The Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity prays that we realise that agreeing to disagree will be the only way forward.Conflict over doctrine, often doctrine that, in retrospect, is anything but central to the gospel, has bitterly divided Christians over the centuries, has even inspired wars. In our own day, the status of homosexuals in the church and society has been an issue that has seriously divided the Anglican Communion. I feel confident, however, that, in the twenty-second century, homosexuals will no longer be a special group we argue about; they will simply be people like the rest of us (including women, of course), who will routinely marry and be ordained without any special notice. Moreover, the historical arguments within the church about homosexuals will be seen as ignorant and trivial. Agreeing to disagree about homosexuality now—tolerating our present diversity—will get us through our present uncomfortable divisions.
This is not to say that tolerating diversity always leads to an eventual consensus. It does, I think, lead to perspective and, in many cases, to a common view. (One is hard-pressed to find Christian defenders of slavery today.) But there appears to be an inexhaustible source of disagreements among Christians, and, as old debates die down, new ones are born.
There is, however, a positive aspect of diversity. The willingness to articulate unorthodox, even heretical, ideas within the church is necessary for the kind of dialectic that leads to new insights, and, ultimately, to new consensus within the church. Abolitionists within and outside the church, were needed to challenge the orthodoxy of the acceptability of slavery in order to bring the church to a new missional understanding that enslaving our fellow human beings is fundamentally wrong.
We therefore should be praying for a tolerance of diversity to prevent unnecessary and damaging disunity within the church, but we should also be praying that our comfortable but mistaken beliefs will be challenged by those willing to oppose the current orthodoxy.
The forgoing is really an introduction to things I have written over the years which were informed by my work with Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh involving trying to prevent the schism that eventually befell my diocese. This will, I hope, contribute to the commemoration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity.
The first of these compositions is a collect for unity, written in October 2004:
Creator of the universe, who made us different from one another in myriad ways we can see and in more ways we shall never know, yet made us all in your image; fill our hearts with your love and our minds with your wisdom, that we may truly become brothers and sisters of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.More information about this collect can be found on my Web site here.
Next is a poem about Christian unity written even earlier, in September 2002:
Around the table gathered, we
Are one in sweet community,
For Christ has ransomed one and all
Who answer to his loving call.
We worship God in many ways;
We celebrate on different days;
But Jesus is the guiding star
For Christians near and Christians far.
God’s plan for us is seldom clear;
We may a different drummer hear;
Yet, if we study and we pray,
The kingdom will be ours some day.
So let us vow to never fight
About who’s wrong and who is right
Concerning truths we cannot know
That turn our Christian friend to foe.
And let our worship fit our needs;
Let us unite in Christian deeds;
May we God’s love and mercy show
To those who don’t the Savior know.
More information about this poem is available here.
Finally, there is another poem on the unity in diversity theme, which I wrote in April 2011:
That They All May Be One
“That they all may be one,” they say he said,
But what of us when thus we pray?
Are not our bonds of wine and bread
Sufficient for the Church today?
Must Christians understand as one
The mysteries of God above?
Or should we learn from God the Son
That unity derives from love?
More information about this poem can be found here.
Postscript. It seems only fitting that I should include another poem of mine in this little essay that is actually titled “Diversity.” The poem—a limerick, really—is not about theological diversity, but its subject is not unrelated to ecclesiastical concerns. This poem was written in July 2000 and was tweaked a bit a few years later. More information can be found here. Consider this comic relief.
There once was a priest of St. Mary’s
Who blessed all the dykes and the fairies.
When I asked, “Is that right?”
He said, “Don’t be uptight.
“God gave us a preference that varies!”