“Why do Christians hate each other so?”
Ohio native historian T.S. Matthews asks this searing question in his book “Great Tom,” a literary biography of poet and playwright T.S. Eliot. As one who has dedicated his life to serving Jesus Christ in very ecumenical and interfaith settings, I ask this question almost daily.
Indeed, I witness as much hatred between Christians as I do between Christians and people of other faiths.
What’s up with that? I suspect some of this comes from our primordial desire for human purity. Mac Davis nailed it in his country-western song: “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way!”
Yogi Berra put it even more succinctly: “It ain’t the heat that’ll get cha, it’s the humility.”
Out of his struggles with self-doubts and eventual reconciliation with himself, St. Augustine framed it theologically: “It was pride that changed angels into devils; humility that makes us as angels … Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”
The Kentucky monk and mirthful mystic Thomas Merton echoed Augustine: “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. … Humility is that low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot.”
The profoundly prophetic Christian evangelist Jim Wallis distilled all this wit and wisdom into a practical metric for our time: “When one believes that you’ve been appointed by God for a particular mission in history, you have to be very careful about that, how you speak about that. Where is the self-reflection in that? Where is the humility in that?”
With all this in mind, it was with a confident and calm heart, but fear and trembling in my awareness that many Christians could or would not be able to agree with me, that I posted this open letter to Caitlyn Jenner a few days ago:
“Dear Good Soul, Caitlyn Jenner: As the university chaplain at Ohio Wesleyan University and a United Methodist minister, and in the name of Jesus Christ, I offer you my heartfelt support and fervent prayers of love and care … (and) support you and all others who seek personal freedom from their at-birth gender assignments.”
Within minutes, I received this missive from Bruce Jenner/Caitlyn Jenner’s Christian pastor: “I Went to Church with Bruce Jenner and Here’s what Caitlyn Taught Me About Jesus,” a blog by Josh(ua) Cobia. Worship Leader & Pastor. @jcobia www.joshcobia.com.
A few minutes later, I received this missive: “REPORT: Half of LGB Americans Identify As Christian” by Eliel Cruz.
On Monday of this week, I received this missive from a dear colleague, Christian evangelical preacher Anthony Campolo: “Obviously, people of good will can and do read the Scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.
“However, I am old enough to remember when we in the church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of Scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out. I hope what I have written here will help my fellow Christians to lovingly welcome all of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters into the church.”
As I prayerfully prepare for my next pastoral counseling appointment, yet another of a number of transgender Christians I meet with regularly, I pause to ponder: I know what many of my Christian colleagues would do here, but what would Jesus do?