I have written a few times before on the need for a core of essential beliefs that provide a basis for community along with a broader set of non-essentials on which people can agree. Probably my most comprehensive discussion of the issue is in Unity, Diversity, and Confusion.
Over the last few days I’ve been following the story of Episcopal priest Ann Holmes Redding. I don’t recall where I first saw it, but the story above will do.
Now I’m a big tent person. I like diversity. But in order to be a community there also has to be commonality. I frequently encounter people who advocate one or another form of interfaith spirituality. Almost all of them will claim that they have discovered the essentials of religion and that on those essentials the various faiths they combine have no conflict. What I have never found, however, is that those claimed essentials agree with what committed adherents of the individual religions would call essential.
I’m not writing against interfaith spirituality. I’m not even writing to criticized Redding’s own spiritual journey. But I do believe that the Episcopal Church has a serious tent size problem in this case. Many commentators have been upset about such issues as ordination of female priests and bishops and the acceptance of homosexuality in the Episcopal church. But no matter how one stands on those issues, one should recognize that they are less central than the incarnation itself. Between Islam and Christian lies the doctrine of the incarnation as an impassable barrier.
I think the Episcopal church would share with the United Methodist Church (of which I’m a member) one characteristic: Neither has the central coherence to deal with this level of diversity. I don’t think Christianity can handle it.
Again, this is not to condemn the individuals who hold such beliefs. As strongly as I believe in the incarnation as the core of Christianity, I also believe that I am not to judge. But I can look at the community and how well it can function, and this goes beyond making a functional community.