Maybe it’s possible after all (final reflections on The Rally to Restore Unity)


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
Transient

We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord,
We are one in the spirit; we one in the Lord,
And we pray that our unity might someday be restored,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love

When I first got the idea to host an online rally to bring some much-needed humor and charity to the Christian corner of the blogosphere, I didn’t know what to call it. I knew I wanted to mimic the style and substance of Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity, but I couldn’t decide exactly what it was I wanted to restore.

Civility? 

Charity? 

Kindness?

Unity? 

Unity struck me as a rather loaded, pie-in-the-sky sort of term that I didn’t really understand or imagine possible, but I figured it would give synchroblog participants something extra to chew on so I just went with  it—The Rally to Restore Unity.

Within a few days, hundreds of blog posts, signs, and tweets started pouring in, and I was overwhelmed by the creativity and insight brought to this conversation from Christians from around the world.  

We heard from Catholics, Calvinists, Methodists, Mennonites, Pentecostals, Republicans, Democrats, complementarians, egalitarians, men, women, kids, couples, conservatives, progressives, singles, gays and lesbians, skeptics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Orthodox, Brethren, missionaries, pastors, leaders, artists, students, and moms. 

Amidst the staggering diversity of entries, some common themes emerged: 

Unity does not mean uniformity 

Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, teeth, feet, knees, and toes—all parts of the Body are needed. This means leaving room for differences of opinion, room for denominationalism, room for various roles and personality types, and room for the Church to grow, adapt, and evolve in an ever-changing world.  As the story of the Tower of Babel illustrates, homogeneity glorifies us; unity glorifies God

If Christians are united by conflict avoidance, we have false peace. The goal is not to get everyone on the same page theologically or politically, but rather to extend a bit more grace and patience to one another in our day-to-day interactions. James Brett put it this way: “There are two kinds of unity: unity of opinion and unity of purpose. We often destroy the latter in attempts to force the former.”

Unity means celebrating our diversity rather than fighting against it. It means enduring painful denominational splits with our love for one another intact. It means sitting in the pews even when they make us uncomfortable.  It means giving fellow Christians the benefit of the doubt, even when we disagree.

Unity suffers when we get hung-up on theology 

Some bloggers felt that we were a bit too vague about what it was that unified the Rally to Restore Unity. They want to see some specifics regarding the beliefs we had in common, some details regarding our basis for unity. 

I guess I thought it was fairly obvious: 

We are all Christians. 

Catholics, Protestants, Arminians, Calvinists, liberals, conservatives, Pentecostals, Presbyterians —we’re all followers of Jesus. Shouldn’t that be enough? 

Many of us are concerned that the Body of Christ is suffering from allergies, turning against itself in an effort to fight off non-lethal “threats.” We have gotten so careless with the word “heretic” that we’ve made it meaningless. We are breaking fellowship over peripheral issues, dividing over religious “hats.”

As Jason Boyett put it in his guest post

I love theology. I love to study it and argue about it as much as any Bible nerd. Theology is important because it gives us a framework. Doctrine helps explain our faith and gives it shape. 

But theology is a messy business. The Bible is a messy set of documents written for a messy people in a messy culture thousands of years ago. Translating it to who we are now in the world we live in now is equally messy. That's why we argue about it. That's why we fight about what we should and shouldn't believe.

But faith is not theology. It's obedience. It's action. It's a shame when we get so passionate about theology that we forget to be passionate about love.

Greg Boyd took it even further, noting that in light 1 Corinthians 13, you could argue that the ultimate heresy is a failure to love.

Bishop Charles Henry Brent said that "The unity of Christendom is not a luxury, but a necessity. The World will go limping until Christ's prayer to be one is answered. We must have unity, not at all costs, but at all risks.” Love is always a risk, and we are commanded to take it…even if it means loving people whose theologies we don’t like. 

After all, time and perspective often render these theological differences less important than they now seem. Some even end up side-by-side in our hymnbooks!

Unity grows in the soil of humility

Let’s face it. We’re all fallen, all limited, all sinful poopy-headsWe see through a glass darkly.

When we humbly acknowledge the fact that our faith involves mystery, that it’s possible for us to be wrong about things, and  that our interpretations of the Bible are only as inerrant as we are, then we can begin to build a case for unity upon the rather unglamorous common ground of our own depravity.

God speaks to different people in different ways. And if God isn't picky, who are we to be?" We don’t have to get rid of our opinions or our convictions to get rid of the pride that says we cannot be wrong.

Unity happens in little moments of obedience

As Ed Cyzewski put it, “For people who serve an incarnate God, meaningful unity is also incarnate.”

Unity is not to be found in a board room or at a conference, through a manifesto or in a doctrinal statement. It probably won’t be achieved in a single moment or on a global scale. It can’t be arrived at, or decided upon, or perhaps even restored. 

Like faith, unity is found in daily acts of obedience. 

I keep returning to the apostle Paul’s words, “if possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  The most important thing I learned from the Rally to Restore Unity is that while I can’t bring unity back to Christiandom, I can bring it back into my own life.  

Ultimately, pursuing unity means loving God, loving people, and following Jesus in the day-to-day.

It means going to that Catholic mass with an open mind, befriending the person with the “I’ll keep my guns and religion” bumper sticker, using gentler wordshelping provide clean water to those who need it, pausing before hitting “submit” on the Internet, and stopping for just a moment to ask yourself, “Does what I’m about to say make me sound like a douche?”

Unity may not fully be restored until the return of Christ, but I’m pleased that, thanks to you, it happened in a small way here on the blog last week.

Now go and make it happen out in the world!

 ***

What did you learn from the Rally to Restore Unity? What were your favorite posts and signs? 

(Note: Tonight I'll put up a list of each day’s post. I decided not to have a sign contest because of some copyright concerns and because my mom—a fourth grade teacher— insisted that everyone was a winner.)

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