There is much to be said about Christianity unity, and the lack of it throughout Church history. In spite of the Apostle Paul’s best efforts, we do not strive for it among the brethren. To me, unity seems like a noble biblical principle, like loving one’s enemies: It’s a super, much-discussed exhortation, but rarely played out.
This blog is not meant to be treatise on Church unity—certainly much can be said about it, particularly mass historical failures. That said, I thought I’d throw my cards on the table and see if anyone is interested in offering their thoughts.
I am a failure at bringing together polarized groups of Christians. Perhaps there’s too much water under my bridge. I did not like Christians before I became one, and I did not find a ton of reasons to like them en masse afterward. In fact, after 20 years of slogging through the culture war, I often see strife, and animosity simmering just below the surface of religion. I get easily annoyed. Call in the Holy Spirit brigade, this chick needs to be sanctified.
Several years ago, I took the mic during a town hall meeting at a conservative ministry I worked for and suggested we build bridges with Sojourners, a progressive Washington D.C. ministry. My argument seemed sound: We learn from them and they learn from us—and hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we could find common ground on an issue or two. I believed then as I do now, that God would be glorified through the relationship.
Well, this was not a popular suggestion. After I spoke, groans and eye-rolls came from all corners. Unity, what a dumb suggestion!
Looking back I realize that many of my colleagues did not consider Sojourners believers to be actual believers. Perhaps it’s their alternative views on war, the federal budget, approaches to poverty and the environment. They hold a different perspective on how the scriptures should play out in culture. I could imagine my colleagues rationalizing their beliefs with their own scriptural weapon: “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14.
Perhaps Sojourners would not have been open to dialogue either. I know Christians on the left who reach out and those who keep the door tightly shut. I praise my old boss Jim Daly at Focus on the Family for breaking through these barriers. He knows, as I know, that when you share a beer or a (veggie) burger with someone, it’s tougher to close down dialogue. I also praise my friend Jonathan Merritt, who in spite of his strong beliefs, often gives the “other side” equal air time on his popular blog.
I’ve been taken to the woodshed for my criticism of other believers on Facebook. It’s true, I can be a critical doo-bee. And it’s true, I harbor anger and lash out at those I believe cast my faith in a harmful light. However wrongly, I see them through the lens of someone who once desperately needed “living water” but was kept on dry land by believers exercising the worst kinds of evil. (See, there I am, building unity!)
I am a fan of transparency and honest dialogue. I will not forsake these virtues to keep the peace in the name of Christian unity. That mindset leads to damage. Transparency means that animosity is not cloaked in religion. Get it out there, with gentleness! Transparency means grievances, sin and brokenness are generally aired for the world to see, and for us to deal with biblically (and likely imperfectly).
The word “unity” is dismissed when it fails to subscribe to certain theological or political views. A pastor friend I have mad respect for, and would seriously follow to the ends of the earth, criticizes other Christian faith traditions. He is a so-called “wolf watcher.” I am quite sure he is a supporter of unity when others give a nod to his theological leanings. Otherwise, no dice…
Working in hospice with all stripes of Christians I tend to agree with Pastor Glenn Packiam when he says, “Let’s do each other the service of being more attentive and giving more weight to the best of each tradition/situation than to its caricature.” Amen.
So what to do? I believe unity requires us to sacrifice stridency and become authentically humble in our view of our selves, our faith, and our world. It does NOT mean lessoning deeply held beliefs… which I need to say, lest some believe I’m suggesting “soft” minded thinking. It does, however, mean admitting that you don’t have all the answers, that you see through a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). I stand with you in that acknowledgment.