It’s Holy Week, the holiest time of the year for Christians. In this context, it pains me greatly to offer this response to the Enquirer’s April 6 article, “The Fight for American Values Plays Out.”
In what is called Jesus’ “priestly prayer” which he said during Holy Week, our Lord prayed: “I ask not only in the name of these, but also in the name of those who will believe in me by their word, that they can all be one.” (Emphasis added.)
Throughout history, these words have motivated Christians to work for ecumenical unity. The report from the Cincinnati Men’s Conference only confirms what I have felt and experienced for decades in ministry: the divide in the Christian church in the United States has become a chasm! What is even more embarrassing and lamentable is that this division is taking shape along partisan political lines and that animosity is growing.
The side of Christianity represented at the Cincinnati Men’s Conference focuses on sexual morality. He understands life decisions and social issues as essentially black and white – good versus evil, is exclusive, and views compromise as unfaithful. The other side of modern Christian expression, the one I am part of, is justice-oriented, understands life as often gray and complicated, seeks to find common ground, and is inclusive.
Topics of Christian faith expressed at the conference were identified in the report: abortion, gender identification, same-sex marriage, premarital sex, and the public school curriculum. I do not agree that these questions are central to the followers of Jesus today. As I read the Bible and try to interpret it for our times, I find that it speaks to social issues like immigration and welcoming the “stranger” (the need for compassionate reform and complete immigration), care of creation (God gives humans dominion over the earth to be exercised through stewardship of its resources), providing welcoming and safe churches for people in communities marginalized, for example, the LGBTQIA+ community (discerning the image of God in others), interfaith relations (we will never solve any global challenges or challenges particularly relevant to our nation, such as racism, if we do not work in cooperation across religious boundaries).
Moreover, I was disturbed and ironized by the thought expressed at the conference that “evil wins when good men do nothing”. I believe that some of our greatest evils have resulted from the fact that good women have not even been invited to the table!
My grief is that the Christian expressions on either side of the chasm are probably irreconcilable at this point in history. My hope is that we can at least find common ground to witness to the “oneness” that Jesus prayed for. This summer, the church I pastor will make its 18th relief trip since Hurricane Katrina. We will be heading to western Kentucky to share the gospel with hammers, nails and hugs. We have previously ministered in the “red” and “blue” communities. Surely, rebuilding homes and lives devastated by natural disaster, feeding the hungry, seeking peace, and loving our neighbor through other humanitarian endeavors is an expression of Christian faith we can agree on!
I am troubled that the voice of Christianity expressed at the men’s conference comes across as the dominant expression these days, leaving the uniforms to believe that it is the true and exclusive expression of the Christian faith. Indeed, I have had many interactions with gay people, people of color, immigrants, youth, and others from marginalized communities who have heard and experienced the welcome expressed by my congregation and responded, “ I didn’t know a church like yours existed! “Yet we are not alone. There are many others.
For those who are put off by Christian messages of exclusion and dogmatic moralism, I want you to know that there are places of welcome for you in the church. We believe that when Jesus extended His arms on the cross, they extended enough to include you!
Reverend Henry Zorn is pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Anderson Township.