an evangelical and a progressive walk into a church…

kathyescobar church stuff, dreams, faith shifts, friendship, leadership, the refuge 29 Comments

unity is not uniformity

it’s been a crazy week around here with my oldest son and my second son (third child) graduating from college and high school on the same day, at the same time, in different states. we made it through, though, and it was filled with all kinds of wonderful memories. in 4 more years, jose and i will be empty nesters, wild!

it feels good to be over the hump of a crazy may, and i am getting excited for a gathering the refuge is hosting in a few weeks called “an evangelical and a progressive walk into the same church…” here are the details:

invite for an evangelical and a progressive walk into a church jpeg

the refuge is a very interesting community in more ways than i can count. among other things, my friend, co-pastor, and partner in ministry–karl wheeler–and i share different theological positions but lead together. co-pastoring is interesting enough, but add in that twist and it even makes for an even greater-need-for-God’s-help-to-keep-us-all-together. we’ve always been different, but over the past 8 years at the refuge, my faith has shifted further away from the comforts of my evangelical roots and what we both used to believe together.

at the same time, it’s been one of our greatest gifts because it also is representative of the community we are part of. at the refuge, people are all over the place in terms of socioeconomics, theological beliefs, political positions, and a host of other things that usually tend to segregate people instead of integrate them. what binds us together? a commitment to community and life together.

why am i still in?  because it is here–in this wild, weird, beautiful, tricky, irritating, challenging, uncomfortable, and oh-so-lovely-in-the-deepest-ways community–that i am learning what i would never know hanging out with people that look like me, think like me, believe like me. it’s one of the prettiest & least-likely-on-the-surface reflections of the kingdom of God Jesus spoke of that i have ever experienced.

there are more than a few times when i have wanted to throw in the towel on holding a space for this much diversity, especially theologically. it has been a stretch for karl, too. when you see issues like gay marriage differently but stay together, that is no small thing.  what does it mean to agree to disagree? what does it mean to watch your co-pastor marry a gay couple when your convictions are different but still lead together the next sunday? what does it mean to watch your co-pastor hold a position that is extremely painful for some of our friends but deserves respect because it comes from a sincere and deep conviction?

what does it mean when you see the Bible differently from the person next to you and it scares or irritates you?

what does it mean when one person’s passion is another person’s pain?

it hasn’t always been pretty.

it has touched a deep place in both of us and in many of our friends in the refuge, too. you see, it’s not just about co-pastoring. we are all in this together, wrestling with what it means to be part of the body of Christ when we see things radically differently. for some people it just has been too hard to be in a place with this much diversity, especially on core issues of theological beliefs. for others, it has been a comfort to not have to choose sides but to be able to wrestle with these difficult things in a safe place.

we are trying to be one in a world–and a church–that tells us that we should divide.

it makes me often think of Jesus’ words to his disciples in the upper room as he prepared to be crucified–“I pray that they will all be one” (john 17:21).

when i hear of churches splitting and organizations-having-to-make-difficult-ethical-choices-in-order-to-keep-taking-care-of-needy-children-around-the-world and yet another group arguing with each other online, i feel so sad because it’s so much simpler that way.

to say “if you believe this, i can’t be with you” is so much easier to say than “i see it differently, but you are my brother or sister and i want to figure out a way to stay together and choose the hard path of love alongside you.”

trust me, we don’t have all of the answers. sometimes i wonder about our future. i am up at night agonizing about how to stay true to what i believe while being open to different points of view that trip a justice wire in my soul. mostly, i am reminded how freaking hard it is for evangelicals and progressives, liberals and conservatives, bible-lovers and bible-allergics, rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old, feeling-good-about-life and struggling-to-stay-alive to live alongside together as one.

but i am seeing it up-close and i know it is possible.

the way forward is to lay down our guns.

to listen.

to let go of control.

to own our own beliefs and let others own theirs.

to pray like crazy for the Holy Spirit to show us the way.

to put relationship above doctrine.

to let our shared brokenness bind us together  instead of our list of doctrinal beliefs.  

to walk the hard road of true unity and not surface uniformity.

to practice being peacemakers in the sense of cultivating shalom & wholeness not the unhealthy people-pleasing kind.

to stay open to what we can learn from our differences.

to laugh more and try-to-prove-our-point less.

to remember that Christ’s love can bind us all together in unity. 

to close, i thought i’d share the refuge’s “invitation to community” that we read at the beginning of all of our weekend gatherings together. it was formed out of some really hard conversations last year about these differences and has brought us together in a way that has helped us take a breath and remember what we’re trying to do here.

we’ll read it at the beginning of our june 11th gathering, too, along with the guidelines for dignified dialogue.

so what happens when an evangelical and a progressive walk into a church? 

they can be invited into community together…


The Refuge's Invitation to Community

The Refuge is a mission center and Christian community dedicated to helping hurting and hungry people find faith, hope, and dignity alongside each other.

We love to throw parties, tell stories, find hope, and practice the ways of Jesus as best we can.

We’re all hurt or hungry in our own ways.

We’re at different places on our journey but we share a guiding story, a sweeping epic drama called The Bible.

We find faith as we follow Jesus and share a willingness to honestly wrestle with God and our questions and doubts.

We find dignity as God’s image-bearers and strive to call out that dignity in one another.

We all receive, we all give.

We are old, young, poor, rich, conservative, liberals, single, married, gay, straight, evangelicals, progressives, over-educated, undereducated, certain, doubting, hurting, thriving. 

Yet Christ’s love binds our differences together in unity.

At The Refuge, everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.