Filed under: Uncategorized
I remember that when I was at Moody Bible Institute the community was very tight knit. We considered ourselves people who were called out from the world to bring about the good news of salvation to the lost world. Having matriculated into the International Ministries department in my journey to become a missionary it was not uncommon for those of us in that department to believe that there was no higher calling than our quest for foreign converts. In the men’s dorm named after a forgotten saint named Culbertson there were many nights of Bible study, confessions and earnest prayer. There are many of those people in whom I still keep a close affinity for whom are alumni of that Evangelical/fundamentalist institution.
It was expected that if someone was struggling in their faith to be shepherded back into the fold. There was also a complex network of informants who worked better than those in an old Eastern Block communist country. If you were straying substantially from the way there were always eyes, always ears and always someone to complain that music was a little too loud or that a couple might have been too close together at chapel. I remember being not only on the reported edge of these judgments, but also being the one in judgment. My tact was always to confront the individual instead of contacting an authority which I would never trust.
At the heart of this judgment was an overactive sense of personal responsibility to one’s brother or sister in Christ. It was a form of group discipline on steroids. In private gays confided to their mentors in hopes they could cure their deepest sexual desires. Women would confess premarital sex and atone for it by a lifetime of service for the Lord. Drug addicts would tell harrowing testimonies to prove the transformative power of Jesus Christ in their lives. From masturbation to lying to petty theft there was always a place for revealing confessions. Whenever there is confession there is power.
I do not believe that it was out of an evil sense that we had this sense of responsibility to one another. Yet, I do believe that it was a distortion and artificial sense of Unity. A unity that denies difference and human fallibility. I do not believe that I ever heard the Psalm that “it was good for brothers to live in unity” more then or since for that matter. It was expected that irons sharpening iron would look out for each other. If this took manipulation, enabling, cajoling, arguing, informing, punishment or shunning all was legal. It was all in hope to round someone back into the group think that would bring about the conversion of the greatest amount of people to bring about Jesus’ return.
I hate to say that I often find the same sort of passive aggressive group think online. There may be different tactics but groups proclaiming to encourage open discussion seem to be the worst at false tactics for unity. They quote copious scripture passages, beg for a stop in debate because they are conflict averse, they intimate that if someone holds a strong position they are too divisive for unity, they gather offline to get their strategy together, they start spouting sanctimonious platitudes and if that doesn’t work they refuse to answer their glaring inconsistencies.
Now I know that some will point out the trolls and those who are constantly working out their psychological issues online. Those people are sometimes easy to determine because of their outrageous conduct and anti-social social media practices.
Yet, there are those who pose challenging questions to some who claim spiritual mentorship and leadership while hoping they will prove to be accountable. The internet has proven to be a ground for spiritual grifters whose pasts are a mystery. Like the predator who tries to ensnare their victims by hiding their true identity online, the internet is rife with people assuming new identities and claiming authority that has never been validly proven. It is right and moral for those of us in positions of leadership to pose tough and probing questions of these new internet leaders.
Unity is something that I have worked for as an ecumenical minister for the last six years. I minister amongst people of diverse ethnic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds. Over these years, the fights over baptism, the different understandings of membership, and our diverse understandings of eucharist I have learned something interesting about unity. I no longer believe that it is something that is regulated or artificially brought together by forcing people to accept each other.
It comes first from God and our worship of that God. Secondly, it comes through prayer. Finally, it takes humility. Every time that I feel the need to assert enforced unity it withers like a plant dehydrating in the sun. Yet, when the Spirit works amongst people who love each other they find some common ground for working together. This can be through showing love through praise as well as discipline. Yet, without humility or true relationship care it only becomes annoying sanctimony.
It was Christ’s desire that we would be one as he and Abba are one. Unity is essentially important for a community of faith. Still, that does not mean sacrificing your beliefs for someone else’s discomfort. Remember there is just as much disunity amongst the church in Acts, Corinthians and Galatians than there is anywhere in our church today. Paul could not always work with people whom he had earlier found essential. Unity should never be pushed at the sacrifice of diminishing individual’s or group’s inherent dignity and humanity. It also should never assume to know God’s salvation in total and finality. That is where I will always walk away when pressured to assimilate. That does not mean that I do not care, but I will always hope and pray that those who are part of a dangerous distortion will repent and change. Nor will I ever let it limit me from loving, befriending or associating with those I disagree with as well.
It is just as wrong for people to try to enforce a false sense of unity than it is for people to willfully create disunity. To cry and plead for a false unity is immature spiritualism and a distrust of God’s truth. It is also a denial that sometimes there are irreconcilable differences between good people.
3 Comments so far
Leave a comment