We are social creatures, designed to live in community. We celebrate family bonds, community ties, and even feel a kinship with fellow fans of our favorite football team.
Sometimes, however, our ideas about belonging become corrupted. We begin to draw our circles of community too closely and too firmly. When we view the “other” as one of “them,” we have entered into dangerous territory.
It is interesting to see this play out in politics. The label RINO–Republican in name only–is a good example. It is a label members of the Grand Old Party put on other members of their party when they disagree about something. Despite the 80-90% of common positions, one or two disagreements about the right things may earn one that label.
The same happens in the church. We find one or two core issues and call ourselves conservative, progressive, orthodox, affirming. Then we label those who disagree as closed-minded, theologically weak, fundamentalists, anti___.
Live with those labels long enough and separation begins. We identify more closely with those who agree with us, and distance ourselves farther and farther from those with whom we disagree. The gap widens until each side agrees we simply cannot be together any longer.
What divides us
But what about all on which we agree?
Even as I type those words, I cringe a bit. It sounds naive, pollyanna.
We can’t simply ignore our differences. That’s unhealthy. But it is also not the only option.
We can acknowledge and embrace our differences while choosing to focus on what unites us.
In his sermon “Catholic Spirit,” John Wesley writes about differences that were separating the church in his day, the 1700s. Worship styles, church governance, modes of baptism, ways we pray, and the importance of the sacraments–big stuff–are all mentioned. Then he writes:
I have no desire to dispute with you one moment upon any of the preceding heads. Let all these smaller points stand aside. Let them never come into sight. “If thine heart is as my heart,” if thou lovest God and all mankind, I ask no more: “give me thine hand.”*
What unites us: love
Throughout this sermon, Wesley writes that our love for God and neighbor ought to unite our hearts. Everything else is “smaller points,” which are to be acknowledged.
We must both act as each is fully persuaded in his own mind. Hold you fast that which you believe is most acceptable to God, and I will do the same.
We are not to ignore our differences. We cannot, however, allow them to separate us. What matters most is that we each love God and neighbor. “Though we cannot think alike,” he writes earlier in the sermon, “may we not love alike?”
Swallowed up in love
Wesley concludes his sermon with these powerful words:
And now run the race which is set before thee, in the royal way of universal love. Take heed, lest thou be either wavering in thy judgement, or straitened in thy bowels: but keep an even pace, rooted in the faith once delivered to the saints, and grounded in love, in true catholic love, till thou art swallowed up in love for ever and ever!Emphasis added
May we be swallowed up in love!
*This oft quoted line of Wesley, comes from the text of his sermon, 2 Kings 10:15, which is translated in The Common English Bible as, “Are you as committed to me as I am to you? … If so…then give me your hand.”