Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Foot in Both Camps

As you may have gathered, I find things of value on both sides of many of the ideological divides in the Church these days. (This makes it difficult for my liberal or conservative friends to pigeonhole me as a conservative or a liberal theologically, because I find things with which to agree and disagree on both sides. This sometimes annoys my friends and it drives a few of my parishioners crazy).

Having a foot in both camps is not a strange experience. In fact, it is quite familiar. I was born the son of a Jewish mother and a gentile father, which according to Jewish tradition and Halakhic law makes me a Jew. And that is what I grew up considering myself to be. And yet I had to learn to understand and respect the traditions of both my parents.

I became a follower of Christ (more on this journey later) through the actions of a conservative, evangelical, charismatic friend, who challenged me to consider the claims of Jesus. And while my friend’s approach could be quite annoying (I made the mistake of taking up the challenge and trying to prove him wrong, just to shut him up), I could not make a commitment to follow Christ unless I was convinced of the truth of the claim that Jesus was God. Christian fellowship alone was not sufficient, I could have fellowship in a synagogue, and besides, they put on a better coffee hour.

Yet over time, I came to find that while doctrine was necessary for me to start my journey into the Christian faith, it was not sufficient to sustain me in that journey. Doctrine could not feed my spirit. I needed to the experience the love of Christ, and I needed to experience the transcendent yet immanent mysterious presence of God. Moreover there was much of truth and value in Jewish heritage, which I did not wish to leave behind. I found these qualities more present on the liberal side of the Church, and most present in the Episcopal Church. Not only did it allow me to experience the Divine Presence in the Eucharistic liturgy every Sunday, it was also, as I have often told people, “the most Jewish church I could find.” (Ironically, my Jewish friends in New York City seem to have noticed this as well. In describing the New York City Jewish Community they say, “We live like Episcopalians, but we vote like Puerto Ricans.)

And yet sometimes, I find the reticence of many of my fellow Episcopalians and many liberal Christians to make doctrinal, truth-claims frustrating, as well. I want to say to my friends on both sides have something of value to share with the other. I want to remind my liberal friends that Jesus said that if “you are truly my disciples, you will know truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32. Note that the word “love” -- or acceptance or empathy or tolerance -- is not mentioned. A liberal colleague of mine, the Rev. Michael Hopkins, posits that Jesus forgot to add, “but first it will really piss you off.”). And I want to remind my conservative friends that Jesus command “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, that you have love for one another” (John 13:35. Note the absence of the word doctrine -- or knowledge of the truth for that matter. A young conservative evangelical, whom I met at conference, told me that he recently had the insight that “you can believe all the correct doctrines and still be an ***hole.” A little roughly put, but it gets the point across.).


Alastair said...

Amen to that! I agree, don't want to be stamped with the label liberal or conservative, but to remain faithful to Christ and open to the Holy Spirit...

Good to meet you Ken, and enjoying the blog, hope to read more soon.

Nancy said...

Please write more Rev. Ken! You DO have important things to say, and I for one want to read more of your insights.
Your last point in this post hits home. I used to beleive all the correct doctrine and often was anything but "a loving example of Christlike behavior." Now that I'm an "Episcopalian heretic" (at least according to some folks I know), I find that I am certain of far less and am a lot more loving on a regular basis.

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