July 2010


In the final weeks of a seminary class, the professor began to do something that drove me crazy. He had a lot of material to cover, and in order to save time on complex topics the professor began to just say, “The conservative position is …, OK.

The school that I was attending was on the conservative end of the spectrum on many theological positions, so his statement was code for “the right position.” It worked for most of the class. Most heads in the room nodded in agreement.

It did not work for me. I did not care that it was the “conservative” position. I wanted to know what was true.

I was not against having a “conservative” position (If so, I would have attended a different school!), nor was I interested in having a “liberal” position. I was not in school to signing off on the company line, or adopt the party platform, or buy all the products with a certain label.

My goal was to encounter what was real and good. While labels are quick and easy, they do to answer the deeper questions: What is true? What is real? What is good? A label just can not go there.

At best, a label simply tells you what tribe currently holds the position. However, labels often mean different things in different circles. For example, this same professor was considered “conservative” by some scholars, but he was under attack in other circles for being too “liberal.” Labels are often meaningless.

At others times, the labels are just plain wrong. I pastor friend recently told me that the more he understands the Bible and teaches what it says, the more he is labeled “unbiblical.”

I see labeling increasing in both church and culture. People place simple labels on complex ideas, people, or movements. We use a label to quickly embrace or reject something without doing the hard work thinking and discerning its real validity or value.

We simply nod or shake our head at the label, and we miss discovering what is true, what is real and what is good.

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This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed other religious communities. This is our apology.

Dear People of Other Faith Communities,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But that’s where I wanted to start.

I’m sorry.

I am sorry that I too often confuse who you are as a person with certain beliefs or traditions of your religion. I have too often equated your humanity with your doctrine or practices, and sometimes not even accurate understandings of those things. In doing so, I have treated you less than human.

I am sorry that I have held to my convictions in a way that has forfeited true dialogue with you. Rather than engaging in meaningful conversation, I have simply been afraid. By doing this, I perpetuated the isolation and division of our tribes.

But there is more.  I have confused God’s revelation with my own cleverness. Too often I have elevated myself to a position that belongs solely to God. Instead of being a grateful recipient of grace, I have acted as if truth originates with me. In doing so, I have put myself above you.

I am sorry that I have confused an act of love with an act of war. I have taken what God intended to be “good news for all people” and turned it into “reasons why I am right and you are wrong.” What God intended to be a healing balm, I turned into a battle axe. In doing so, I have treated you as my greatest enemy rather than a fellow beggar looking for bread.

I do not want to minimize your beliefs or mine by saying something sappy like “our religions are the same.” We both know that our faiths have some important differences as well as similarities.  But those differences are no reason to minimize who you are as a person – God’s image-bearer.

For this I am sorry.  I’m sorry. You deserve better.  Jesus’ name deserves better.

Please forgive me,

Signed- The Church

(Letter by Jim Vining and Sarah DePriest)