Beliefs David Gushee: Christians, Conflict and Change Opinion

American Christianity’s divisions go all the way down

Article 10 of the Nashville Statement

Each week in many churches, Christians affirm that they believe in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Then they leave their sanctuaries and return to the reality of an American church scene that is divided, unholy, politicized, parochial, and unapostolic.

The divisions go all the way down. They include every kind of doctrinal point, though many Christians are doctrinally illiterate and could hardly care less about dogma in any case. Those divisions are so old and so intractable as to be of little current interest.

No, the really interesting divisions are social-ethical-political. And here again those divisions go all the way down. They include:

  • The interpretation of the American cultural moment and the type of  moral witness needed;
  • The moral issues that groups find important to address and the arguments made for those issue choices;
  • The positions taken on those moral issues, and the arguments made for those positions;
  • The purported ethical, missional, and personal implications for addressing (or failing to address) these (or other) moral issues;
  • The purported blind spots and other perfidies of other groups who from our side’s perspective do not read the cultural moment properly, do not focus on the right moral issues, do not take the right positions on this or that moral issue, and do not rightly understand the consequent implications of their blind, failed perspective.

Take, for example, the now-(in)famous Nashville Statement. Pretty much the only things I like about it are the cool website and the relative parsimony of the prose. Otherwise, I am part of that section of the American Protestant Christian scene that considers the statement badly timed, rooted in a misreading of the greatest needs of the cultural moment, once again illustrating a conservative evangelical and fundamentalist fixation on sex and gender issues, taking misguided positions on most sexual-ethical moral issues it addresses, utterly lacking a pastoral heart, and failing to see the damaging ethical, missional, and personal implications that will be its predictable result.

I happen to know that very soon, another group of American Protestant Christians is about to issue a major statement related to white supremacism and racism. (There are already several very good statements. Here’s one.) The drafters of this new statement believe that it is timely, speaks to the greatest needs of our cultural moment, illustrates a proper attention to issues of human dignity and equality, takes the proper position on those issues, and will have constructive ethical, missional, and personal implications.

I will be shocked if any of the people who signed the Nashville Statement will sign the race statement. Indeed, I will be surprised if there is not a fusillade of criticism of the race statement by some of the same people who signed the Nashville Statement.

All believe themselves to be earnest Christians. All are trying to do the right thing before God. All are trying to bear Christian witness in America today on the most urgent issues before us. All believe that they have Jesus on their side.

And the two groups could not be more different in their moral vision if they were from different galaxies.

Undoubtedly there is a third Christian group preparing a statement somewhere right now that is based on Hurricane Harvey and what it reveals, once again, about the dangers climate change is posing to human civilization and even human survival. They will be sure that the greatest threat in this particular moment is climate change.

There must be a fourth group of Christians working on a statement about how to back away from the potential of war on the Korean Peninsula. Because after all, surely the greatest threat in this particular moment, and the greatest need for Christian witness, is staring us in the faces of the nuclear weapons dangling over the Korean Peninsula and even over America. (Oh, there it is, I found it. Check it out.)

A fifth statement on the terrible news that President Trump may rescind DACA? A sixth on economic inequality? A seventh on …

Probably none of the people who signed Nashville will sign Korea, or Harvey, or … might someone surprise us, somehow?

If it seems that I am exhibiting Moral Conflict Fatigue, or Irreconcilable Christian Division Fatigue, you are reading me correctly.

Please excuse me while I return to the internecine Christian warfare that just is my social media feed.

This story is available for republication.

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David Gushee

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