Reflection on Church Division
Grace and Peace to you.
After a big church fight like the United Methodist Church just had, people sometimes ask the losers why they stay in a denomination-- or sometimes even with congregations-- when they have such deep differences. Why not leave them and join up with more like-minded people? Well, you stay because they're your people. You stay because Jesus' commandment wasn't to agree with each other, but to live with each other.
We are a part of this great, messy organism of the human community, and all the little messy parts of it, like families, and congregations, and denominations. We don't get to opt out. We don't get to pick and choose our neighbors. We don't get to vet whom we love and whom we avoid. That was the issue when Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is, whoever you meet up with, especially the ones you think aren't, and wish weren't, your neighbor. Especially them.
Despite various calls for doctrinal conformity, what binds us together in the church is not our choices but God's. God makes up the church; we don't. What unites us isnot our mutual assent to similar ideas, but our love for each other. We participate in God's love for everyone. It's love precisely because it bridges our differences. It is love because it is rooted in God's care for everyone, regardless of how good or right or at home we feel among them. The same is true of our families, and the whole human family: we are One, whether we like it or not. So we might as well practice liking it, and living with each other.
The willingness to extend care and even to embody unity with those who are different from us seems like a challenge-- but isn't that what love is? Love is a commitment to the well-being of the Other, and the deepest love is toward one who is very much other. “Loving” someone who is essentially a projection of myself is hardly love at all. Loving someone who is really, really different—now that's love.
So we stay in families and churches order to love the people who drive us nuts, the people who we believe are betraying Jesus and his love, the very ones he died for. We may not be doing it well. But we're definitely getting a lot of practice. God help us.