It is our ability to disagree that has kept us together for over 200 years.
(Doug Sider, Executive Director - Be In Christ Church of Canada)
I still remember the first time I heard those words. It was at a Be In Christ Church of Canada (at the time still the Brethren In Christ Church of Canada) Theological Study Day. Our topics of discussion for the day were sexuality and peace. The first topic, one of the most divisive topics in the North American church today. The second, a topic that has been central to our Anabaptist identity since the sixteenth century. And there was passionate, emotional disagreement in the room.
Many Christian contexts with which we are familiar operate with a paradigm in which efforts to maintain unity begin by collectively discerning where their boundaries (in theology and practice) will be and construct fences around those boundaries. Those who don't fit within those fences are usually still loved and still honoured as brothers and sisters in Christ, however, they are encouraged to find another church group - with differing fence lines - in which to express their faith in Jesus.
Our Be In Christ Church of Canada family has, for over two hundred years chosen to take a different approach. Rather than building fences, we gather around a well - the source of living water - Jesus. We welcome those who are moving towards the well to join us as we drink of this living water. We come from different directions and places to get there, but we are all coming to him. If people choose to move away from him, they will be moving away from our centre and, in turn, away from our family. But it won't be because we built a fence.
When I first heard Doug Sider express these words, I instinctively knew that this willingness to disagree and yet be centred together on Jesus, is what can make our church family both really special and really messy.
In a world that is increasingly divided - between left and right; between conservative and liberal; between "us" and "them" - to live in community and share communion with those who disagree with us on significant issues is hard! It is uncommon. It is scary. And, I believe, it can be beautiful. Many of us have experienced the messiness that comes with this kind of family. Some of us have been tempted to run away from it. You know the saying, "Good fences make good neighbours." That may be true, but they don't help create deep community. They don't foster truly deep love.
Within our Covenant family, we have differing perspectives on political issues. We have varying views on social issues. We also have differing thoughts on how to approach scripture and how to understand God and how he works in the world. And yet we continue as a family. Baptized into Christ. United with him and with each other around the communion table - a symbol of the centrality of Jesus. We learn to bear each other's burdens even while we hold strong disagreement on issues.
I'm thankful that, despite the struggle, we can continue to learn together what it looks like to truly love each other and live as a family despite our differences. United, not by the fence that surrounds us, but by the Saviour in our midst.