Jesus teaches that motivations are the prime source of action, and that action takes a back seat in importance to motivation. In his reinterpretation of the ten commandments in Matthew 5-6, Jesus makes it clear that the sin in breaking the commandments is not the action-- it is the motivation, the intention. Nursing the anger in your heart that motivates one to kill is breaking the commandment not to kill. The danger to the individual is not in exterior action, but interior motivation.
I write this to mention the unmentionable, and think the unthinkable inside the merry-go-round of retribution, anger, fear, and violence that is our current all-too-comfortable home: there is something radically wrong with our motivations on all sides of the current church wars.
We watch the presbytery count, and despair or exult; we lobby and cajole, press and spin to try to manipulate "victory" for our side, longing for the day when "it will all be over." All this action has one central statement that shouts more loudly than the smoothest maneuvering: "THERE IS NO GOD."
All of this debate is about us; even though we all say it's about "us" and "them," it's really all about us. We are the central and most dramatic actors; our actions shake the foundations of the church. We have become so mindlessly, arrogantly self-referential in our dealings with creation and with Christ's new creation that we truly believe we have the power to create or destroy it. Timeframes collapse into the panicked present; history is only useful if you can find a good bat in it to beat "them" with; and the future is nothing more than a confident projection of what we want/hope/expect it to be.
Where is God in all this? Nowhere. Perhaps that is why people are continuing to leave our congregations, drifting into a more sincere form of the atheism or agnosticism that our narcissistic actions of these last 30 years have preached to them.
Is being in Christ's hand more important than proving that I am right? If I truly trusted that I was doing what Christ commanded, and that Christ was leading me to do it, would I be worried about whether it "worked" or not? If Christ is Lord of my life, doesn't He set the standards for my success as a disciple, and not the membership roll/Book of Order/seminary? If Christ is Lord, am I not called away from all these good, but lesser, things?
What would a church that lived out the agony of this disagreement without violence look like? What would happen if I gave up trying to control the present and the future, and actually ACTED on my supposed belief that this is God's world, and that God holds all history-- individuals, denominations, worlds-- in His hand? What if I don't know what's going to happen, and THAT'S OK, because I trust that the plan God has for me is not for my destruction, but for my welfare, to give me--and you!-- a future with hope?
Is it any accident that these "new thoughts" in our control-obsessed "battle for the church" question every action, every overture, every argument that has characterized our life together in the PC(USA) for lo these 30 years? Is it any wonder that those who have read the motivations for our actions have walked away from Christ for these 30 years?
I have no solution for our disagreement-- that's not my job. I have no idea how this is going to end-- that's not my job. I know that no human being or group of human beings can kill the church, anymore than we could kill Christ and keep him in the tomb. I am called to love my brothers and sisters, who sometimes look like Samaritans to me-- whose skin is different-- whose take on life is different-- whose hopes for the future are different than mine. Christ holds me, so I reach out to you. That's all I know-- and brother, sister, that's all you know, too. Why don't we try it, and see what happens?