Editorial: The Choice

As the world turns civically and religiously, we face a fork-in-the-road choice: to be relational or rejective toward those with whom we disagree.  The choice sets a trajectory that gathers to itself many other things as it moves forward. 

The choice is not essentially an ideology or a theology, but rather an expression of how a person or group uses their convictions toward others.  Progressives and Conservatives (and whatever other variations there may be) can make either choice and display corresponding attitudes.  Everyone can fall prey to either choice.  But whenever rejection is chosen over relating, erosion occurs.

This is the main point I was trying to make in my book ‘For the Sake of the Bride,’ where I spoke for a round-table (relational) way of engaging one another.  Within less than a week after the book came out, I met the rejection of those who would not entertain that option.  I know first-hand of what I speak.

After nearly two years of using my experience as a way to observe larger realities than my own, I continue to see the relational/rejective divide doing great harm to the society and the church–seen as late as the Anglican Communion’s decision to level sanctions against The Episcopal Church for three years, which potentially means giving the denomination time to “repent” before other actions are considered.  The rejective option has played itself out on a large stage, and we will learn more about it in the coming days.

After nearly two years of observing rejections (socially and ecclesially), I remain a firm advocate of the relational choice.  It is messier and riskier–more challenging and complex–than the “surgical” and juridical way of rejection, but I believe it is the better way.  I  see it as the way modeled for us by Christ, and what it means for us to live “in Christ.”

The relational way is the way of befriending and fellowshipping–until you learn something about the alleged “other” that you did not already know.  It is exchanging caricature for reality–the way of overcoming stereotypes with substance.  It is the way of humility, not hubris–the way of faith, not fear.  The relational way is the choice to let go of perceptions in order to see persons–to lay down images in order to see individuals.  It is moving out of abstractions into concreteness. It is walking together over an extended period of time–journeying toward greater light and mutual edification.  Making the choice of relation means we are all learners from and teachers to one another.

Without this, separation replaces co-existence, silence replaces conversation.  And in that kind of environment, the seeds for suspicion are sown and the demand for censure (or schism) is legitimized.  The choice of rejection can be justified whenever “the other” is defined as a threat–or worse, as “non-Christian.”

Institutionally, the way of rejection “closes the case” (through some kind of decision shaped into a resolution), but it leaves the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18) untried.  The way of relation (as naive as it may seem to some) keeps us at the table, believing that God can do something in us and to us when we choose to relate than to reject (Jeremiah 32:27).

I am deeply saddened by the sanctions placed upon The Episcopal Church by the Anglican Communion.  I believe it carries the doctrines of the Church in a contaminated container.  It reflects, one more time, the decision to put rejection above relation–something which is not seen in the heart of God, the incarnation of Jesus, or the fruit of the Spirit.  It is a decision I pray we will not see used again elsewhere in the Body of Christ.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to Editorial: The Choice

  1. Jeff Blake says:

    Your words of love are prophetic and a call for healing and wholeness. Many are deeply saddened by the sanctions placed upon The Episcopal Church by the Anglican Communion. Those of us who hang our hat in the Episcopal Church grieve while we pray we will be part of the Jesus Movement as our Presiding Bishop calls us to live in a circle of Love which is all inclusive. Thank you.

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