February 2, 2013

Issac J. Bailey | Into the faith divide

I wrote a column recently about the rift between liberal and conservative Christians and focused on the divisive issue of homosexuality.

I wrote a column recently about the rift between liberal and conservative Christians and focused on the divisive issue of homosexuality.

It was not about politics. Democrats and Republicans have been worshipping together for decades.

This is a complicated issue because it mixes long-held interpersonal relationships among people who love each other with the ambiguity that is inherent in religious faith.

A visiting ethicist will be discussing marriage equality at Coastal Carolina University on April 4, and I’ll be engaging the public on the topic in a lead-up to that event.

In the meantime, several readers wanted to remind me that gay marriage isn’t the only reason we are seeing fractures in religious traditions such as the Episcopal Church. They say that gay marriage is not even a primary concern, at least until I question them more deeply.

There is one acceptable view on that issue and is the only one that should be taught in their church, they told me.

Believing in a physical, not theoretical, resurrection of Jesus and how to process the Bible – literally or not? – are also key, they said.

The national Episcopal Church’s view that Jesus may not be the only way to salvation has disturbed many in South Carolina.

Must you believe God is the ultimate author of the Bible? Or is it OK to believe it was written by men living in an era during which men were elevated above women for reasons that were more cultural than spiritual, and when basic biological functions – even the process of reproduction – were woefully misunderstood?

Those issues, though, are simply symptoms of a deeper disagreement, which also manifests itself in the way women in leadership positions are looked upon. As I posited before, it is about a fundamental disagreement about how to best define God and who gets to do the defining.

That question doesn’t make sense to some of the readers who contacted me.

To them, there is one God.

End of story.

He is the same as he was a thousand years ago and will be a thousand years from now.

He has told us how to live, even wrote a book about it and there’s one – and only one – proper way to read and process that book.

There is one absolute truth.

It is what’s best for each of us and must be protected and trumpeted, not out of spite or bigotry or hatred or intolerance, but out of love – the only real love there is.

Anything outside of that truth is ungodly.

You can’t be a Christian and not accept that truth.

How can there be a disagreement about something so clear, they ask.

They’ve told me that’s why it must be about the relationship (with Jesus) and not religion.

When I probe, it becomes obvious that they often don’t distinguish between the two, that in their eyes upholding a ban on homosexual behavior is not about religion, but is instead at the heart of a proper relationship with Jesus.

They may have determined that it is not important to believe R-rated movies should be off limits to the faithful, whether women should wear pants, or if the proper prayer can only be made on your knees with your eyes closed.

Those are side issues, though, ones most Christians don’t have a problem agreeing to disagree on.

Religious faith, by definition, is hard to grasp, which is why so many of us hold our version tightly and protect our views against any threats, real or imagined.

Apparently, God didn’t want to make this easy on us.

And that’s why it is so hard to hear each other over the divide.

Doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

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