Monday, February 22, 2010

Family Feud

James 3:17 "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy."

Oh how providential that contention within the religious community might be the topic today. God, you are so funny.

The quick version of a long story that happened this morning is this: I was at a meeting of the ecumenical ministerial association today, a group that includes only 3 or 4 mainline churches (are American Baptists mainline?) among a group of about 12-15 ministries. I know that only one other pastor in the group shares a very similar left-of-center, but not activist, liberal theology. The rest sit on the extremely conservative-to-fundamentalist end of the spectrum. I wondered how they would tolerate me (as the only female among them) when I first came, but have experienced a warm, shall I say "peaceable and gentle" welcome. Whatever they may think about my leadership of a church, they have never spoken a negative word. (Somehow I did get skipped over in the line-up of preachers for the ecumenical Thanksgiving service, but until now when I'm starting to have doubts I never thought twice about that since I wasn't at the meeting and hoped to never do that anyway.)

So, anyway, my short story is turning long. Yesterday in a conversation about a speaker this gentleman and I had heard at the hospital, this other ministry leader said about the man, "I know he wasn't a believer since he talked several times about evolution." It was one statement in a larger summary of the man's talk, and one that frankly had NOTHING to do with the rest of the talk and added nothing to the summary at all. Besides that it was extremely hurtful to me.

I know it struck the other mainline pastor in attendance, the one with whom I share a similar theology because we both did sort of a double-take and had minor grumbling going on about the comment for the rest of the meeting. We were clearly being placed outside the realm of believers and the Christian community by this man, even without his knowledge. He was sure that TRUE Christians are of a single-mind on this issue, and you couldn't possibly be a faithful Christian or minister if you believed anything else.

I'm not one to engage in confrontations on these kinds of things, but this time I did. I would not have had he not come to me after the meeting to let me know of some anti-Christ literature he saw displayed in my church that needed to be removed (an educational pamphlet about Islam that was placed in our literature rack after an adult education event that we had to separate the myths from the facts about the faith). Apparently when he was in our building for an ecumenical meeting it saw it, was appalled, and thought I must not have known this dangerous material was in our church. I did; I put it there.

I let him know that I had not found it offensive, but isn't it interesting how people of faith can disagree about some topic? "On that note, actually," I said....

I went on to explain how his comment about someone who spoke about evolution not being a believer built a huge wall in this ecumenical group that put myself and others on the outside. I explained that it offended me to have my faith dismissed completely because of where I stand on this one issue. I told him that I felt his words disregarded me (and others) as Christians, pointing out that this is not an issue about which people of faith are of a single mind.

He looked at me with utter shock, saying he didn't realize that this was not the accepted belief of all Christians.

A few hours later he did e-mail me an apology not for his beliefs, which I would never even hope for him to do, but for his assumptions in his comment. It made it feel a little better, and I accepted his apology, offering the forgiveness he requested. At the same time it feels a bit like the toothpaste has been squeezed out of the tube and can't go back in. I know his thought is that evolution and the Christian faith are incompatible. He knows where I stand on this issues. We were peaceable, gentle, willing to yield to some extent. We guarded against hypocrisy for both of our viewpoints. I wonder where we are on the mercy piece, though. I wonder if I will ever feel comfortable in that group. I wonder if he does or ever will accept my faith as different on this point, but valid and strong just the same.

Prayer: May your peace, O Christ, be with your believers. May we trust in your alone and not our divisive theologies. May we honor you through our mutual forebearance and our willingness to work together for your purpose. Amen.

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