Father Richard on the End of Labels

Father Richard, priest at Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, California has a sermon this morning that resonates with some of my own thinking. Here is just a part:

Hot buttons run deep, don’t they? They cause people to open their wallets, leave or enter churches, and run in droves to the polls in election years. They strain friendships and uncover fault-lines in otherwise loving communities, families, and relationships.

Over the past thirty years, rightly or wrongly or indifferently, we have done what human beings always have done. We have cast lines in the sand, scapegoated one another, made others if not ourselves into two dimensional caricatures, set up the straw people to knock down and feel good about our own personal or communal forms of Christianity. We’ve done it as evangelicals, as progressives, as conservatives, as activists, as hardliners, liberals, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics. . . I needn’t go on. You all know the labels that have been well-worn. Most of us have at least tried them on at one time or another, for good and for ill.

. . .

On the way over I had been listening to the radio. Now, like most good Episcopalians who wear or get tarred with the tattered label, “liberal” and “progressive,” my dial was tuned to NPR. On KQED was an interview with some younger self-described evangelicals. Not exactly your regular group of talking heads on Forum!

They were talking of moving the political arm of the evangelical movement away from single hot-button issues, litmus test platforms, and towards effective, cooperative relationships: Relationships that transcend the partisan and religious boundaries now so terribly scarred and littered with bodies. To begin working with other churches, Christians, folk of various spiritualities and faith traditions, and even with those with no declared faith on tackling the major moral issues of our day: poverty, the health and well-being of our children, looming environmental issues. To find something in common to work on these challenges and more. Something in common with historic enemies: progressives, and others outside the evangelical sphere of influence. To follow that road to the higher ground that is the common ground of our lives, communities, and shared human interests.

If these are evangelicals, then I suppose I might count myself as one. How about you? But then I also remember when I used to curl up my toes at the “e” word and smugly dismiss a good portion of the Christians in the country for peddling things that seemed simply awful to me. The most blood-boiling words of talking heads on Christian television and over the airwaves would eclipse even the diversity within the evangelical movement itself. Names like Jim Wallis, and even historical folk so many of us love, like Martin Luther King, seemed lost in the seething marriage of politics and a peculiar brand of late 20th-century American Christianity.

The world is so much more complicated than the labels we wear or place on others, isn’t it?

Something wonderful seems to be breaking right now into Christianity. Perhaps it always has been, and so many of us forgot to look for it over the past few decades. And it is not that our disagreements are coming to an end, but perhaps that the partisan warfare is starting to wind down in many quarters. The rhetoric of our late great schism in the Anglican Communion is even starting to ring a little hollow, to sound a bit dated. It’s starting to feel like an old church fight where many people couldn’t remember why the fight began, and even less why it should continue.

. . .

We are all, no matter what label we wear most days, evangelical, progressive, unsure, conservative, liberal, moderate, male, female, gay, straight, black, white, immigrant, native, post-modern, or simply post-everything. . .we are part of the latest chapter in the long history of this community Jesus founded. This community that is one. Not of uniformity, but of unique people brought together into wholeness with other unique people of God. Made of the same stuff as each other, made in similar yet distinct ways. Yet belonging to each other. Belonging to the world that we seek to transform. Belonging to God to whom all belongs.

Read it all.

For too long the Body of Christ has been divided. The battles occurring within the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church are just a small part of a divided church--mainstream versus evangelical versus catholic, orthodox versus progressive, and so on. These are obviously all important differences. I am certainly not naive enough to think that we will also simply agree. Indeed, I don't think we should. Ultimately, I think that the desire by all of us to defend the faith (our view of it at least) is healthy and productive.

But while we fight these theological battles, we must never forget that these are disputes, made in good faith, with our brother and sister Christians. At the end of the day, we should have the humility to recognize that WE could be wrong, the recognition that we are fallible human beings and thus sinners, and that together we are unified as the body of Christ on Earth.


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