I don’t plan on writing a blog about Harry and Meghan, although the latest publicity does give pause for thought. I suspect everybody has some kind of opinion – even if it’s just ‘I’m not interested and I don’t care’. But, for many, it would go much deeper, and for some it can stir up quite strong feelings; and, often, those views can be based on a limited view of those involved. It reminds me of the controversy in Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 3). Some follow Paul, some follow Apollos and, while we only have Paul’s letters to go on, it seems strong feelings were evoked on both sides. Now, we know what Paul taught, as seen through his letters; I’m less certain on what Apollos taught: whether there were theological differences, or just a difference in style. Something, though, meant some of the Corinthian Christians were loyal to Paul, while others followed Apollos. I can imagine the two sides getting more and more divided. ‘Paul taught this’ … ‘but Apollos did things this way’. It’s how divisions come up. People disagree on what could be a minor issue; but, even if it’s important, what gets focussed on is the disagreement. Maybe a few strong characters in a church or group disagree; and neither will back down. It becomes more and more important that they are found to be right, that their view prevails – and, over time, it can become more about power, about who has control rather than what is best done in this situation. People start to focus on what divides them rather than what unites them. Others are drawn in, and sides are taken. Groups are formed, and your identity becomes bound up in your group – ‘we’re not like them!’. More and more, what is seen is your view of the situation, your side of the story, your good points, while focussing on the others’ bad side. Even to the point where the others good points become a source of irritation, one more thing to blame them for. It all becomes toxic, and so very difficult to heal.
It makes us feel important, that we belong; we have a cause to drive us, and we can lose sight of the wider story. We lose sight of what should unite us. For, unfortunately, once we end up in this situation, people are often convinced that they are right, and that God is on their side; therefore, they have to win; and, moreover, if God is on our side, then God is definitely NOT on theirs! It then becomes more than a bone of contention, it becomes a fight for God, a need to prove we are right because God is on our side, not on yours, therefore we have to stop more people going over to your side, we have to bring you over to our side, we have to win, because God must win, and we cannot allow you to drag others over to the evil side, over to the ‘heretical’ side. We lose sight of where God actually is. We lose sight of the basic facts. That Jesus was crucified for all of us; that it is God who gives the growth; that God is a God of love; that Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not create more of them. (Except, of course, so often in these situations we don’t recognise that the other side is our enemy; we are doing it for love of them. Yet – are we?).
One problem is that there are times when we do have to make it clear that something is wrong. To make it clear that a certain opinion is heresy, as so often the Church had to in the early Centuries; to stop unacceptable behaviour, before it gets worse and damages more people; and, while most churches have structures to deal with these issues, it is not always easy. Especially if people have become entrenched about a disagreement that may need to be solved, especially if those in positions of responsibility have become drawn in (or created) a controversy. While many heresies were ironed out in the early years of Christianity, theological controversy is alive and well, as the world moves on and the Church with it. I would imagine that there have been very few centuries where there has not been some contentious issue around; and very few centuries when one church or another has not felt torn apart by some disagreement that may or may not have been as vital as those involved thought it was.
Yet, still, I come back to those basic facts: that God is a God of love, and Jesus, who was crucified, told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Do we? Do we see that those we disagree with are beloved of God? Do we pray for them? And, moreover, HOW do we pray for them? To pray ‘please Lord change X and make them see that my position is right’ probably won’t get us anywhere (however we might dress it up in different language). Can we pray for those we disagree with, those we do not like, those who irritate us, those on the ‘other’ side not for what we want for them, but for what God wants for them? Can we pray for them, leaving them in God’s hands and not feeling that we (in prayer if not in deed) need to mould them to our own expectations? Can we, at least, acknowledge before God that we cannot pray for them this way, and allow God in to that inability? Can we leave these controversies before God, allowing him into them without feeling the need to sway others (and, possibly, God) to our own opinion? Not that we are not allowed our own opinion, and not that we are not allowed to feel strongly about it; but we do need to remember and acknowledge that God loves those who disagree with us; that God is in the midst of it all – of US all. We pray, not to change God’s mind, but to allow God to change our minds; we pray for those involved in toxic disagreements; we pray for those we disagree with, and for those who disagree with us; we pray simply that God will come, work in this situation, and leave it in God’s loving care. For God is love; and God, moreover, is God.