“We have adopted the labels of our culture: liberal, conservative. This only divides us.” The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk of the PCUSA at the meeting of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly 9-19-17
The Belhar Confession of my denomination states that unity is “both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ.” So why are we so divided as God’s people? On any given day in the Twitterverse, Christians are battering each other with mockery and aspersions.
I am often labeled as a follower of Jesus who is a member of a certain mainline denomination and a certain political party who grew up in a certain college town and now lives in a certain county in Illinois. But labeling me according to any of these factsdoesn’t describe who I fully am.
“Are you conservative or liberal?”
My favorite answer to this, personally, is “It depends.” It depends on the topic. It depends on the stakes. It depends on the details. It depends who’s asking.
Please note that the Bible is an equal opportunity offender and there are verses which are wildly radical (when they were first spoken and now) and there are other verses which are rather conventional (when they were first spoken and now.) There are passages which – read in context – seem to say one thing when they actually say something quite different.
The verses about women not speaking in church is a great example: it seems to be a very conservative teaching when actually it presumes a very liberal message. A “Bible Church” pastor taught me that Paul presumes that women should be in a church gathering in the first place – which was a radical idea for the First Century. And women were most likely told to wait and ask questions when they get home because 1) they have a lot of questions, never having been part of the temple lessons before and 2) it’s like watching the third Harry Potter movie with someone who never saw the first two. They need to suck it up and ask their questions (“So is Sirius Black a good guy or a bad guy?) when they get home. The point was not silencing women. The point was preventing disruptions in worship.
Am I liberal or conservative? Radical or traditional? Evangelical or Interfaith? Yes. Again, it depends what we are talking about, etc.
If unity is a gift and an obligation – which I believe – then we could do a better job as the Church embracing this gift and fulfilling this obligation. It’s easy to be the Church when everybody agrees with everyone else. But we are called to be at table with those with whom we disagree. God does God’s best work at those tables.