A friend just recounted to me the details of a very difficult, painful conversation over a very divisive issue in the Christian community. Won’t go into any specifics, but after reflecting I want to expound on two principles I think are necessary for healthy Christian dialogue or discussion of any of the issues that divide us.
First is a willingness to stand by one another and stick with the community even when we disagree. My Catholic roommate has a few significant issues with the Vatican, but has repeatedly said “I don’t come to the Church to have my social problems solved.” Likewise, a friend of mine on the conservative side of the issues dividing the Episcopal church said to me something like “I love this tradition. Right now, I think our denomination is crazy. But I love this tradition and I’m not leaving it.” Even though we are divided by a great many things we should strive to continue to stand by one another. Our first reaction to disagreement should not be to separate or cut off contact with another group but to acknowledge the difference and continue talking.
Second is a recognition of what might be termed a “Paradigm of the Cross.” Both of my roommates are freaking out right now. One just yelled “Emergency!” The other thinks I’m finally seeing the light. I’m appropriating a term that has been thrown around in our house a good bit. I’m fairly certain the meaning I’m about to apply to it will not be the same as the meaning that has been presupposed in those discussions, though there is a certain similar starting point. If the cross makes any demands on us, I think it demands that we have a willingness to lay aside any part of us for what God is doing with us. This does not mean we will always actually have to lay aside anything, but I think at the very least the cross demands the willingness to do so. Many, many of the discussions that divide Christians today are deeply personal to many people. As I understand our faith, I understand it to be one that seeks to guide us to truth that transcends our own personal concerns. As emotionally entrenched as we may be in a given issue, the quest for truth, I think, demands that we are willing to put aside that part of us for the sake of dialogue, and further that we have a willingness to admit that we just might be wrong and that even our most personally cherished beliefs and opinions may have to be changed or replaced with new ones, that deeply significant parts of our lives may have to be given up if God so demands it of us. Until both sides of the discussion can come to the table with that sort of an attitude, I’m not sure how much dialogue will ever take place through the shouting of political slogans motivated by an arrogant assumption by both sides that they most definitely are the ones in the right.