On this the first Sunday of Advent when followers of “the Way” join in a liturgy of anticipation for the coming of Emmanuel – God with us – we are reminded that in the face of separation God offered God’s own presence in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s incarnation has startling implications for Christian life and ministry practice.
This past week I was reminded of the practical importance of encounter and presence in the process of reconciliation. A small group of Seattle-area Christian leaders, (Rose & Rich Swetman, Nancy & Tom Murphy, Sandy Brown, Paul Chapman, and myself) gathered together with pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church and Lief Moi one of the church’s founding elders to inquire of God as we explored the damage caused by the harsh and at times demeaning tone of some comments by Mark, and the public protest that was being organized in response to his comments.
If we had simply met and nothing tangible would have resulted I still would have been thrilled by the fact that we met face-to-face as our Scriptures invite. But as further evidence of the grace of God, I’m delighted to report that the meeting was a time of frank and honest discussion, where everyone had opportunity to hear, to speak and inquire.
Mark demonstrated a desire to hear and to learn, and told a number of stories of the impact of the response to his language that illustrated his need for change. He told the story of his contact with a member of the Haggard family after his comments went public and how as a result of that conversation Mars Hill Church will have a female researcher read his blog posts prior to publication. With tears in his eyes Mark spoke of his fear for his family’s safety as a result of the public response to his language . . . threats of violence must stop. Please, if you or anyone you know has responded to Mark or (anyone) with such threats of violence please, for the sake of Christ and the love of humanity explore your heart and repent of your sin. Violence is not the Way of Christ. Also, Mark’s pastoral heart was evidenced as he spoke clearly about the need to model humble leadership which appropriately acknowledges failure; he even confessed his need for wisdom as he wasn’t sure how best to proceed.
Although the primary focus of our conversation was the tenor of Mark’s comments in recent years, he wasn’t the alone in making movement during the course of this conversation. Paul, the organizer of the protest, asked Mark’s forgiveness for labeling him, “Mark the Misogynist.” Not only that, the protest was called off. Further, for those in that conversation who had seen Mark as something of an an adversary prior to our meeting there was movement toward being advocates one for the other. I left that meeting with greater hope for a reconciled church in Seattle, and beyond. For all of us the proof will be in the pudding. How will Mark use his wit and prophetic platform in the future time only will reveal, but I do believe that he loves God and is desirous to serve Christ and to finish well the race he has been called to run.
We all know that actuating lasting change is difficult and slow as our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses. And so the very things that brought us together for this meeting may bring people together again around future matters; and this is the nature of human experience. It is also the hope of Christian reconciliation that our differences and disagreements can bring us together at the foot of the cross. Our goal is not to agree on points of theology, as clearly we don’t, rather our goal is to grow in love and to move toward reconciled union because of God.
This is just one of the many reasons why Trinitarian theology has such practical application in our lives. Three Divine differentiated persons in humble service of one another, and simultaneously one God: genuine plurality/genuine oneness. As followers of Christ we must disagree with another and we can still move toward one another in grace, love, humility and curiosity while recognizing that our oneness does not rest in our creeds but in our Creator.