NB: lest the issues addressed in this post, the next one, and the four preceding ones seem outdated or irrelevant to the current life of the church, please preface your reading of what follows by visiting: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/retired-bishop-caledonia-leaves-anglican-church-canada-breakaway-group/

Tragically, the habit of churches literally dismembering themselves in the throes of disagreement, political struggle, and personality conflict is not a relic of the ancient past. It continues to be routine practice even in the usually sedate and polite Anglican Church of Canada.

As I ponder the heartache of division, I continue to be challenged by the insightful comments Bruce has been adding to recent posts at IASP.

I want to comment briefly on his further reflections on “The Welcome Problem” from Thursday. https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2017/11/23/the-welcome-problem/

Bruce wrote:

Lines in the sand were drawn, and the definition of “orthodox” and “Christian” were set accordingly.

Part of the problem any community inevitably must face is the problem of identity. At some point, if we are going to exist as a community that has any kind of consistent sense of identity, we are going to have to draw “lines in the sand” somewhere.

If we are a community of model train enthusiasts, it is going to be difficult for us to fully welcome people whose passion is racing model cars. Any community that hopes to authentically bear the name Christian will always draw the line against sexism, sexual harassment, belief in the natural superiority of white westerners, corporal punishment against children, etc.  Some behaviours, attitudes, and words, simply draw the perpetrator outside the circle of Christian fellowship. There are non-negotiables. There must always be some limits on any community’s ability to be totally and unconditionally welcoming.

Bruce went on to suggest that

People in the middle tended to fall on one side or the other less due to argumentation or faithfulness, than because of a relational investment in certain leaders or communities.

This probably accounts for just about every split that has ever occurred in the sad fragmented history of the Christian church, or any other organization for that matter (we Christians are not the only ones who divide). So many divisions that have presented themselves as matters of principle, “faithfulness,” and/or theological integrity, are really much more about ego and loyalty to a particular leader. If we could only start with deep humility, we might discover that there would be far less division in the life of the church than has sadly been the case since Jesus first instructed his followers simply to

Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. (Matthew 10:8)

and

When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. (Luke 14:13)

Caring for those with deep needs does not require the kind of absolute monochromatic theological identity that so many Christians seem to demand. There is a lot of breadth for belief among people who are truly motivated by compassion.

Bruce continued with the challenging observation that:

The situation was ripe for schism, especially as the conservative evangelicals had done a cost/benefit analysis and concluded they would be better off separated (whether that has in fact turned out to be the case is doubtful).

So much division has been motivated by self-interest rather than substantive disagreement. Leaders in the church have led their flocks with an eye to “the bottom line”, often more concerned to protect their donor base than to embody the gracious welcome Jesus sought to extend to all people.

Being truly welcoming is a messy business. Welcoming lacks the kind of clarity and conviction that tends to unlock the bank accounts of those who are united in their sense of righteousness against the rest of the world and even against fellow Christians who dare to disagree. To learn to be welcoming  within the messy realities of life while maintaining the necessary boundaries that make respect and safety possible for all people is the true challenge of being church, much more than guaranteeing agreement on theological and moral minutiae.

 

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