That we all may be one

It all started when I mentioned to some guys that one of our fellow parishioners, John, stopped attending because his left-leaning politics made him feel out of place at coffee hour, where he felt sometimes like he was at a Rush Limbaugh convention.

 “The liberals are trying to get our free religious speech out of schools and the public square,” one person said. “We sure as heck should be allowed to express our views at the church coffee hour.”

 Fair enough, but then another added, “John should just go to church somewhere else,” adding a dig: “That’s why Episcopalians were invented.”

 The hearty laugh was followed by silence as all eyes turned towards me for a response. My mind wandered.

 I thought of my conversation with Deborah Tannen about her brilliant book, “The Argument Culture,” which says our culture has lost the ability to dialogue about our differences. We’d rather engage in hostile talk than listen to each other.

 I thought about my dad’s warnings when I considered leaving an NBC affiliate to do a talk show on a Christian-formatted radio station. Though a conservative, he talked about how religious radio had become a politically charged atmosphere, one where reasonable seekers would conclude that the decision to follow Jesus requires first and foremost adopting a certain set of political positions on issues ranging from abortion and gay marriage to global warming and lower taxes.

 He reminded me that there is no litmus test for following Jesus and that everybody — Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, anarchist or Marxist — will be changed by their commitment to Jesus, but not as a precondition to following him.

 I thought about a disheartening interview I did in the 1990s with Ralph Reed, then president of the Christian Coalition, who had just released the Contract with the American Family, an obvious knockoff of the Republican Contract With America.

 I distinctly remember his silence when I asked for the biblical basis for each of the points on the contract. “Who does the biblical exegesis or theological assessment of the policy positions for the Christian Coalition?” I asked as he struggled to answer.

 Then again, conversations with my friend Jim Wallis had sometimes made me think Sojourners was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party.

I thought about the church growth movement of the early ‘70s with its emphasis on “homogenous units,” the essential rule for growing larger churches. Experts had learned that churches grow faster when the people attending them are demographically and socially alike. The result was larger churches filled with people who look and think alike and think it should be that way.

 I thought about Jesus’ prayer to his father for his followers, “that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

 I thought about the radical words of the Apostle Paul, “In Christ there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I thought about the diversity of Jesus’ disciples: one a zealot who wanted to overthrow the Romans, and one a tax collector who collected taxes for the Romans. I thought about how those disciples bickered about which of them was the greatest.

 I thought about how Jesus called us to a kingdom that transcends our differences and changes our focus from what we will eat and what we will wear to seeking first and foremost the king of justice, righteousness, love, peace, joy and life eternal.

I thought about what hard work it is to be in community with people different from you. I thought about how rare it is to find a community that is truly diverse and willing to work at it.

 I thought about the Woody Allen line from the film “Hannah and Her Sisters”: “If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

All eyes remained on me, and I didn’t know where to start.

(Art=Man Weeping brunijazzart.com)

Posted in Staublog in December 16, 2011 by | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to That we all may be one

  1. ST121611 | Dick Staub on December 16, 2011 at 11:38 am

    […] I thought about what hard work it is to be in community with people different from you. I thought about how rare it is to find a community that is truly diverse and willing to work at it. Read More. […]

  2. Dan Armistead on December 18, 2011 at 1:43 am

    Thanks,Dick for you pastor’s heart.

  3. Ronda Greenawalt on December 18, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    I am more interested in what you had to say to John.

  4. Ernie on December 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Hello Dick,
    I have pastored across denominational lines since 1989. Graduating from a Southern Baptist Seminary, I have observed for many years the inner divisions along political, orientation, gender and about every other line we Christians can imagine. Your views reflect where I believe God has brought me. In Christ, we are to be one. One in Christ…all else is secondary.

  5. Dick Staub on December 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks for the encouraging affirmation. We’ve got a lot of work to do!

  6. Bob Carton on December 21, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    I need to know how to convince a conservative friend that your comment about Ralph Reed giving you no biblical basis for the Contract with the American Family is true. He just dismissed your claim as a lie.

    Your snide comment about Jim Wallis, however, was uncalled for. As you know I am sure, he did his thesis on the call for justice in the Bible. He is steeped in biblical support for his positions on social justice. If the democratic Party is in sync with him (and I doubt it) then the Democratic Party has biblical support for their positions.

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