As the national political climate becomes increasingly more polarized and as religion increasingly identifies itself in political terms, we are seeing a widening divide in Christianity itself, one for which at this point there seems to be no possible truce. When an entity wages war against itself, it is almost assured that it will lose more than it wins, and at great cost.
Each side claims to be “real Christianity” and is increasingly angered by the claims of the other, often pertaining to women’s rights or more recently to gay rights or the interpretation of the founding documents of our country, but at its core it’s a war about Biblical interpretation.
Let’s call fundamentalist Christians the orange forces. In the 1970s this army married itself to right-wing politics, blending its theology with Republican ideologies and creating a new political powerhouse different from either of its two parts. Becoming ever more separatist with each passing year, this group of Christians teaches that the Bible is handed down directly from God as God’s rules for our daily living; and the political connection simplifies the tough social issues, because whatever is the Republican position on any issue is by nature also seen as God’s position.
The green army consists of most other Christians, those who have not embraced fundamentalist ideologies. This group usually focuses on Jesus’ life and ministry, and is driven more to do the Gospel than to speak it. These Christians work to eradicate poverty and hunger and to stand up for those who are oppressed by race, gender, disability, sexual identity, religion, or economic status. This is a group that is inclusive to all groups of people, welcoming them fully into God’s family. Politically most of this army is Democrat or Independent, but they generally believe in a separation of religion and politics and do not combine the one with the other.
Both armies are passionately living out their perception of what it means to be Christian, and both are increasingly thinking of the other as its enemy. The war is not between Christians and non-Christians but between self-proclaiming Christians and self-proclaiming Christians.
Must this war play itself out to the end? Is there a possible compromise? I’m not sure there is. While the green army talks of agreeing to disagree, they are leaving the fundamentalist churches, sometimes uniting with green congregations, but too often leaving church altogether, in disillusionment. The fundamentalists do not mimic the “agree to disagree” compromise, but rather welcome those who think differently, only if they are repentant and want to put on an orange uniform. And perhaps they are right that we have fought too far to simply agree to disagree.
Indeed, how can a church compromise that women can serve in leadership roles and that they can’t; or that gay people are welcome and accepted, and that they are abominable sinners in need of repentance; or that church and state are to be kept separate, and that God ordained us as a Christian nation? So churches are splitting. Denominations are splitting. Families are splitting. Communities are splitting. Hurting words. Mean-spirited accusations. We are at war.
To fight amongst ourselves, killing off many from both sides and wounding the rest, is tragic. Yet, the greatest casualties, it seems, might be those outside who are watching us fight. What was that “great commission” Jesus gave us? To attack our own brothers and sisters who don’t agree with everything we believe? (Matt. 28:16-20) How many outsiders watching our war are seeing in us the Jesus we claim to represent, and how many are rushing to become a part of our “faith”? Shamefully for us, many are running as far away from our so-called faith as they can.
Jesus’ heart wrenching prayer for ALL believers:
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17: 20b-23 NIV)
And two more prayerful thoughts for us all:
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:20-21 NIV)
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20 NIV)
Kathy Vestal is a college educator in Salisbury, NC. She has a Master’s of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master’s of Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. An avid writer, gifted teacher, and occasional public speaker/preacher, her passions include civil rights, social justice, church reform, and education. She has traveled to Mexico, Honduras, Argentina, Ecuador, and The Gambia, Africa, and enjoys reading, nature, and history.