DisunityI am attending a National Workshop on Christian Unity this week in Columbus, Ohio.  It is an annual ecumenical gathering that focuses on how to build bridges, foster friendly relationships, and improve communication between Christian communions.  We talk about finding common ground, celebrating each other, and discovering spiritual synergy where together we are greater than the sum of our parts.  It becomes painfully apparent how far apart we are — a small group of religious leaders talking about what if and what could be simply illustrates how NOT united we currently are.  And this morning a brief encounter shined the light of brutal honesty on the witness we offer the world.

I stepped out of the meeting to respond to a text message, and I stood near a pair of young Latina members of the housekeeping staff at our hotel.  When I finished my message, I noticed the young women, and one asked me, “Who are you?”  I froze like a deer in headlights for a moment, unsure how to respond.  My confusion was clearly displayed, so the young woman unpacked her meaning by asking, “What group are you with?  Who are you?”  I explained that we were leaders from a variety of Christian denominations and organizations gathered to talk about “unity” and working together.  Both young women looked confused.

“But, aren’t you all Christian?” one asked.

“Oh, yeah, but we even want to connect with people who believe differently; who have completely different religious beliefs.  We want to connect with people of many faiths.”

“But, you all believe in the same God here, right?” the other asked.

“Well, yes, but some of what we believe about God is a little different…”

“But, it IS God, right?  You all believe in God?”


“And do you have the same Bible?” the first asked.

“Basically, yes, there are some different versions, but we all claim the same scriptures.” I explained.

The brows on both young women were furrowed and tense — each looked confused.

“So, why are you here?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, if you have one God, all believe in Jesus Christ, have one Bible, why do you need a meeting like this?  Why aren’t you one church?”

We talk all the time about wanting to reach young people.  We talk all the time about wanting to make disciples.  We talk about transforming the world.  Too bad we can’t all work together to do it.  Too bad we are in competition for kingdom building instead of celebrating each and every soul in new relationship with God.  We really are less interested in “making” Christian disciples than we are in making “United Methodists,” “Baptists,” “Lutherans,” “Roman Catholics,” “Pentecostals,” or “Presbyterians.”  There are too many precious arguments about being born again to allow that “those people” might have as much right to rescue the perishing as we do.  Heaven help us, someone might baptize somebody wrong or not consecrate the communion elements the way Jesus demands.  Some misguided segment of the body might mistakenly allow the wrong “all” to participate in the priesthood of all believers.  We might allow someone who needs the free gift of Christ to receive it before they deserve it.

I asked the young women if they go to church — they both laughed and said “no.”  I walked away wondering what impression they took away from our brief encounter?  When I did the seeker study for the denomination almost a decade ago, one of the top reasons why young people reported they left the church was the division and infighting they experienced.  For many, they simply did not want to waste their time trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong, who was good and who was bad, who was smarter than everyone else.  The very fact that we have to talk about creative ways to get along with others who worship the same God we do, who follow the same Savior we do, and study the same sacred text we do is a powerful testimony and witness to our world.  Unfortunately, what it says about us is that we aren’t very good at being one in Christ and one in ministry to all God’s creation.  It speaks much more powerfully to what we can’t do and what we are not rather than who God in Christ through the Holy Spirit calls us to be.

8 replies

  1. Ouch! This message hurts. Yes! There are some groups out there working together like the Kairos Prison Ministry. Still the question for most remains. Are we really more concerned about making “Methodist” than disciples? In theory, “No! Of course not!” In practice many members show very little interest in “becoming” or “making” disciples. Indeed, many only want new members to preserve the status quo in their particular setting. We are divided in a variety of ways beyond theology and worship styles. Walls have been build along economic status, political agendas, and much more. A number of years ago, I watched a historically strong Sunday School class crumble into pieces while right wing and lef wing folks in the group fought a bitter battle to see who was truly following Jesus. The folks in the middle simply left for fear of getting caught in the cross fire.

    Regarding ecumenical gathers, years ago we had a variety of different ecumenical gatherings that were quite successful. In my current setting, I have been to one event in the past 2 years of this kind. Now, let’s talk about “inter-faith” gatherings. I am not aware of any ongoing groups in my area of at the present time.

  2. Bingo!

    While doing a Kairos Prison Ministry weekend retreat at a maximum security prison a few years back, i discovered the dominant feature that most impressed and influenced the inmates we were working with was the fact that the leaders were a mixture of Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, United Methodist, etc., all working together in ministry for them. It directly contradicted what they had previously thought about Christians and their quarrelsome, divisive infighting.

    For some time i’ve been arguing everywhere i speak that in these extremely polarized times, all community leaders [not just Christian leaders, but especially all Christian leaders in an ecumenical spirit] should be coming together to work on visible, community-impacting projects that we can all agree on [there are plenty of things: helping children in various ways, for instance]. We as community leaders need to demonstrate to the people in our local communities by clear words and actions that even in these difficult times people can indeed transcend their differences and work together for the common good.

    Thanks for your blog!

    grace and peace,

  3. The prayer of Jesus in John 17:21 “That they all may be one” is the basic foundation for the formation of the ‘Church of South India’ were I have my roots. It is the second largest Church union in the world next to Church of Canada formed in the year 1947. The four major protestant denominations Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalist and Methodist came together to form this union.

    I continue to pray that this prayer of Jesus will come to reality one day soon. Talking about Unity in Diversity how far are we willing to let go of our denominational differences and willing to come together towards a common Goal to make disciples of God and to Transform the world.

    We say we are united ecumenically as Christians of other denominations but is this enough? The Govt. does not buy our ecumenical relations they view each denomination as a separate entity how do we break it? why go that farther if you look into your own local community you can see how many Churches can’t get along together sharing the resources and gifts to build the kingdom of God. Where do we even kindle the fire of unity when we are so far away from Sharing the love of Christ within Christians let alone other religions and non religious groups.

    United we are strong dividied we are weak!
    Aaron Alfred
    pastor Berlin/Neshkoro UMC

  4. Wow…. insightful and powerful. These young ladies made a wonderful point that such a meeting shouldn’t be necessary. Yet, it is. And I hope that as you all meet and work together, that there will be some concrete ways that emerge for you to share with us how we as the body, the entire body, can work on coming together more and better… or “more better”. ☺ These divisions that we have put up only do harm and confuse. To come together as Kingdom dwellers makes sense. I enjoy the opportunities I have to be with others where the differences are set aside and we focus on what we have in common. The Academy for Spiritual Formation is such a place. May we create more and more space to truly be united!

  5. It is not surprising to read the exchange you had with these two ladies, and I also wonder why we aren’t able to spend more time expressing what unites and connects us, rather than so much time dwelling on our differences as denominations and all the infighting….
    Rev Denny Ausman

  6. Wow, a few years ago I was at a Global AIDS Fund conference and was asked by a woman I was sitting with about being a United MethodIst. She was an Associate Professor at Duke School of Theology. I assumed she WAS United Methodist but she was not. I was dumbfounded and at a total loss of words. I think many of us feel that way.

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