Us versus them
Us vs. them; insiders vs. outsiders; newbies vs. old hands; conservatives vs. liberals, progressives vs. traditionalists – the polarities could go on and on. It is not hard to think of reasons for drawing lines and taking sides, for declaring who’s right and who’s wrong on any particular issue be it political, social, cultural, economic or religious. One of the main sources of tension in the early church was the struggle between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The book of Acts is peppered with examples of the early church grappling with issues that swirled around this polarity. For us, homosexuality is one of the lightning rod issues. The very mention of the word itself causes division, partisanship and sharp criticism not only of positions but also of persons with the inevitable reaction of labeling “who is right and who is wrong.”
The purpose of my article is not to weigh in on the specifics of this issue but rather to ask a question – could this be a prime-time opportunity when we live into the prayer of Jesus, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11)? By asking this question, some might conclude I’m simply arguing for a mushy, lowest common denominator compromise or wanting to sweep the issue under the rug, hoping it will go away. This is not what I’m suggesting! No, I believe we need to take this seriously, realizing that disagreement and debate are not foreign to us. To acknowledge our differences with respect and civility is part of what it means to be Christian. And above all seeking to work together to find our way forward in a way that preserves our unity is an answer to Jesus’s prayer. Is this desire too far-fetched? I hope not because I’m thinking of another phrase of his prayer, “I ask … that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn.17:21). Our collective witness is on the line.
If we fail to preserve our unity, the price we pay will not only be the destruction of our combined ministry and mission, but also an admission that we are no different than the world where winners trump losers and leave them behind. As we all know, we can do more for the cause of Christ together than we can separately. This reduction of ministry is too high a price to pay. The issue of homosexuality won’t destroy us, but how we address it could. Once again the old adage needs to be embraced – in essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity.
When it comes to handling differences I offer the example of a dialog between the Apostle John and Jesus. John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:40-50). People on both sides of the issue of homosexuality are seeking to be faithful followers of Jesus regardless of what camp they are in (actually there are multiple camps/positions). Can we not set aside the principle of exclusion, making room for the perceived outsider? Can we not strive to live together in spite of our differences and be committed to being one in Christ?
May the prayer and counsel of the Lord be uppermost in our minds as we seek to find our way forward. Whether it is the issue of homosexuality or other issues; we may never be in complete agreement. Even so, may we who are many be one in Christ.