More reactions to the reactions to the reactions to General Convention and the Episcopal Church. Popular bloggers, AKMA in Random Thoughts and Rachel Held Evans both discuss the liberal-conservative divide and wonder how to encourage conversation between those who have divided into camps over issues to get beyond tossing snark at one another.
Encouraged by those who stand on the sidelines like kids on the playground who shout “fight” “fight” or who say “let’s you and him fight” – both bloggers seek a place where people can learn to argue better and still show the world “those Christians, how they love one another.”
As an observer, it seems that several points are being bandied about as though they all lined up tidily to separate sheep from goats. It ain’t necessarily so.
First, let’s please stop treating attendance statistics as simple indicators.
Second, the rush toward cheerleading for one side and finger-wagging at the other side underscores a different problem (again, for any ‘side’). Rather than upholding deliberation, humility, respect for difference, and determination to seek truth and to support desperately needy, injured, oppressed people, a very great many people opt to stand on sidelines waving pom-poms for one side and taunting the other side.
I won’t set myself up as a prophet who speaks God’s mind and adjudicates conflicts among ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ relative to the vitality of churches. On strictly secular grounds, though, I can assure people who laud shallow theology and deprecate reasonable criticism that they’re selling sackcloth as silk, and that’s not a recipe for long-term viability. It’s not a family trade you want to hand down to your children. Cheerleading and finger-wagging help you sort out who’s on your side and who’s not, they make for great pep rallies, but they don’t obviate the need to do something wisely and well.
Rachel Held Evans
Both [Ross Douthat and Diana Butler Bass were thoughtful, relatively charitable articles, but I was disheartened to see my Facebook and Twitter feeds light up with gleeful jeers from conservative evangelicals essentially saying, “let the liberals die!” followed by defensive responses from more progressive Mainliners reminding them, “we may be dying but we’re taking you with us!”
Missing from the whole dialog was any sense that we’re in this together, that, as followers of Jesus, we may need to put our heads together to re-imagine what it means to be the Church in a postmodern, American culture where confidence in organized religion is at an all-time low.
Meanwhile, I feel totally caught in between.
Evans continues with lists of why she does not fit in either “camp” of what people usually believe and sometimes experience in liberal and conservative churches. She offers her own prescription for the future, including
When I think of someone doing this well, I think of my friend Alise Wright. Alise, whose best friend is gay, is openly gay-affirming, and yet she continues to attend and serve a more conservative church where few of her fellow worshipers would agree with her position on homosexuality. In fact, she helps lead worship every Sunday! What I love about Alise is that she’ll straight-up tell you what she thinks about something, but never demand that you agree. She doesn’t make a big stink about it; she just participates in her faith community as herself, refusing to accept the “package deal.”
Nurture diverse communities of faith:
I was invited to speak to faith communities that displayed a crazy blend of evangelical fervor and progressive inclusivism, that included a diverse group of people politically, theologically, and socially, and that loved one another like I’ve never seen before. More and more of these communities are popping up around the country. I think of RISE Church in Harrisonburg (United Methodist), Missiongathering in San Diego (Disciples of Christ), The Refuge (non-denominational) and The House for All Sinners and Saints (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in Denver, and many more.
Let’s learn to argue better
Conservative, liberal, or in-between, we should continue to debate the doctrines and practices closest to our hearts. Unity is not the same as uniformity. But when we debate, we should do it assuming the best about one another, taking our thumbs off the scale, honoring our shared commitment to Christ. We don’t have to be on the same page on every issue in order to love one another and work for peace.