Monday, October 22, 2012

I Disagree = I Hate You

Over the last few months, I have become more and more frustrated with division in the Church. It seems that even within the most accepting Christian communities, disunity finds it's way in, stakes a claim and develops a stronghold. The roots dig deep and are unyielding to movement. In the effort of creating open and accepting communities, we sometimes produce just the opposite. Conservative Christ followers open their doors of acceptance to "seekers", allowing them the honor of joining their "open" community, but only if you develop the same mindset. Come as you are, but only if you leave as we are.

Conversely, liberal Christian churches are just as guilty, creating an atmosphere of tolerance but only remaining tolerant if you agree with each and every aspect of their particular theology.  Rather than unity in the Church, we end up with a chaotic mess of anger and division that is hardly what Christ had in mind from the beginning.   

I try to remain as neutral as possible, realizing that we all have something to contribute to the mix. I love the words of a pastor that I used to work with who when asked about his political views said, "I love the idealism of the democrats and the pragmatism of the republicans and hate the hypocrisy of both." Rather than choosing sides, I try to see the inherent good in all people and celebrate that. By the same token, I despise hypocrisy and will point it out, regardless of theological beliefs or political ideology.  Being fairly outspoken and opinionated, I tend to get attacked from both sides. I suppose that makes me an equal opportunity offender.

When looking at divisions in the Church, I always go back to Paul's interaction with the Stoics and Epicureans at the Aeropagus in Athens. (See Acts 17:16-34)  I suppose you could classify Paul as the Conservative Fundamentalist, and the philosophers as the spiritual seekers, maybe Universalists.  Maybe just Rob Bell followers. Had to stick that one in there!  :)  I actually love Rob Bell.  But either way, Paul is presenting the truths of Christ to a group of people with very different beliefs; the antithesis of the truths that Paul is defending.  In essence, he's asking them to reject their pluralistic philosophy and beliefs, and embrace a very narrow view of theology.  Both parties had ample opportunity to begin throwing stones, especially the Athenians who were more threatened that Paul.  Division could have developed and the discussion shut down before it even began.

But something refreshing happens at the end of this discourse. Paul finishes saying what he has to say, making clear the truths of God and his belief in the resurrection through Christ. "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council." (Acts 17:32 & 33)  

We see three interesting things in this small verse that I think can help all of us avoid some of the divisions that inundate faith communities from time to time.

1. Face it. There will always exist people that firmly and angrily disagree with you, and from time to time, you will respond with anger to those who disagree with you. (some of them sneered)  It's going to happen. We're all messed up people. Let us do the best we can to keep our hearts open and loving toward one another.  "Love one another" leaves no room for hate. (John 13)

2. Dialogue can continue, even when we adamantly disagree. "We want to hear you again on this subject." Translation: I respect your views and beliefs. I love you and would love to talk again sometime. I'll buy the coffee! 

3. Change the subject! End it! When disagreements arise and come to a stalemate, we need to learn to leave it alone for a while.  "At that, Paul left the Council."  None of us are ever going to agree on everything and it's impossible to change someone views just by a simple conversation. That's a good thing!  We all don't have to share the same beliefs in order to celebrate community together.  Disagreements do not have to equate to anger or hatred. 

Let us learn to to rejoice in what we agree on, but also celebrate our difference as well.  The journey of life and faith would be a pretty boring if we all walked upon the same path.  


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