Rob Bell’s newest book “Love Wins” has set off a fire storm of ridicule and name calling from the religious right. In an effort to take the high road in this debate, Rachel Held Evans has invited bloggers to participate in a Synchroblog which she has titled “The Rally to Restore Christian Unity.” This post is a part of that effort.
If you have been reading my blog for any period of time, you know that Christian unity is something that I have struggled with a lot over the past year and have written on frequently. As I shared in my post “Ouch that Hurts”, for a season I gave up on this thing called Christian unity. I have defined unity in a number of ways through the years, all with equally disastrous results.
Early on I naively thought that if we all just believed in the Bible, we would achieve Christian unity. That was way back when I thought there was only one way to read the Bible and thought that everyone who read it interpreted it the same way. I know – I was really green back then.
After many painful theological debates with those whose bibles emphasized different passages than mine did, I gave up on theological unity. I decided missional unity was the way to go. This approach yielded some success, such as a diverse group of Christians agreeing that children should not sleep on the floor in our city and working together to address this issue. But, this perceived unity was very shallow. As we got into the deeper issues of how to solve the systemic issues causing poverty in our city, some advocated focusing on “personal salvation” while others focused on “community transformation.” Ultimately this debate resulted in one friend labeling me a socialist and another accusing me of not being “Christian” enough. So, I have abandoned “missional” unity as pathway to Christian unity. I do however applaud Rachel Held Evans for using this rally to promote missional unity through her clean water emphasis and encourage you all to participate.
The personal attacks on my character have died down. Basically, we have an agreement. Those who oppose my views will not attack me personally on my Facebook page or blog and I will not blog about their attacks. We have agreed to disagree or basically ignore each other. While that is far more peaceful for all of us, is that really we mean by Christian “unity?”
As I have prayed about this issue this week, images of another form of unity keep coming to my mind. In my context, racial unity has been a significant challenge and a blessing. Christians today would never define racial unity as simply co-existing, nor would we ever seek unity that eliminates the diversity of cultural heritage. No, the unity we seek is one of mutual respect, equal voice, a place at the table for all.
In order for that kind of “unity” to be achieved, those in power had to relinquish control and those with no voice had to be elevated. In our nations struggle toward racial unity there was a season of tremendous strife, fighting, name calling and discontent. Things got really ugly before the beauty of a new season of unity could be realized. We still have a long way to go and I know this analogy is limited.
However, I think there is a very real parallel to what we are seeing today in the Christian dialog. Those who have traditionally controlled the telling of the Christian narrative are being challenged by those who emphasize different elements of our mutual story. As Jimmy Spencer Jr. noted, both sides love Jesus too much to simply remain silent.
While I hate the name calling, judgment and fighting as much as anyone, Christian unity is NOT “just getting along.” It is not pretending we all agree. It is not ignoring each other. It is not pretending our differences are minor. It is not the absence of diversity of thought. It is not easy. It does not require we sell out or give up our own beliefs. It is messy. It is painful. It does require we respect one another. It will require more voice be given to those historically excluded from the conversation. It may require a shift in the power structures that currently control the Christian dialog. It is a mystery. It is spiritual in nature. It is worth the pain. It is God’s desire. It is achievable through Christ spirit.
To achieve racial unity, Dr. King called on the nation to envision a world different than the one they lived in. The powerful imagery found in his “I Have a Dream” speech, inspired a nation to advance toward that vision. So here is my dream, “I have a dream that one day Christians will be free to express their ideas about God without being called heretics. I have a dream that Christians of every theological position will one day seek unity of the spirit while allowing diversity in theology. I have a dream that one day men, women, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, conservative, moderate, and progressive will gather at the same table without throwing food at each other. I have a dream that one day Brian McLaren, Al Mohler, Rob Bell and John Piper will be joined by female and minority voices in debates that impact us all. I have a dream that the Lion of Judah will lie down with the Lamb of God and God’s justice will be served through God’s lavish love of us all.”