The headline of a recent Washington Post article asked “Can one pastor bridge deep divides between evangelicals and mainline Protestants?”
And the line from the article that seemed to best answer the question was:
“Anybody who can try to turn that cacophony [of Evangelicals and Mainlines] into a symphony should be considered a miracle worker.”
I immediately thought of Billy Crystal, the “miracle worker” from The Princess Bride yelling “Have fun storming the castle!” and his wife asking him if he thought it would work, then responding “it would take a miracle.”
I thought back to how I left evangelical Christianity feeling beat down and tired from every growth group (the popular term for what used to be called “Bible studies” until someone realized people aren’t really studying the Bible). I thought of how I was basically done with the church and on my way out the door when I gave one last shot at a UCC church that seemed to have my theology but whose Web site was full of pictures of grey-haired octogenarians who I didn’t think could be much like me.
I thought about how, for the first time in many years, after a visit or two I felt like I had found a church where I could belong. I remembered meeting the pastor for coffee a month into my visits and him telling me that his goal was to create a safe place where people falling off the church tree could land…where they could find a church before they decided to just be done with the faith.
Would it take a miracle to reconcile Mainline and Protestant camps? I couldn’t help but think of how little I wanted to do with my people from the evangelical world I once called home. I remembered how a few months into my time as a UCC mainliner, our church marched in San Diego’s pride parade in support of the LGBTQ community, marching by a police barricade where a group of evangelicals held up nasty signs and screamed judgements at us as we walked by…I remembered that moment and thought “yeah, it would take a miracle.”
Then I wondered…does God still perform miracles? Can a church that is running in opposite directions trying to tear away from each other be brought together?
I’m a Christian, but I’m a practical one. I don’t believe in magical explanations for things. If dinosaur bones are found in the earth and can be dated back 66-231 million years, I’m going to say that’s because dinosaurs walked the earth for millions of years, millions of years ago, and not that God planted the bones and artificially aged them just to confuse us.
So if I don’t believe that magic will bring us together, what will it take?
And the answer is time. I’ve posted before about how the rift over gay rights isn’t unique in Christian history. In the short period that is US history, we saw people on both sides of the argument using Biblical justifications to end/keep slavery and to fight for/against women’s suffrage. While some churches were leading the fight for equality for women 100+ years ago, many Evangelical churches today will not allow women to be pastors, and some still refuse women any leadership roles.
Many people are familiar with Martin Luther King saying that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” but the quote is longer and older than that. In 1857, a Unitiarian minister named Theodore Parker (who fought for the abolition of slavery) had a collection of sermons published and in the third, “Of Justice and the Conscience” he said:
“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.”
Believers will be reconciled with one another, and they will do so on the side of justice. The miracle isn’t in defying the natural order of things, it is the natural order of things.
The miracle isn’t God planting dinosaur bones so we can marvel at God’s ability to do mysterious things, it’s that while we can only conceive of little bits of time and space, nature reveals to us something that is infinitely larger than we could have ever imagined. The miracle isn’t one woman trying to reconcile two groups, it’s that the end is a forgone conclusion. We may not be able to calculate the curve by sight, but things refuse to be mismanaged long. We will all be ash before the world is fully just, but God has told us to play our part, and we can be assured that the world will get there.
On earth as it is in heaven.