shut in Sunday School. More than anything, I hope I display "in all things, charity."