The national Green Party of Canada and next week’s Southern Baptist Convention to be held in Tennessee, may not seem to have much in common.

But this week in Ottawa, a teeny tempest troubled the waters of the Canadian political scene. This small turbulence in Canadian politics has similarities to the drama about to unfold in the Nashville Music City Center as the largest Protestant denomination in the US gathers for its 2021 Annual Meeting.

On Thursday in Canada, Green Party Member of Parliament Jenica Atwin announced that she is leaving the Green Party and joining the governing Liberals. According to CBC Atwin explained her move saying,

there were too many ‘distractions’ in the Green Party and she wanted to work in a more ‘supportive and collaborative’ environment… Recent party infighting over issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took her away from the issues that matter most to her constituents.

The actual “distractions” are not the crucial issue here. The crucial question in this little political turmoil is the same issue facing the SBC this week in Nashville.

How can people live and work together while holding deeply divergent views on difficult issues?

For Atwin it seems this past week that the tension over political differences within the political party that enabled her to win a seat in the House of Commons two years ago has become too great for her to feel she can continue as a Green MP.

Meanwhile, south of the border in the hallowed land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bill Wilson describes the atmosphere that awaits SBC delegates as they gather for their annual meeting:

When they meet in Nashville next week, it is very likely that any headlines coming out of the meeting will highlight winners and losers, with righteous indignation in abundance and dire warnings of apostasy flung in every direction.

The history of the Christian Church, at least in its Protestant manifestation, is filled with rancour. Since the Reformers were first launched on their journey away from the Mother Church five hundred years ago, the Protestant church’s favourite pastime has been division. The determination to hold to one narrowly defined version of the “truth” against any slight deviance has resulted in the existence of thousands of Protestant denominations worldwide many of which will have almost nothing to do with each other.  

What lies behind the seemingly endless church splits that continue to fracture the Christian landscape?

I do not know what motivated Atwin to cross the floor in Parliament this week and join the liberals. But I do know that there are rumours of a Federal election in the fall. And I know that in 2019, Atwin won the riding of Fredericton by a slim margin of 2,000 votes over her nearest rival. I also know that, if there is an election in the fall, conventional wisdom has it that Canada will elect a majority Liberal government. Could it be that the allure of power played some small part in the political decision to join the most powerful party in Canadian politics?

In his description of the current turmoil in the Southern Baptist Convention, Bill Wilson points to the real issue that bedevils most divisions in human organizations. Wilson cites Jesus’ words in Mark 10:35-45. The disciples James and John have come to Jesus asking “to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They are seeking positions of power and honour in the kingdom they anticipate Jesus is about to establish.

The truth about most division in the church and often in the political arena is that the separations have less to do with substantive differences over issues than with who gets to be in charge. In the church divisions I have experienced, it seems to me that most often the dominant factors have been political rather than theological.

We divide because, as with James and John, self-interest gets in the way of any willingness to work together even in the face of differences. Issues get blown out of all proportion because of an underlying power struggle. Despite all the theological posturing in church splits, the dominant role of individual egos seems often to lie at the heart of much division.

Jesus did not focus on theological division. Instead he called his followers to a life of service and humility saying,

‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

Mark 10:42-44

How different might be the history of the church, if, rather than standing on our theological righteousness, we had chosen to serve those with whom we may disagree? What might the church look like today if we had seen our role in the past as being “slave to all” rather than rulers of our little theological dominion?

Alas, like the political parties we so often resemble, the church has been unable to lay aside self-interest and the siren call of power in order to serve the way of love Jesus embodied.