The Division-Driven Church

Generally, a vision is a positive thing — something worth pursuing, something people want.  Promised Land.  Land flowing with milk and honey.  City on a hill.  Shining light.  Good thing.  At its best, the church is all about vision.  Or, it should be.  Too often we are about division instead of vision.  I wrote yesterday about our greatest threat being US — that it isn’t the non-Christians and atheists that pose the greatest danger to Christianity, but sanctimonious, angry, judgmental Christians.  I received nine emails today all arguing against my point, but I share three quotes that I kind of think prove my point, but that definitely present an alternative view.

When great men of faith like Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye tell the truth and teach the gospel, who are you to make it sound like they are doing wrong?  Loving everyone is not the same as tolerating sin.  We do not have to love Muslims, gays, and terrorists because they not only sin, but they have no repentance.  If they repent and become good Christians, of course we will love them.  But the real problem here is not that faithful Christians aren’t loving, but that false Christians attack faithful Christians with false witness such as yours.

Is there such a thing as right and wrong?  You act like there’s no such thing as sin.  You act like people who hate sin are sinners and sinners are really the good people.  I do not understand what you are saying.

If you don’t believe the Bible, why are you a Christian?  You can’t just make the Bible mean what you want it to.  That is the way of false prophets and the anti-Christ.  It is not those who believe the Bible means what it says that will destroy the church, but men like you who twist the truth and lead people astray.

I’m not going to try to unravel what I said from what people think I said.  I believe I am pretty clear that it isn’t what people believe that is as great a problem as how they treat each other when they disagree.  And it is easy to get sidetracked on the “big” issues and miss the main point that I was trying to make: church-going Christians don’t treat one another very well.  The negative energy that threatens our church isn’t even over such things as human sexuality, abortion and immigration — it’s about the color of the carpet, removing inactive members from the roles, changing the time of worship, and whether the pastor spends too much time in the office and not enough time out visiting.  The major problems continue to plague us, but the day-to-day irritations and unkindnesses are eroding our very foundation.  How can we hope to navigate a landmine like homosexuality when we can’t discuss worship styles without someone leaving the church?  I’ve been involved in conflict mediation in the church for over twenty years.  In that time I have encountered emotional and physical violence, gun play, vandalism, late-night drive-by terrorism, anonymous threats, and harassment by phone, mail, and email.  All perpetuated by “loving Christians.”  Isolated incidents?  Hardly.  Every time I share these stories, dozens of laity and clergy launch into stories of their own.  Speaking with people who have left the church, at least half left because of how they were treated (and about half left because they didn’t get their own way).  THIS is the kind of behavior that I find so toxic and destructive.  This is what is tearing us apart.  And often, this is the very type of bad behavior that we tolerate and ignore.  Sin?  This is sin, and it is every bit as bad as all the other stuff we judge others for.  Why aren’t we as concerned about this kind of sin?

And even if it is “sin,” it doesn’t mean we ostracize and reject those who behave this way, but we speak the truth in love and hold each other accountable to better behavior.  We remind one another that the evidence of our relationship with God ISN’T condemnation, judgmentalism, vile attack, violence, and self-righteousness, but love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  I realize that many who “love the Bible” could care less about this list, but it’s still there nonetheless, and we’re going to have to find some way to apply good scholarship, reason, critical thinking and common sense to the whole, and not just the parts that make us feel good.

It fascinates me when I try to share a vision of unity, harmony, peace, love, acceptance and grace and people argue that I am not a Christian.  I feel like I am on safe and solid ground when I say that God is love and that Christ has broken down the dividing walls of hostility and that we should evidence the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and then I find that such beliefs make me evil and unfit to be a pastor.  I feel like we need to build bridges and seek common ground, and am accused of being naive.  I call for prayer and discernment in Christian community, with a belief that God’s Spirit might still actually be present in the body of Christ, and I am told that I have a bad theology.  Well, I’m willing to talk about it and to try to reconcile — because I think that is the key to the future.  I wonder what those who disagree with me would suggest?

8 replies

  1. Dan, your posts have been great food for thought for me in recent months. I was reflecting on something like this the other day while reading NT Wright’s (semi-polemical) book “Justification.” He argues that whereas circumcision was one of several key badges who identified the people of God under the old covenant, in Christ “faith” in faithful Jesus is the only badge of God’s people under the new covenant. Granted there are all sorts of questions of how this works out into ethics, etc., but I’ve been wondering…what difference might it make if the ONLY badge of identification that mattered in God’s Church were faith in faithful Jesus?…and not how one feels about a particular issue…

    • I am right there with you. Though this is a bit simplistic, my own philosophy has been “treat every other person the way you would treat Jesus, then when you have mastered that, move on to something else.” So far, this has been an all-consuming, never-ending process, and since I fail so often to treat others as I would wish to treat Jesus, I don’t have time to get distracted by “issues.” What divides us is just not as important to me as what unites and binds us together.

  2. What Shannon said.

    Do I no longer have to love most Americans because they are unrepentant of the sin of greed?

  3. So much for an neverending sacrifice of salt! Apparently we have yet to read the scriptures in their context. I thought we operated by reason tradition experience AND scripture. Maybe we need to shrink to become consistent, maybe folks moving to congregations that better fit their values is a good thing.

  4. Simply put, Jesus loves the sinner but hates the sin. Let us ALL go and sin no more. Ouch, removing that log from my eye REALLY hurt! A “Much Love” shout-out to ALL you sheep out there.

  5. I read your message yesterday and read this one today… and I feel in many ways like the fundamentalists you quoted, although I am on the other side of the divide. I have a hard time treating as Christian siblings people who…
    * haigiographize (or even just excuse) those who kill abortion doctors
    * want to deprive my GLBT friends of basic human rights like health insurance, inheritance, and visiting each other in the hospital
    * teach their sons to lord over women and teach their daughters that they should have no authority in their own homes
    * teach that women have no business being called by God to anything other than the home
    * focus on a few words to exclude GLBT folks from the kingdom of God and somehow cobble up cases against abortion and women’s rights while ignoring much larger passages about our responsibility to the poor, Jesus’ injunction against divorce, and the advice to pray in a closet rather than sanctimoniously proclaim themselves better than Those People…

    It goes on. I appreciate what you say about unity over division, but I don’t recognize their God. When so many of their stances directly contradict both the letter AND the spirit (and the Spirit) of Scripture, I’m not sure they ARE my Christian siblings. Not only is their God a lot different than mine, I don’t like their God. He’s (and their God is definitely a He) mean-spirited, narrow-minded, misogynistic, hateful, and pretty much everything BUT love.

    My God and my Jesus are loving, as I read the Bible. My God is also holy, which means my God really does not appreciate being appropriated by those who want to promote hate (the opposite of God).

  6. I think the older we get the more we realize how foolish it is to boast of thirty, forty, fifty or whatever years of experience in the presence of God who most likely has us all beat by at least a little 🙂

    How do you reconcile the verses below that speak of both conflict and peace? That is, where conflict is absolutely required, but so is peace?


    Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (NASB ©1995)

    Luke 12:51 “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; (NASB ©1995)

    Galatians 1:10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

    James 4:4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (NASB ©1995)

    Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

    1 Kings 18:21 Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word.

    Luke 16:9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

    Mark 9:50 “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

    Romans 14:19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (NASB ©1995)

    Romans 12:18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

  7. Preach it, Brother!

    You say, in small part: “It fascinates me when I try to share a vision of unity, harmony, peace, love, acceptance and grace and people argue that I am not a Christian.”

    My first reaction is that too many of us have been taken in by the “Faith is a list–MY list–of what you must think and do, or you will not go to heaven” thinking. But of course, faith is not that at all, and we need to help the seekers in our congregations know that.

    It has been my experience that often those whom I am delight to call the “old saints” are those who have lived long enough to know they don’t know much. A neighbor said “I’ve lived long enough to know I don’t know much and that it doesn’t matter!”

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