We’re saying “Let’s learn from all of our denominational heritage. Let’s even learn from the weaknesses of church history.”
Now there’s a tendency among some of us from Protestant backgrounds – we’ve been part of a history that goes like this: “Ok – we’re all Catholic over here.” And then some of us say, “There are problems in Catholicism. There are real problems here. So we’re going to protest Catholicism, and pull over here. Now – we’re pure and we’ve got it right, unlike them over there.”
But what happens after about six months when all of us “pure” people are together? Some of us say, “Well you’re not as pure as I am.” So then we protest and create another little group over here. And pretty soon everybody is protesting everybody else.
And one of the downsides of that protest is that when you think that your little group is pure and clean, the chances are very high of you also becoming proud and arrogant, which is not a good recipe for spiritual health.
So what we’re saying is, “No – let’s go back and let’s own and embrace the whole tree. We’re part of the whole thing.” And that means that we embrace the mistakes. And instead of saying, “These are their mistakes, these are Catholic mistakes. These are liberal mistakes. These are conservative mistakes,” we say, “No – these are our mistakes.” In our Christian history, brothers and sisters, we have anti-semitism, racism, slavery, witch burning, civil religion, financial scandals, sexual scandals, suppression of science, anti-intellectualism, anti-art, and a lot of other bad stuff, and it’s in our history, and I think we are less likely to repeat it if we own it. So what we’re saying is, “Let’s own the weaknesses, and let’s own the strengths.” St. Francis and John Calvin, Mother Teresa and Billy Graham, Bono, Bach and the negro spirituals, Pentecostalism and Greek Orthodoxy, Cathedrals and Christian summer camps, it’s all part of this wonderful heritage of the Christian community, and we’re saying we need to own it all.
The point is that instead of narrowing things down to just the little group, let’s just say, “Look – we’re all a mess, and we all have some good things going, so let’s try to embrace each other and work together.”
So if you want to be a Presbyterian and argue against the Mennonites and say that they’re not really Christians, that’s fine, but you’re probably not a part of the Emerging Conversation. If you want to be a Presbyterian who appreciates and learns form Mennonites, then you’re a part of the Emerging Church, and vice-versa. If you want to be a Pentecostal who thinks that all Catholics are total losers, then you’re not a part of the emerging conversation. But if you’re a Pentecostal who wants to learn anything you can from Catholics, then you fit in. If you’re liberal and you think that you have nothing to learn from conservative Christians, then, you know, you are what you are. But if you’re saying no, I’m a liberal Christian, but I think there are things that I can learn from my conservative brothers, and vice-versa – again, my life is so blessed because I get to travel around and speak to all these different groups, and I’ll tell you something: Although some sectors of Christians have excluded and rejected and given up on other sectors, in my experience, God doesn’t seem to have done so. God still seems to like them. And even if they pushed God out the door, he snuck back in the window, and he’s done that with all of us. And the fact that God puts up with any of us – including those of us who are here – is an incredible miracle.
Now I’m not saying that the truth doesn’t matter, but I’m saying that truth is not one-dimensional. It’s not flat, it’s thick. It’s not just a black and white picture, it’s full color. It’s not bland, it’s spicy.
Can I say it like this: reason and logic are ours, and art and imagery are ours. Reasoned logical sermons are ours, and rituals are ours. The treasures of Roman Catholicism – whose are they? Ours. The treasures of Eastern Orthodoxy – whose are they? Ours. Presbyterian treasures. Baptist treasures. Mennonite treasures. What we’re saying is look – they’re ours, and their mistakes are ours. And their embarrassments are ours, and their scandals are ours. Because we’re all in this thing together.