Read this powerful witness from Kimberly Knight, a lesbian progressive Christian laywoman, about her in-person conversation with Billy Humphrey, a straight fundamentalist Christian minister: A lesbian and a fundamentalist walk into a bar.
Substantive conversations across such an ecclesial and theological divide rarely happen, partly because of balkanized ecclesial and institutional structures, and partly because they’re very difficult on a personal level, both intellectually and emotionally. Intellectually, because they require articulating elements of the basic, underlying assumptions with which one approaches the faith: this is hard because underlying assumptions are underlying, and typically held in common and taken for granted with one’s usual conversation partners. Emotionally, because sustaining a disagreement in conversation without collapsing into judgment, dismissal, attack, or withdrawal is intrinsically difficult, especially when conversing with a stranger, someone with whom you don’t already have a relationship, someone that you have no reason to trust and may in fact have reason to distrust; and there are virtually no models for this kind of discourse.
But they’re important. They’re terribly important. Some people think that “ecumenical dialogue” means glossing over and watering down any differences, so we can all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. There are times for Kumbaya, don’t get me wrong; there are times to simply identify and celebrate what we do have in common. But one important reason to do that is to encourage, sustain, and fortify ourselves for the very difficult actual ecumenical work of engaging honestly about our differences. That’s the real work of ecumenism, motivated by the belief that as there is only one Christ, there can be only one truth; and as we each come closer to Christ, we will all come closer to each other.
As jrieves put it in hir comment on Kimberly’s post, which I must add applies as well to divisions within a particular denomination as across denominations,
In the end, despite our differences, despite how much “those people” piss us off, they’re still our brothers and sisters. And, if we’re going to do this Christian thing, we really don’t have any choice but to love them. Just the way they are.
Gracious God, we pray for your holy catholic church.
Fill it with your truth;
Keep it in your peace.
Where it is corrupt, reform it.
Where it is in error, correct it.
Where it is right, defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, reunite it;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.