When the San Bernadino massacre occurred, I interrupted my Advent Ruminations to write about it and to make a small proposal. Something recently caught my attention regarding this subject. While searching the Internet, I found a good statement by an interfaith group of clergy (Christians and Jews) in a community – a statement deploring the surge in anti-Muslim sentiments and recalling us to our Judeo-Christian values. It’s good that this happened; we need more of these witnesses. But there were conspicuous absences among the signatories. Who was missing? (Hint: I don’t mean Buddhists and Hindus.)
All of the Christian clergy who signed the statement were from the mainline denominations. There was not a single representative of the evangelical churches or the “Bible churches.” This suggests to me that there are no personal relationships between these two groups of Christians. It would almost certainly not be welcome if a mainline pastor showed up on the doorstep of an evangelical pastor, asking him (it probably would be a him) to sign the statement. That wouldn’t work. There is too much suspicion and ignorance of the other’s position. Obtaining that signature would only be possible through the nurturing of personal relationships among the clergy of a city or town.
Building such relationships, to be sure, would take a lot of work, and it is so much less stressful in a demanding job to focus on one’s own congregation and group of like-minded mainline clergy. It is not easy to step across that border. But it is this unholy divide between the mainlines and the conservative evangelicals that is diminishing the witness of the Christian church in America in this time of terrorism. It isn’t all the fault of the conservatives (I admit to using these terms somewhat loosely); the disdain of the mainlines for the evangelicals has something to do with it.
As an example of what I’m talking about, I will give a specific example. I recently preached a sermon at the ordination of Jason Poling to the Episcopal priesthood at the cathedral in Baltimore (it is posted in Ruminations). As I hint in my charge to him, he has unusual credentials which enable him to straddle the evangelical-liberal divide, and as he moves around Baltimore, it is striking how many clergy of all persuasions he knows personally. Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Diocese of Maryland, though he recognizes that Jason is more “conservative” than his mostly “liberal” diocese is, has honored Jason’s gifts by putting him in charge of a lovely but empty Episcopal church building, to start a new congregation. I single this out for mention because there is an opportunity here to build some bridges. It does not seem to occur to most “liberal” clergy that a relationship with an evangelical pastor might be worth cultivating – for the sake of the witness of the whole church of God in this time of national crisis.
So it is my modest proposal that mainline clergy might do a great work if there could be some personal relationships nurtured across these hostile borders – for the sake of the gospel of the Prince of Peace who tells us “Do not fear, little flock.”
May the feast of our Lord’s Incarnation bring new hope, new resolve, and new light to his church, this season.
The post about San Bernadino is here. Read the last paragraph (before the Marilynne Robinson quote) for the small proposal.
And the sermon for Jason Poling’s ordination is here: