By Rev. M. Christopher Boyer
Newspapers and social media are buzzing with topics about which the faith community is deeply divided. Whether the subject is marriage equality, contraceptive coverage versus freedom of religion, or other issues, quotations from faith leaders on either side of the issue are flung back and forth like weapons. Disagreements can be sharp and often sink to the level of invective. Sadly, one often hears things like, “Anyone who takes such as stand can’t be a real Christian/Jew/Muslim. … That person does not serve the same God I do.”
Thinking of my own faith tradition, such violence of word and emotion does grave damage to the church.
For one thing, these often hateful disagreements have been shown in recent surveys to be the reason why more and more people find the church to be irrelevant in their lives. To those outside the church, such strife between Christians only seems to prove that Christians do not take the loving example of Jesus seriously enough.
Our lives seem to them to be insufficiently marked with the kind of selflessness and compassion that Jesus embodied. When our churches seem to be about nothing but partisan arguments, it is little wonder that non-churchgoers stay away from our houses of worship in larger and larger numbers.
These bitter disagreements also fly in the face of the spirit of Jesus’ prayer recorded in the Gospel of John that his disciples might “all be one.” This spirit of unity is what informs ecumenical groups like the South Snohomish County Ministerial Association or the Church Council of Greater Seattle, which work to bring Christians of all denominations together to work on peace and justice issues. In many cases, these groups set aside work on particular issues because their members are not of one mind. It is more important for them to come together on some things than to fight over a few.
In this way of doing their work, the ecumenical groups take their cue from the words of Paul to the Corinthians in which he reminds them that we can only know a part of God’s will. As he famously described it, “we see through a glass, darkly”; that is, we see the truth as if looking in a warped and scuffed metal mirror. Paul advises the Corinthians to rely not on their understanding of the truth but instead on love. And love, he says, “does not insist on its own way.”
I believe that this is an important attitude for all people of faith and good will. To focus on loving each other, even in the face of disagreement, means making respect and civility rather than hostility and harsh words the hallmarks of our discussions. It is possible to have grave theological and practical differences with someone and still treat them as a beloved sister or brother.
In this way, people of faith can be a beacon of hope for our strife-torn world. In the words of Paul, “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
The Rev. M. Christopher Boyer is pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Lynnwood.