Christians can disagree – and still love each other
In the beginning, Christian arguments were about theology. What was the relationship between the human Jesus and God? Could God be both Three and One? What could we do to ensure that we were in right relationship with God? Sometimes the Church came to an agreement on these questions, and the Church’s agreed position was summed up in a Creed. Sometimes no agreement was reached and the Church split, as it did at the time of the Reformation. Occasionally these disagreements were so passionate that Christians killed other Christians in the name of God.
Today, most of those big theological questions have been settled. Even the question of justification, how we are made right with God, which was at the centre of the Reformation and the split between Catholic and Protestant churches, no longer divides us. In 1999, a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church said that: ‘The present Joint Declaration has this intention: namely, to show that on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.’
The things about which Christians disagree are no longer theological. They may be to do with church government – Bishops or no bishops? How are decision made? Does everyone have to be in communion with the Pope? But most often the issues that divide Christians are questions of ethics. And the divisions are as likely to be within denominations as between them.
I think it’s important that Christians discuss these ethical issues, especially when we disagree about them. For one thing, by airing our differences and being honest about why and how we disagree we might learn from each other. But even more importantly, by openly and respectfully disagreeing with each other we can show the world that it is possible to passionately and vehemently differ from someone – and still love them. We can model respectful engagement to a society in which difference too often leads to name calling and abuse. We can show the world that what unites us, our faith and our common discipleship, is stronger than anything that might divide us.
So, for all these reasons, this Spring I am organising a series of forums on controversial questions. The first one will be held on Wednesday the 11th of September, here at the church, at 7.30 pm. The controversial question will be ‘Should the church celebrate same-sex marriages?’ The forum will be moderated by Rev. Alex Sangster and the speakers will be: for ‘Yes’ Rev. Peter Weeks; for ‘No’ Rev. Dr Garry Deverell; and for ‘Maybe’ Rev. Dr Avril Hannah-Jones.
In October we’ll ask: ‘Should the church have schools?’ and in November: ‘Should the church own property?’ and further details will be available closer to the time.
I invite you all to come along and help discuss these controversial questions. Not only might we learn from each other, we’ll also show the world that Christians can disagree – and still love each other.