As Church, as sisters and brothers in Christ, we are called to live into the unity that is ours in divine love. Indeed, Jesus prays fervently to the Father that we “may be one” (John 17:11). And, in the footsteps of Jesus, Saint Paul exhorts us to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)
United in divine love, we (normally!) agree on the “mystery of faith”, namely that “Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again” (Eucharistic Prayer A). Otherwise, as Saint Paul tells us, “If Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile” (I Corinthians 15:17). We also agree that the same Christ calls us to care for Him in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).
Unity in divine love and agreement on the essentials of faith do not mean, however, that we will always see eye to eye on exactly how we are to live our faith in the world. Disagreement is inevitable given the nature of faith. Faith (“the conviction of things un-seen” - Hebrews 11:1) enables us to touch the mystery of the un-seen God. God then enables us to know the world as ordered to Him and one another as His children. God, however, does not tell us how to think regarding things human, i.e., the things that we ought to learn for ourselves, of which there are so many (!): cooking, cleaning, basketball, painting, carpentry, the wonders of nature, human personhood and the political community and its common good. The list goes on. We can and will disagree about what we see.
I have heard from a couple of members of our parish family recently, to hear what I presumed to be the case: there can be divergent perspectives, for example, on our current societal unrest—in particular, its causes and its solutions. We can disagree also with how persons in the Church—lay or ordained—are framing the events that we are witnessing around us. Such disagreement is to be expected and respected. When we hear a sermon, we are hopefully inspired in our faith walk, but how the preacher speaks to these (or other) societal issues may not speak to us. We are not being asked to agree. We are being invited to go deeper. When it comes to life in civil society, we, members of the Body of Christ, agree to disagree in love. And, we try to heed the exhortation of Saint Paul, to “no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another”. (Romans 14:13) And, we bear in mind that, as paramount as action is, our most powerful response as Christians to societal unrest is prayer. [i]
It is this diversity of thought that makes our parish rather unique. It also obliges a particularly deep welcome of one another. At ASA, we have a working document called our “Statement of Values” (that serves as a basis for conversation and discernment for our Strategic Planning Team). One of the values speaks to this diversity:
We value the church as a community that welcomes all people, where viewpoint diversity is considered a blessing. Jesus’ “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The course of action for Christians in the political sphere, therefore, is not always obvious and may lead to different political perspectives amongst parishioners. We are certainly not removed from the world, as we are called to love “in truth and in action” (I John 3:18). Because we may have different understandings of how to “act justly” (Micah 6:8), as a church, we choose to minister primarily in our immediate community and we pray that each parishioner go forth, formed by our common faith and according to the dictates of individual conscience, to make the world a better place.
May we always maintain the tremendous respect necessary for such diversity. And, “may the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6)
Yours in Christ,
[i] I recommend a thoughtful, thought-provoking piece on this by retired united Methodist Bishop, Timothy W. Whitaker: https://juicyecumenism.com/2020/07/07/contemplation-truth/
From the desk of the Rector