The second reason this story resonates with me comes from my own journey of deciding whether to stay in a Church which no longer advocates my beliefs, or separating from that community of believers. I faced the same dilemma of “should I stay or should I go” that is eventually faced by many who are part of a belief-based group, but recognize their on-going (and scripturally directed) responsibility to choose for themselves what they believe. This responsibility to choose can frequently stand in opposition to the definition of a group, that set of beliefs held in common which forms the foundation of the group’s identity. Just as the Anglican bishops experienced, I reached a crisis point when I could no longer remain within the community of Jesus followers where I was a leader.
I didn’t come to this conclusion easily and wrestled with several questions for some time. “Is it part of my responsibility as a member of this community to stay and continue to represent beliefs that are either in the minority or even opposed to the official dogma?” “Should I find a new community whose beliefs more closely align with my own?” “What course of action will allow me to best represent the image and nature of God?” These questions echoed through my mind and certainly framed my decision to “leave the Church.” These questions don’t have one set of answers. It’s simple to say just leave and be done with it. However, embracing that perspective avoids the part of community where grace is administered as we wrestle with our differences. Valuable opportunities to grow in our understanding of and relationship with God would be lost. It’s also simple to say once you’ve made a commitment to the group, integrity and faithfulness require that you live up to that commitment and remain in the group. Embracing THAT perspective can lead to exclusion and emotional exhaustion as we experience the isolation of holding ideas and beliefs that are rejected or condemned among the larger, like-thinking group. I guess if these questions had simple answers, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to make my decision.
The overarching question for me concerns inclusion. If we believe in one church, as in “the Bride of Christ” and “one community of believers”, we must determine how we remain true to what we believe to be the truth, while still making room for others who profess themselves Jesus followers, but don’t agree with all our beliefs. As Jesus followers, we’ve wrestled for centuries with the tension between acceptance into the community based on grace, and maintaining integrity of doctrine, theology and belief. If we continue to accept any interpretation, we will eventually lose our identity as Jesus followers. If we place too heavy a weight on conforming with one particular interpretation, history proves we will undoubtedly become Pharisaical. I recently read an excellent post from Paul Wilkinson at Thinking Out Loud (http://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/why-are-non-trinitarians-included-among-christians/). His focus was very specifically acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity and whether that should be required to be identified as Christian. However, the questions he asked and the discussion he generated are all meaningful contributions to this topic. Plus his gracious attitude was refreshing when so many of these types of discussions have become heated arguments devolving into name calling and baiting.
I can only speak to my own experience. The decision to leave my Church was painful. My understanding of what it means to be part of a community of Jesus followers says we must make room for others who follow Jesus, but interpret His teachings somewhat differently. I completely disagree with the theological position of the Anglican bishops, but I completely understand the undoubtedly difficult decision they made to leave.