Friday, December 26, 2008

Division Weakens the Body of Christ

The Dean of the National Cathedral reflects on the damage being done with the recent schism in the Episcopal Church.

"Should conservative Episcopalians who disagree with U.S. church leaders about homosexuality, women's ordination, biblical literalism and other issues leave and form a separate denomination?"

It's a sad thing to behold--that within a community of Christians called by their Lord to love each other, a group would consider leaving to form a separate denomination, or, as is currently happening, would seek to create a separate province of the theologically like-minded within the Anglican Communion. We in the Episcopal Church have been disagreeing deeply for some time--about human sexuality and about how we read scripture. And an array of cultural and global forces have been at work driving a wedge between the sides.

But unity is at the core of what it means to be Christian. We are members all of one Body, St. Paul wrote. We are part of an interdependent community that needs all its parts. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you, nor the head to the feet, I have no need of you,'' Paul argued. All the parts need each other, even when they may at the moment be alienated. Liberals need conservatives to keep them rooted in the ancient teaching; conservatives need liberals to keep them looking for the new things God is doing in the world. God's truth is bigger than any one part can claim.

That is why the endless divisions within the Christian church through the centuries have been so tragic. The church has held to a set of core beliefs articulated most clearly in its creeds. When serious conflicts have arisen, many have persisted in the church out of the conviction that it is better to stay together and bear witness to the truth than to leave for the sake of theological purity. Schism, they believed, is worse than heresy because it undermines the essential Christian call to love one another. As Jesus said, the night before he was killed, "By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Christ himself saw our capacity to love across our differences as the surest sign of God's purpose for our world and something essential we have to give.

There have been actions and words on both sides that have been arrogant and dismissive. And as in any long-term marriage, both sides can point to hurtful things said and done. But the decision to form a new province, or perhaps even to leave the denomination, diminishes all Episcopalians and Anglicans and tragically weakens the one gift the world most needs from the church - a vision of a love that is deeper than all the issues that divide the human race.

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