By Simon Nixon
“Are you with us or against us?”
My last few years in ministry could be summed up by this sentence.
If you had asked me whether my political position was left or right 5 years ago, I most likely wouldn’t have understood the question. Perhaps I was sheltered, or dare I say, privileged enough to not have to think about it. Yet I certainly understand these terms now. Political polarisation appears to have gone up a notch in the last few years. As a pastor I’ve felt that tug. I’ve seen so much – from respectful discussion – to angry emails, and everything in between, and felt the push to declare what side I land on.
The problem is that I’ve never felt like I land on either side. Left/right, liberal/conservative, progressive/traditional… however you want to phrase it – I don’t feel like I fit. Some days I’m neither, some days I’m both. You might be thinking that I’m wishy washy, that I have no solid foundation, no place to stand, but I see it differently. There are things I want to conserve and there are things I want to change. There are traditions I hold to, yet progress to be made. This is who I am. And I think it’s possible, that this is who we all are.
I remember years ago in a church congregational meeting we were in the middle of a pretty heated discussion. We couldn’t find unified conclusion and when it seemed like the discussion would go on forever the person responsible for the meeting asked if we as a community might be able to stay in the “murky middle” while we continued to work through this particular issue over time. I remember all the blood running to my face, how could we be asked to stay in the middle when this seemed to me to be a very black and white situation. I rose to my feet and said something to the effect of “when I read the bible it tells me to be hot or cold and not lukewarm. I don’t think it’s ok for us to stay in the middle” I sat down to nods and claps and my own self satisfaction.
I wish I could take that moment back but it’s part of what forms who I am today. As I meet more people, hear more stories and see more of Jesus at work in the world I’ve started to realise things aren’t as black and white as I once thought they were. I’ve come to love the grey in the middle. To appreciate the nuance in different opinions, and hear the integrity of peoples hard fought search for truth. Unfortunately so many of our church systems and structures are still very black and white. While they say they’re open to questions and have space for doubt there is not much room for dissenting voices or in depth discussions over shades of grey.
I’m tired of culture wars. I’m saddened and angry that Christians are so often at the centre of them. It’s disappointing that we are unable to have nuance in our discourse, both public and private, without courage to admit we may be wrong, or that we’re still learning. It’s concerning that we can’t humbly admit we don’t have all the answers – that there might be more meaning here than we understand.
I used to be afraid of my doubts and questions, because I was worried they might leave me on the outside. I feared I would be excluded from community because I was no longer able to subscribe to the entirety of a statement of belief. Could I openly portray that I didn’t have it all worked out? Could I trust others with these questions when we differed on important things? Could I trust myself?
When I finally started honestly asking those questions – what I found was diversity. There were so many followers of Jesus asking the same questions and holding the same doubts – but coming to different conclusions. This might seem scary, or even perhaps heretical, but I found it strangely freeing. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, I wasn’t the only one with these questions and doubts! This began the need for conversation, ideas to think through, theologies to discover and so much to learn. I was free to employ what I like to term – a Holy Curiosity. I was free to love my neighbour as myself.
That’s what started this adventure for me. When I was engaged in culture-war-Christianity, it always seemed to come at the cost of being able to love my neighbour well. Sometimes it seemed like the greatest commandment (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul) came at the expense of loving your neighbour as yourself. But now, whenever I find these things seemingly in competition with each other, it becomes an invitation to explore.
Simon Nixon has spent 15 years in pastoral ministry. Recently, Simon and his wife B begun planting The Church Project. It shares much in common with our approach at Meeting Ground, and we’re cheering them on from a distance.