February 9, 2012
Unless one lives under a rock, or is terribly disciplined about ignoring the news and current events… well, you can’t help but notice the situation we find ourselves in as a country. The polarization seems to be unprecedented in our life time. And possibly we are more divided today than since the years leading up to and including the Civil War! And that doesn’t just refer to the political scene. We in the Church in our country are equally separated.
Some of the books I chose to read while on sabbatical were deliberately selected, and some with the recommendation of friends. But others just “fell into my hands.” That’s another way of saying that I think they got on my list because of God’s desire that I read them. I am currently ½ way through my second book on the Civil War with one more to go. You may know this, but the roots of our country’s Civil War go back to the time of the Founding Fathers and really before that. Our founders knew that the slavery issue was of deep concern and would have to be dealt with but they chose to kick the can down the road of history and not solve it themselves. To their credit and defense they had a country to “invent and found”…one could argue that they had their plates full.
Much of the political scene of the first 6 decades of the 19th century was focused on the slavery issue. How were they to deal with the growing divide between the north and the south? Some saw the inevitability of the civil war as early as 1820. Looking back with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight it seemed inevitable that the country would come to bloodshed. The issues before them were divisive, passionate, irresolvable, and of course economic. Again, looking back there doesn’t seem to have been any solution that could have been offered to heal this rift in our country outside of one side imposing its will on the other.
All of that to say we in the church in the USA are in a similar situation. I should say that I speak only of the PCUSA since other churches are not necessarily in the same place in their history that we are. We have been in a gentle slide since the early part of the 20th century and it became intensified in the 1960’s. The rifts, divisions, polarizations and separations in the church have been increasing for some time now. Godly wise men and women have worked hard, thought hard and prayed hard to avoid the seeming inevitability of separation with little success. The “civil war” in the PCUSA has marched toward us as steadily and inevitably as the forces of the North and the South in the 1860’s.
Of course it is a different kind of “war.” There will be no physical bloodshed. We won’t shoot guns or cannons. But trust me, we have and we will “hurt” one another. And unlike our country’s Civil War there will be no union on the other side …Only separation.
Henri J.M. Nouwen in his book The Road to Daybreak says this: “Meanwhile, many church leaders spend and often waste precious energy on issues which do more to distract us than to deepen our sense of mission. Progressives and conservatives fight each other within the Church, but both are in constant danger of become completely irrelevant to what molds our contemporary society.”
What’s shocking about this quote is the fact that it was written 25 years ago as he observed the church in Germany. It seems pretty relevant to us today.
I have no idea what the future holds for our country or for the PCUSA but I suspect that neither will come out of our current circumstances looking much like we have in the past.
The good news is this: God is in control. We are not called to solve all of these problems, only to be faithful to His Lordship. That has different realities for different people depending on their calling. But in the final analysis Jesus IS Lord. Don’t forget that. Don’t ever forget that.
p.s. headaches seem to be gone. Thanks for your prayers!