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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Can liberal and conservative Christians really worship together in the Myrtle Beach area and elsewhere?

I'm still working on pulling together a town hall meeting on this topic fairly soon. Stay tuned for details ...

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is going through a painful fracture that has been in the works for years, maybe decades, a fracture that is being felt along the Grand Strand.

The fight over gay marriage and the debate over the sinfulness of homosexual activity are more symptoms than cause, even though they are often cited as the reason for the split. I think it is deeper. It is about how different Christians within the same church or religious tradition view God, and how that view plays itself out in practical terms.

That's why I wonder if it possible for liberal and conservative Christians to continue worshipping together, particularly in our area. I'm not talking about the political, Democrat and Republican. I'm not talking about being able to enjoy each others company or being respectful and friendly across the divide, or being able to mourn with each other and cry with each other and laugh together and play together and wish each others kids well. I'm not referring to the things that should come fairly easily to people who say they are guided by a higher power.

I'm talking about the harder stuff.

If I believe homosexual activity should be discouraged in all of its forms because it is an affront to God's order of things and you don't, either my view has to give, or yours does, no?

If I believe a "liberal" view of gay marriage is an existential threat to the church itself - God's representative on earth - either my view has to give, or yours does, no?

Gay marriage is the most discussed issue along these lines today, but the deeper tension has been playing itself out in a variety of ways, including women in leadership roles in the church, whether you have to believe Jesus is the only way to salvation, and whether you have to believe the Bible is literally true and perfect and penned by God through men instead of by men living in an era during which men were elevated above women for reasons that were more cultural than spiritual.

If one side believes certain views are fundamental threats to the Word of God, it makes no sense for them to sit silently while those views are trumpeted in their church or taken to be truth.

But should those who think differently - who still love God and their traditions - sit silently in the back pews and just listen to the other side declare their position as the absolute truth? In South Carolina and along the Grand Strand, the conservative Christian view is dominant.

When I've asked posed this question to some people whom I love and respect, they instantly tell me that's why it must be about relationship (with Jesus) than religion. But when I dig, it becomes obvious that they often don't distinguish between the two, at least not on these issues.

They may have determined that it is not important if you believe R-rated movies should be off limits to the faithful, whether women should wear pants, or if the proper prayer can only be made on your knees with your eyes closed, and other such things. But that's not what I'm talking about.

I remember speaking to a friend several years ago and he told me about his struggle to keep a more liberal member of his church in the fold. He was the leader of a fairly conservative church, conservative in its view of Scripture, not in how people dressed or what extra-curricula activities they enjoyed. He also told me that he would not make space for a non-orthodox view of homosexuality to be taught in his church, even if that parishioner believed other members of the church needed to be challenged on such things, and that it was a vital part of who he was.

I didn't ask him this then but should have: Then do you really want him in your church? Or do you like the idea of his being there more than the reality? Must he check his most fundamental beliefs at the door - beliefs he believes are just as Godly and important as you believe yours are - and eventually adopt yours?

Why do you want him there if you believe that what he represents, what he espouses, is a threat to the Word of God itself, even if you say you respect and love him as a fellow child of God?

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