We could sit here and blame one person or one party or one church tribe, but in reality, this division is caused by all of the above, by each party, by each person, it cannot be pinned on any one individual or group. In fact, I have seen those who claim to be non-divisive to be the most divisive shown by calling people names and lumping groups of people together by judging them based on their beliefs, denomination, lifestyle, voting preference or skin color. We have pushed our diversity into division and I believe It is clearer than ever that we, as a whole, struggle with division. After all, this is who we are by our nature.
When sin entered the world, it distorted both the idea of unity and the purpose of unity. First, sin pushed diversity into division. After Adam and Eve fell into sin, we see alienation and division between God and humanity, between man and woman, and between humanity and creation (Gen. 3:8-19). Where these diverse relationships were once marked by peace and unity, sin brought conflict and enmity as the scripture says. Difference and diversity in all things are part of God’s good creation. But division and enmity are sinful intruders, not part of God’s original design.
Sin also distorted the original idea of unity and has transformed unity into uniformity. We see this in our world today where it is believed that we cannot be unified unless all are in uniformity. This is ever present in my church tribe. This false idea of uniformity in place of unity takes away our God given diversity, nuances or differences and forces them into a “change or you are wrong” type of uniformity. This false idea of uniformity is being carried out in an ever increasing hostile way through publically name calling those we don’t agree with, not allowing people to speak in public with their diverse views, even inflicting violence on individuals in many different and harmful ways. And this is done in the name of tolerance. And we as adults may wonder why bullying is such an issue in our children’s lives. If we are honest with ourselves, what we see today in most areas of our lives, in the media and on social media, is adults bullying one another into uniformity of thought and action.
Why does this concern me so much? Well if this is happening in our political world and in our personal lives it will only be a short time that it will be done in our religious lives. When will it be wrong for us to worship as God calls us to worship? When will it be wrong to speak the truth of God’s word? In the current mindset of uniformity vs. unity and division vs. diversity, it will not be long before we will be told how to speak of Jesus’s love and grace or maybe not speak due to it not being a word of tolerance but a word of division. We see hints of it already as we are told we cannot speak the word of Jesus because it is non-inclusive or hurtful. I believe Jesus wants something completely different!
I believe he wants unity, not uniformity. He wants us to love one another despite our difference. He wants us to celebrate our diversity while holding onto our unity. And I believe he wants all of us to push aside the sin of division and unify around his love for all. Does this mean we all believe the same? No, not at all.
A saying I remember from seminary goes like this: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” Our problem, of course, is determining the essentials. And, as a friend remarked to me, our list of essentials keeps getting longer. And I might add more divisive.
I believe we need to be unified in purpose! Because of sin God came on a mission “to reconcile to himself all things” through Christ by “making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20). In this mission, God not only set out to reconcile humanity to himself but also to reconcile people with one another. Reconciliation is first and foremost God’s mission and work. This work is definitely not rooted in our efforts alone. But God did give us his “ministry of reconciliation,” and God sends us out as “Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:18-20) or little Christs as Martin Luther puts it from Gal. 2:20. The church is integral to God’s mission of reconciling all things. It is reconciling people into a unity of purpose, a unity in love for one another despite and in awe of our differences.
So how do we move forward with this call for unity in mind? I believe it begins with each one of us living the love of Jesus. This means living a life that is authentic, embodied with Jesus and focused on restoration and reconciliation. It means we live our lives as people who understand that each one of us is unique and broken in our own way and thus we live by God’s grace. We live as people who accept others for who they are in Christ, recognizing our differences and celebrating them. We live as people who are free to share their burdens with one another as we take time to listen to one another’s stories to gain understanding. And finally, we are people who live by faith and by God’s grace extending his love and inviting others into a life of living the love of Jesus.