When Bishop Robert C. Wright of Atlanta recommended a book by Rick Warren as worthy Lenten reading, some people became indignant and asked him “What were you thinking?”
In this letter, he tells us.
I confess to you, I struggle with thin, single issue-based fellowship that gets passed off as Christian fellowship. On both sides of the issue. I deeply believe that human beings are too complex and valuable to write off even when their understandings are deemed deplorable. I am afraid that I have preached and taught about a God of limitless grace, love and mercy too long to banish people to a garbage pile of contempt. Or, to teach polite indifference as an acceptable substitute for Christian fellowship.
For decades in the Episcopal Church we have debated and dialogued about the full inclusion of people. And I am proud of the gains we have made. But full inclusion must mean full inclusion even of those we vehemently disagree with, even those who cannot at present celebrate our humanity or dignity, or it is a hollow sentiment. When we say in our churches on Sunday morning, “Wherever you are on your journey you are welcome here,” do we really mean “wherever you are” or something much smaller?
As an African-American, I am well practiced at embracing those who cannot fully embrace me. I have had too many experiences of being slighted based on race and the injury to dignity that that causes. So I have great empathy with those who have these same kinds of scars and who are asked to love those who hate them. But I am sure that retreating into hermetically sealed conversations and communities is not the way forward for followers of Jesus. Fellowship that has Christ as its center is more durable and life giving than single issue-based fellowship. And, I am sure that people who we differ with on issues and biblical interpretation, still have something to teach us.
By some cosmic alignment, I would have you notice that as I write this response, the gospel lesson for the Church this coming Sunday is Jesus’ mandate for us to “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Matthew 5:38-48
While my positions on issues in the past and no doubt in the years to come may cause some people consternation, perhaps even grief, you have my promise that, “what I am thinking about,” constantly, is Jesus’ invitation to the church to partner with Him in the work of reconciliation.