The world seems full of conflict, even warfare, associated with religion today.
While the role of true religion in these developments may be questioned, there is no doubt that many people are distressed over the apparent links between religious faith and violence to the human body, mind and spirit.
Some of the most unfortunate faith conflicts occur within our own families, congregations, denominations and communions. Next time, I hope to discuss “beyond our faith families.” It is the “closer to home” issues that I want to address now.
Where might we find models to help us deal with our “intra-faith” concerns?
N.T. (Tom) Wright is a former Anglican bishop and practising theologian, living in the U.K. Marcus J. Borg, an Episcopal theologian, recently deceased, spent his teaching career in the U.S.
Wright and Borg were New Testament students who met and became friends at Oxford. Both were influenced during their graduate studies by leading biblical scholars, such as G.B. Caird of McGill University.
Wright and Borg were outstanding examples of men who differed quite significantly on how to approach important faith matters, but who nevertheless respected and learned from each other. They could discuss conflicting perspectives with compassion for each other and for those who observed and learned from them.
Both developed dramatically different understandings of central Christian doctrines. Wright emerged as a prominent proponent of “orthodox” Christianity while Borg became a leading figure of “progressive” liberal theology.
On one occasion they gave joint lectures and led discussions in Vancouver. This resulted in a book first published in 2000, entitled The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. It was apparent to many that these scholars, at the prime of their careers, were determined to reframe an acrimonious debate that was raging in public and private discourse. Each testified to the fact that they could live and worship as one in the spirit of their resulting book, even as they embraced a different paradigm of biblical reality.
I am one of their many disciples and seek to emulate their dialogical style.
What might we learn from their example? First, they saw each other as humans created in the image of God. As much as they were convinced of their own evolving faith understandings, they did not allow this to promote any kind of personal rightness against the other.
Second, they sought common ground and similar principles to uphold. Both acted out of a mutual sense of witness to the gospel “that the world might believe” and recognized that many would critically observe how they demonstrated their faith before accepting what they said.
Third, they clearly delineated the key themes over which they differed, such as the meaning of Christ’s cross and his resurrection. They explained effectively why they came to their differing conclusions.
Fourth, in a spirit of holy manners, they agreed to continue debating and struggling with the issues together, and were guided by a larger agenda than their own individual purposes.
Whatever our situations of religious conflict, they set a good example.
Wayne A. Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and helps to co-ordinate adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church in Calgary.