For example, I'd have trouble hanging out with someone who was overtly racist on a regular basis. That's just one of those things for me. I can't help but take racism personally. And I would say that that's a good thing--that it's good for me to take racism personally because even though I myself may not be on the receiving end of injustice, those people who are on the receiving end are my brothers and sisters and it would be something other than love for me to be anything but their advocate.
But, on the other side of that line, I have no trouble separating myself from the global-warming debate. I know my position, but I've got no problem hanging out with people who disagree with it. I may giggle over the disagreement every once in a while and it may be worth having the conversation here and there, but I don't take it personally... even though much may be at stake. Is there good reason for me to take the issue personally? Perhaps. After all, it's the state of the planet we're talking about. But, for now, I've drawn that line.
The Church draws the lines too.
Some churches, for example, can't help but be passionate about advocating for the rights and legitimacy of the gay community. My own denomination often draws that line. They can't help but take it personally when another church community (like the Evangelical community) disagrees with them on the subject. And the adverse is true as well... more socially conservative Christian communities often can't help but take it personally when other churches do advocate for the gay community. Needless to say, the issue has a polarizing effect on the church. We have a hard time, on both sides, distancing ourselves from the issue enough to "hang out" with each other. Indeed, folks on both sides would be offended at the idea of distancing from the issue. After all, it's people's rights and social justice that are on the line... After all, it's the state of our society and the moral fiber of our culture that's in question.
It's not just the gay issue, though. It's women in ministry, it's faith and politics, it's even atonement theory. There are just some issues that we take more personally.
But It's more rare to hear of a church split over the color of the choir robes. We have less trouble distancing ourselves from that issue (although, I'm sure, there are still those individuals who would take that issue personally too) and even some others that are a bit more substantial. For example, it's not very uncommon for churches who baptize infants and churches who baptize adults to do things together, even though one could argue that there's a lot on the line in that debate. We just don't draw the line there as much. "It's not a salvation issue," you may hear from one side. "People's lives aren't on the line," you may hear from the other. However we do it, as arbitrary as it may seem sometimes, we draw the line somewhere.
These lines raise big questions for me. I refuse the believe that the Church is and must always be completely fragmented so I must wonder how on earth we can come together in the midst of such disagreements. How do we know when, where, and if we should draw the line? There is so much at stake and there are so many things about which we should be passionate advocates. But the question I have is this, how can we still come together? In the midst of such passion and such high stakes, how can we still learn to disagree well and embrace one another even as we are in opposition to one another? How can we be rightfully passionate and yet rightfully united? The answer cannot be only that we distance ourselves from every issue... we can't downplay the importance of the issues that face us (indeed, in doing so we'd only be discrediting those who hold them dear. I hate it when someone acts like their issue is more important than an issue about which I feel passionately), indeed our voice and our activism is needed... and the answer cannot be only that we stay disconnected and isolated into our camps. How do we fulfill Christ's payer "that they may all be one" and continue to fight for the implementation of the reign of God even while we disagree on what that should look like?
No answers here... only food for thought.