It seems like Christians, who have been explicitly called to love one another and to work together for the Kingdom of God, spend an inordinate amount of time fussing and fighting.
This happens in both individual churches and also denominations. Sometimes the things that divide Christians are admittedly quite significant, but most of the time it seems to be more petty or superficial things that cause divisions.
Some will argue whether we should use “trespasses” or “debts” when reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Others become upset if the pastor does (or doesn’t) wear a robe.
In my 40 years of ministry, I have been appalled by some of the things I’ve seen churches fight over.
In a message I preached recently on unity, one of the things I suggested as a solution to the divisiveness that hurts our life and witness as Christians is to focus more on what we have in common instead of on what we disagree about.
Although it tends to be the differences that cause the trouble, the truth is that in most churches the members have far more in common than things that divide them.
The apostle Paul reminds us that we have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-5).
We might also acknowledge that we have one hope and the same calling to love God above everything and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
If we could just pause to remember that we have far more in common than we have differences, it would go a long way in helping to restore and maintain unity in the church.
The conflict and divisiveness I see in churches these days can also be seen in many other venues.
America itself is very much a divided nation these days and the number of things we are divided over is legion. The current presidential race definitely showcases this divisiveness.
Internationally, we also see conflict and divisions on both large scales and small. We may all be part of the one human race, but we certainly do not agree on a lot of things.
In a church setting, disunity and divisiveness can lead to tension within the fellowship or perhaps even church splits.
On the larger scale, conflict and divisiveness within and between nations can erupt into riots and protests, and perhaps even war. The stakes are high when disunity and divisiveness prevail, whatever the setting.
I mentioned that one of my suggestions for creating peace in the church was to try to focus on what we have in common instead of our differences is a positive step not only in local churches, but also on a national and global level.
Political parties need to do this. Entire nations need to do this. And there will always be things people can agree on. There will always be things they share in common.
One obvious and very important common denominator for all groups is the very earth we all share together. Surely we can all agree that since the earth is our home, it is important that we take good care of it.
We may draw up political borders, but in the end this “pale blue dot” is home to all of us. We share the same atmosphere and breathe the same air.
We are all dependent on the same sources of water – our rivers, lakes and oceans. We must all depend on the same web of life. We all live here and we all die here.
Now would be a good time for us to pay heed to the wise words spoken by Chief Seattle: “Teach your children what we have taught our children – that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.”
He continued, “This we know, the earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth. This we know, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.”
It is my hope and prayer that before it is too late we humans will begin to focus more on what we have in common and not on that which separates us. And I’m not sure there’s a better place to start than this place we all call home.
Chuck Summers is a pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henderson, Kentucky. He is also a photographer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines and calendars; he has published three photography books. A version of this article first appeared on Seeing Creation, a blog that Summers co-authors with Rob Sheppard, and is used with permission.
Chuck Summers is a pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henderson, Kentucky.