Often it is a struggle to know what to write about, but that is not the case this week. The Syrian atrocities fill my thoughts and the victims my prayers. The WSJ writes about the lunacy that I live in and deal with on a daily basis. But with all that and more, one thing has consumed my thoughts this week. Regular readers will recall that on Tuesday I wrote of the Susan Rice improprieties (at a minimum) and compared it to a controversy currently ongoing at Princeton Theological Seminary. My effort was to point out that it seems like politics dominates everything else now.
As a Presbyterian that such is the case inside the Presbyterian church is just barely news. The PTS controversy was stunning not so much for its politics as it was for its sheer rudeness. But my spirits were saddened and weakened yesterday when I heard on the host’s radio show that there was a very similar controversy on-going inside the Roman Catholic church as well. To tell the story, host Hewitt read a good deal of this blog post on air. At this point, let me break down the controversies for you just a little.
PTS originally awarded Tim Keller, amazing preacher from Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, an award and an invitation to address the seminary. Pastor Keller is in the Presbyterian Church in America – a conservative Presbyterian denomination that does not practice the ordination of women or LGBTQ individuals. PTS is a part of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America – the largest Presbyterian denomination (at least today; it is losing members faster that California dams are spilling water) and the most liberal, which means that among other things it strongly affirms ordination of women and LGBTQ individuals. Later, after protest, PTS withdrew the award offer to Pastor Keller who has nonetheless agreed to keep the speaking engagement.
In the Catholic case, friend of Hewitt’s Archbishop Charles Chaput was invited to address an interdenominational conclave in Sacramento, Ca. It should be obvious that the Archbishop is conservative given his interviews on the show and his writings, often promoted in this space. However, a local Jesuit (apparently the liberal order inside Catholicism) school principle and Catholic cleric put up such a fuss that the Archbishop decided not to appear rather than risk descension in an event designed to promote unity.
There are two things worthy of note in both of these stories. It is the liberal side of the debate that is willing to risk Christian unity for the sake of their particular political stake. It is the conservative side of the debate that is willing to make concessions in order to preserve, at least the appearance of, unity and to attempt to create an opportunity to build unity.
Since the 16th century Christianity has split and split and split again, often over controversies far less significant than the ones currently facing it. Hence I mention two different Presbyterian denominations in this post and they are actually numbered in the dozens. I have long admired Roman Catholicism, despite my many theological disagreements with it, for its ability to maintain some sort of unity while accommodating a great breadth of viewpoints on many, many issues. But now that remarkable ability seems to be strained nearly to the breaking point by something as spiritually insignificant as American politics – and yes I said “insignificant.” Let’s be completely honest, on the final and total arrival of God’s kingdom this is all going to seem like the lost crayon that caused two days of tears when we were four – a very silly thing to get so upset about.
I look at the nation today and its desperate need for a strong Christianity, and these stories make me weep. The traditional social issues of Christian political activism are now by the wayside, lost in the vast ocean of problems even more fundamental – incivility, disdain, even hatred. The country, largely in what it thought was an effort to overcome bigotry and division, has vehemently grasped same simply on different lines than before. This should clearly illustrate that the problem is not bigotry but human nature, and only faith gives us the power to combat human nature. The country needs what Christianity has to offer desperately and perhaps more than any other time in its history. Even the Civil War with all its horrible violence was generally more civil than we are now. The absence of violence does not necessarily indicate lower levels of disdain or hatred.
I look at this situation and I find myself wondering if the time for splitting and accommodation in Christianity might not be at an end. It might instead be a time for unity and excommunication. That is to say, rather than let the liberal forces so clearly divisive quiet us for the sake of unity, I wonder if it is not time to condemn them and drive them from our midst. Does not their incivility and willingness to divide make them well outside the Christian norm? I am not prepared to answer this question this morning, but I am strongly prepared to pray about it and to ask others to join me.
There is much at stake.