In 1991, Rodney King [a taxi driver in L. A.] was brutally beaten by L. A. police. It was caught on camera and when it played on television, it caused riots in the African-American community. King was attributed with going on TV and saying “Can’t we all just get along?” in response to the unrest his beating ignited.
The “can’t we all just get along” plea is a good one. It is a wish for all people all the time but today we need unity in the Christian community more than ever before as the scripture “You are the light of the world” [Matthew 5:14] takes on great meaning. In short, the world needs a moral beacon, especially today.
Sadly the “can’t we all just get along” plea falls on deaf ears within the Christian church.
The truly sad thing about this is it has been this way almost from the very beginning. I have been blessed to have some time to read since I have retired and one of my “must reads” was Brian Moynahan’s The Faith: A History of Christianity. Moynahan pulls no punches in his book as he takes Christianity to task for the lack of unity in the faith. Adam Hamilton does the same: “Though all claim to be followers of Jesus, most have divided over matters of doctrine or ways of practicing their faith. Each feels that their doctrine and practice is more faithful than the others.”
The truly sad thing about the history of our faith is as Christianity became the adopted faith of the Roman Empire in the Empire’s last years; Christians began to turn on each other as they tried to root out heresy in their religion. The irony of this fact is that the Roman Empire made martyrs of Christian believers as emperors refused to allow Christianity in the Empire. As Emperor Constantine found his way to Christianity, he refused to persecute non-Christians [for a while]. Eventually in the 340’s he came under so much pressure to persecute pagans that he allowed pagan shrines to be desecrated by Christians. Moynahan says “it took little enough time for Christians to turn from persecuted to persecutors.”
It was not long until Christians turned their attentions to heretical Christians. In 386 at Trier [in France] Christians set fire to a group of their own because they had been critical of Christian church practice. They imposed the penalty of burning at the stake which was a popular form of execution used by Emperor Nero. Moynahan does not recount many burnings in the next years but he admits “a precedent had been set.”
You might wonder why do I go back to Christian history, to times that seemed so long ago? What is the point that I am trying to make? Well the point is after Christ left this earth and man took over how the church was run, it has been a splintered mess.
I get so disheartened when I consider the influence the church could exert on the world if we all worked together. Hamilton cites such powerful scripture when he turns to Matthew 23:24 “You blind guides! You strain at a gnat but swallow a camel.” Rightly so, he understands the important thing about our faith is its focus on justice, mercy and faith. Jesus says “It is these you should have practiced without neglecting the others” [Matthew 25].
Instead we have a spirit of competition as each church tries to draw in the unchurched in any way possible. We have to fill the pews. We have to have heavy collection plates. Moynahan states Christians “have fractured their faith beyond repair, as each church claimed its own right to reach to heaven, they were heedless of an earlier and grimmer miracle.” The tower builders of Babel made an effort to build an edifice that reached to heaven, making the tower a prime example of human pride and self-sufficiency. The Lord was not happy with the effort and he confounded their single language. He made it where they could not understand each other.
We have done that to the church. We have taken a powerful institution and we have fragmented it due to our own desire to “be right.”
Chapter two begins with a multitude of clichés but they do apply:
We can’t see the forest for the trees.
We win the battle and lose the war.
We struggle to keep the main thing the main thing.
We make a mountain out of a molehill.
“While this is a universal affliction of all human beings, religious people excel at it” [Hamilton, 9]
“Can’t we all just get along?”