By Mark Smith
There was a time in my life when I loved to argue. I loved to use logic to counter another person’s (in my view) inferior reasoning. I took satisfaction in the back and forth of it all. I reveled in the moment when I could sense the breaking point in my adversary, that they were about to give in, and admit that I was right. Somewhere along the line though, I lost the taste for that type of victory. I’ve learned to find contentment in the truth that I don’t have to be, nor will I always be, right.
However, this desire to always be right is not unique to a younger version of myself. And as so many tried to tell me before, it is not the most attractive trait in individuals. Yet, I see this sometimes harmful trait showing itself in places where it truly does not belong. Disagreements within the church are not a new development, but when people of faith begin to allow their disagreements to grow into divisions we have a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
I was listening to the Paper Trail Podcast (which is a product of this newspaper), and I heard Reggie and Paul discussing tribalism. I think tribalism is an issue that we need to speak about in the faith community. Because, where we used to have disagreements on matters of faith that divided us, we are now allowing our political disagreements to cause even deeper chasms. And the desire to argue over who is right has spilled over into who is on the right team.
Logic seems to matter even less as we fight viciously over who belongs to the superior group. Among the early churches, the Galatians seemed to have dealt with a similar issue. They were quarreling over ritual spiritual practices and laws, and which was the best way to be a true follower of Jesus. The apostle Paul had to scold them in his letter. He reminds them that it is not the rules that save them, but it is Jesus and the grace he afforded them.
He reminds them that in Christ there is no separation. There is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free. All of these things that segregated one from another were dissolved. Yet here we are, all this time later, once again labeling ourselves as good, and branding the others as bad. Now, this is only speculation, but perhaps if Paul were writing to us he might have told us to take off our political allegiances, and clothe ourselves in Christ.
This week, I was struck by scripture once more as I came across these words from Galatians 5:6, “the only thing that counts is faith made effective through love”. If that is the only thing that counts, then I can quit arguing. I can stop worrying about who is right. I can stop worrying about all those little things that separate us, and imprison us. I can live in the freedom that Jesus gives us through the grace of God.
I hope that we all might focus a little less on which side is right and slamming the other side until they just give up and whimper away. It would be great if we just tried to live out a faith that is made effective through love; love for God and love for the ones with whom Jesus has made us one. If you are tired of the fighting, as I am, will you join me in prayer that we might be able to finally see one another as God’s beloved? After all, isn’t that what counts?
Mark Smith is pastor at the United Methodist Church in Exeter. He may be reached by calling 559-592-3861.
Prays Together is a rotating column between the pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Exeter, Church of Christ of Exeter, Nazarene Church of Exeter, Church of God of Exeter, the New Life Assembly of God and Rocky Hill Community Church as well as the Lemon Cove Presbyterian Church.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.