But in the contemporary church, I still contend that we are making a mess of drawing lines. What’s more, we seem to obsess on using a wide felt tip marker and don’t ever pick up a fine point. We seem to resist permeable lines (dotted lines?). One dotted line that seems to work is the one between ABC churches that support the National Council of Churches and the ABC churches that don’t. We’ve been able to live with this dotted line that allows us to be in fellowship and engage in mission but not sacrifice something we feel strongly about.
[You made reference to professional boundaries for clergy. I think this is profoundly different from lines we place between positions of theology or Biblical interpretation. I work hard to help church leaders understand these lines. The problem is putting lines in the right places in the right way.]
It’s hard to imagine not having some kind of line between racial groups. The color of our skin just keeps a fine line there. And we can’t help but notice the line between genders. But beyond that I feel called to act like an eraser as much of the time as possible. How do we get that line to be an honored, cultural identifier . . . a mark of heritage more than separation . . . Rather than having that line become a barrier to deep and enriching communication, caring and even worship? It seems to me that once you bless the line, someone comes along trying to make it wider and deeper.
Although our denomination supports women in ministry, not all our churches do. So far, we’ve been able to live with this fact. But it was still jarring last week when one of the churches in my region asked me not to pray in their worship. I knew enough not to preach or stand behind the pulpit but to not be allowed to pray was so very sad. Now I know in my heart and mind that God would love to have me preach and pray in all parts of my state, the USA and the world. I believe this line was drawn by humans, not God. But I still don’t want to separate myself from this church. We are part of a family and I must love them, hear them, and minister as I can among them. I believe I’m right but what if I’m wrong? I plan to listen and learn and grow until the day I die. I don’t want to draw a line that would keep me from being stretched.
Psychologists tell us that it’s healthier to focus on what we’re “for” rather than on what we’re “against.” For me, erasing lines (or minimizing them) is more positive than drawing them.
Dwight, you posed questions, “The key questions for us as a complex, spiritual (I hope) system are: 1) Is this a line consistent with God’s intent? 2) What kind of line does it need to be? 3) How will this community of faith draw and maintain this line?”
I don’t argue with the idea of these three questions but my weary mind envisions a decade of task forces and committees and study groups and hearings and I confess I’m tired. Where do we go from here?
My dream is of the people of God gathering together and working together celebrating the common ground they have rather than being distracted from their mission because they are so busy trying to draw and define lines. But maybe I’m one of those “delusional” ones.