Many have rightly noted that the church has lived with conflict throughout its history. That is, indeed, true. What seems to be different in our age is, first, the speed of communication that provides data without context and makes us assume that we know all there is to know when we have barely scratched the surface. Reflection and the wisdom the proceeds from that are in short supply. The second thing that makes conflict difficult in our age is that we all drink from the same cultural cup that seeks to caricature, stereotype and demonize those with whom we disagree. "Homophobic" or "revisionist" are not used as comments about someone's ideas, but are rather meant to suggest ontological statements about another person's very being.
May I suggest we return to the earliest Christian creedal statement - the one that came out of the mouths of those first followers of Jesus, two or three centuries before the Apostles' or Nicene Creeds. Quite simply, they claimed "Jesus is Lord."
Disagreements have always been a part of the church's life, but the intensity of our current conflict, the name calling and the drawing of lines in the sand so that there can only be winners and losers, suggests to me that this radical, revolutionary statement, "Jesus is Lord," is often forgotten. To say "Jesus is Lord" means that everything else that I claims as true - my theology, my deepest beliefs, my worldview - must be subordinate and under judgment, or it has become an idol, replacing Jesus as the Lord of my life.
All theological positions, all biblical interpretations, all denominations, every political party, all economic systems, every country and nation stand under the ultimate judgment of the one we call Lord. All are imperfect, all are impure, all are incomplete, all fall short of the Kingdom, all are in need of forgiveness and redemption.
The value of everything - everyone of us and every system we inhabit - rests ultimately, not on its own merits, but on the grace of the living God - a grace we experience in Jesus, our Savior and Lord. My value - my salvation - is not dependent on my being right. It is finally in the hands of the one to whom I wish to offer my life.
Thus, to claim that Jesus is Lord over our lives, and nothing else is, should call us into a posture of profound humility as we seek to be the church together, in the midst of deep disagreements.
As I listened to this part of the bishop's address tonight, I heard echoes of both Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr. I was intrigued and heartened by the turn to an ancient creedal statement as a substantive theological antidote to the self-serving politics of polarization and division. And I was reminded once again of why, in spite of the many ways in which we fall short of the mark, it is good to serve as a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi.