Speaking of Faith…..
As Episcopalians, we love our church: our liturgy, our Prayer Book, our churches, our view that intellect can be used in service of our faith rather than being in conflict with faith. We love our tradition. Sometimes, though, our love of church can lead us to disparage other traditions. We may look down our noses at denominations whose worship and traditions do not resemble ours. Distressingly often, I hear people (myself included!) make fun of or criticize other Christian traditions.
What effect does it have on Christianity in general if one denomination or sect looks down on or criticizes another? “Outsiders”—people who have no grounding in church tradition—may resist even considering the Christian way because we will not show unity with other Christians. I’ve even heard people say, “The Christians can’t even get along with each other.” If we speak of a faith tradition which emphasizes loving others, while simultaneously bashing others within that tradition, can we retain any credibility with others?
We have to practice being inclusive not only in the social and ethnic sense, but in the Christian denominational sense. Other Christians—whether they are Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, or any other denomination—are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps it will help us widen our circle of “acceptable” Christians if we remember the words with which we begin our baptismal service. There is one Body and one Spirit; there is one hope in God’s call to us; one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; One God and Father of all. I assume that when we speak of “one,” we are not to exclude persons who do not worship, pray, or study in the same ways we do.
The odd part of this discussion is that many Episcopalians are much more accepting of widely divergent religious traditions—like Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism—than we are of other Christian traditions. I don’t want to be too hard on myself or on anyone else with regard to our ways of speaking of other Christian denominations. But don’t we go right to the heart of Jesus’ teaching and example if we love all persons, even (or especially) other followers of Christ?
While our traditions and ways resonate with us,not every God-seeker will be drawn to or fed by liturgical ways, books of prayer, or the other features of the Episcopal Church. But if other people are drawn to Christian traditions very unlike ours, aren’t they still being drawn to God?
And if we distinguish too loudly and disparagingly between “us” and “them,” which of us is missing out in the true message of Christ? Which of us needs to reexamine our commitment to the loving message of the Christian Gospel?Them, or us?
The Rev. Carol Mead
Rector at St. Peter’s by-the-Lake in Brandon.
You can reach her at email@example.com