Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Theology of Estrangement

I've noticed a troubling trend this past year that has finally reached a point in which I must comment. It is a trend that causes relationships between people of the same faith (Christians) to part ways. Little explanation is given and one side of the the equation is usually left alone wondering what went wrong.

Two scenarios illustrate what I am speaking about:
1) A person or group of people are shunned by other Christians because of decisions they have made. These decisions are usually (but not always) poor decisions that are evidence of sin in the lives of the offending party. These sinners are then shunned for "discipline" and/ or because they are simply no longer worthy of Christian company.

We have a friend who was actually abandoned by all of her close Christian friends because she was dating a "non-Christian". She lost all touch in the church world and eventually married her boyfriend. Instead of being a source of encouragement and a picture of Jesus to her new boyfriend, her church modeled, "members only, dress code required". As a result, she never reconnected in a church community and the hurt continues to this day.

2) The second trend I see is Christian friendships ending because of different views about God. Since the differences that have been disputed over the past 2000 years do not have a clear and undisputed winner, it is strange to me that friendships should dramatically weaken and even end when these differing views are considered. Clearly our thoughts about God may cause us to find deeper connection and friendship with others who are like-minded, but should this mean other relationships end?

I personally experienced this year with one person who was close to me. We enjoyed conversations about life and God and in the past few years our views about God drifted further apart. We both believe in the Bible, we both believe that Jesus is Lord and that salvation is found by God's grace, through faith. Our differences are small and in my mind non-essentials, but that sentiment is not reciprocated.

At the end of a healthy conversation filled with questions, encouragement, and some debate, I mentioned that I would love to meet again soon. My friend said, "Well, maybe not". This "maybe not" was because of differences in our views about God and mainly how the mystery of salvation works.

Later I discovered that I was not alone in this treatment from others with similar views to my friend. Somehow the deep rooted conviction about how God works (which we will never really know until we die) is strong enough to result in estranged friendships and, at times, even estranged family relationships. This is a theology that takes lightly Jesus' ministry of reconciliation. It is a lifestyle that longs to know mysterious ways of God's grace, but does not long to extend this scandalous grace to others.

I encourage everyone on any side of theology (or lack there of) to consider the entire consequence of actions. If you believe your theology is worth more than relationships, then your theology says God is not concerned with harmonious relationships. If you do not freely offer grace, then your theology says your God does not freely offer grace. If you don't want to love those who are adverse to the message of Jesus, than your theology says Jesus does not love those who opposed him. If this fires you up and even makes you angry, I want to hear your thoughts. I truly want a better understanding of the basis for this theology of estrangement.

***** Please note that there are many who still hold to the same theological views I question in this post who DO still love, offer grace, and maintain friendships. I deeply appreciate those friends and respect their convictions and will love them and support them in their own journeys with Christ. ****