To be the Church of Jesus Christ is always to swim against the prevailing cultural tide of one’s time. In this day and age, that cultural tsunami appears to me to be the self-isolating power of technology, and our slavish surrender of our humanity to the illusory self-comfort of our own noise. We have been entertaining ourselves to death for fifty years, and we have now perfected the delivery devices for this powerful narcotic to the point that it is now painfully difficult to interact with other human beings.
Love is the first and greatest casualty of a life lived inside a techno-wall of defense, because love can only be known in real human contact, dangerous and painful as that contact can be. We in our time have now labeled that pain as “aggression” or “evil”, when it is simply the encounter with the other. Love always has brought pain with it—but now, by defining that pain as somehow wrong or evil, we have defined the whole enterprise of truly loving as off-limits.
The Church of Jesus Christ is struggling with issues of the nature of human sexuality. There can be no denying this if we have even the most liminal connection to parts of the Body beyond our own. One doesn’t have to wander far in the world of opinion to find a voice that disagrees with one’s own.
The striking thing is that the Church is cooperating with the self-isolating impulses of Western culture rather than trying to fight them. It is easier to declare those who disagree with one “evil,” classify their disagreeing as “violence,” and then ask them to “apologize,” than it is to understand or love the one who is our neighbor and too often our enemy. G. K. Chesterton reminded us long ago, “Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, and to love our neighbors, because so often they are the same people.”
I have lived my whole life in the Church in the midst of this struggle. I have sought to understand those with whom I disagree. Conversation has often brought me to be more nuanced in my interpretation of events; and while it has not always or often changed my sense of what is True, it has demonstrated to me over and over again that we are all in the same search for Truth. The fact that in this shattered world of shattered people we have arrived at conclusions that cannot be harmonized is not new or surprising.
But the culture which teaches us that all pain is bad, that discomfort is the sign of the presence of evil, and that we are entitled to live in a world where each of us feels good about ourselves all the time, keeps on finding its inroads into the people who are called by their Lord to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow.
In this day and time, this cultural captivity of Christ’s people shows itself most powerfully in our demand for release from the discomfort of disagreement. Those who agree with me are playing the classic Protestant game of dividing—taking our marbles and going home. Without judging their actions, I simply confess that I believe this is error. Love is not about cutting connections. Those who disagree with me now want “justice,” or “truth and reconciliation,” which looks to me an awful lot like “vengeance:” comparing their pain and discomfort in the midst of disagreement to the torture and killing of people in South Africa, and other places. To disagree with them now is to become a perpetrator of evil.
I will not leave the PC(USA). I believe that Jesus Christ planted me here for a reason. I am fully aware that my mere presence is now an insult to some, and my sense of what is true is now classified as “violence.” But I will not divide the Body. I will stand and seek to love even if no one will stand and love with me. I stand against the culture of my birth, against those who see as I see, against those with whom I disagree. I have no illusion that such a place to stand will not result in pain and violence toward me; in fact, I already experience this pain regularly. But Love is stronger than death—stronger than pain.
So, I choose to seek to connect, and to love. May Christ give growth to the seed of my faith in Love’s power to raise the dead, and raise the PC(USA) to new life again. But if not, I still will not bow down and worship my own comforting self-generated noise. I will die trying to love.