The responses to Ross Douthat’s New York Times OpEd continue to roll in.
One of my favourite quotes from the responses comes from a piece by Frank Clarke at Patheos:
‘Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?’ or How Rudolph Bultmann is killing the city of Detroit
So when “liberal” churches decline, it’s due to their sinful liberal theology. When conservative churches decline, it’s due to a sinful culture turning its back on the truth. Heads I win, tails you lose.
Clarke exposes the heart of the self-serving rhetoric that characterizes so much of what passes for debate when people choose sides and trivialize the “opposition”.
It is imperative for Christians to find ways to remain in communion with people with whom they may not see eye to eye on every issue. Hanging around people who disagree with us, keeps us honest. It forces us to acknowledge our own challenges and to face our own blind spots.
I do not ever want to belong to a church in which everyone has to agree with me on everything I believe. Monochrome communities that demand conformist group-think condemn their members to emotional and spiritual immaturity. If there is no one around to challenge my ideas, why would I ever bother growing up?
The writer of Ephesians offers a recipe for maturity, encouraging his audience to
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31,32)
In a uniform community there is no need to get rid of “bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.” When everyone agrees on everything it is seldom necessary to work hard to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another.” These are the qualities that are necessary in the midst of diversity.
Look at the human race. Go for a walk in the forest. Examine any particle of material existence under a microscope. God delights in diversity. Variety lies at the core of existence. Creation is not tidy and uniform. The beauty of creation lies in part in its varied nature.
Describing the church, Paul wrote,
14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. (I Corinthians 12:14-20)
It is time to rejoice in the reality that any community larger than one, no matter how much that community may require conformity, in fact embodies a range of beliefs and convictions. The truth in the church is that we do not all agree. We do not all understand the central realities of our faith in exactly the same way. We have a variety of convictions about how our faith should be lived and what it fundamentally means to live a life that is faithful to our true nature and to the God in whose image we are created.
Diversity is only a weakness when we pretend it does not exist. When we can embrace and celebrate our differences, they become a source of strength and richness. This is the key to the church’s survival.