Thursday, May 26, 2011

Unity in Diversity

Thursday, May 26, 2011 -- Week of 5 Easter, Year One
Augustine, First Archbishop of Canterbury, 605
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 962)
Psalms [70], 71 (morning)       74 (evening)
Wisdom of Solomon* 14:27 - 15:3
Romans 14:1-12
Luke 8:26-38
            * found in the Apocrypha

Faithful people may hold very different convictions and practices.

"Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.  Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.  Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord.  Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God."  Romans 14:5-6

Pope Gregory the Great to Augustine, First Archbishop of Canterbury:  "If you have found customs, whether in the Roman, Gallican, or any other Churches that may be more acceptable to God, I wish you to make a careful selection of them, and teach the Church of the English, which is still young in the faith, whatever you can profitably learn from the various Churches.  For things should not be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things."

Paul wrote to a mixed community of Christians who came from different backgrounds and who had strongly held opinions.  The major conflict in Paul's churches was between Jewish and Gentile Christians.  Jewish Christians observed the sabbath and the kosher laws of their tradition and of the Hebrew scriptures.  For Gentile Christians, every day was a workday, the sabbath was no better than another day. 

Gentile Christians did not observe kosher dietary laws.  However, for some Gentile Christians, their conscience was bothered by meat sold in the public market, for that was meat that had been dedicated to Apollo or one of the gods that they formerly followed.  For others, there was no bother because they now believed there was no such thing as idols. 

"Let all be fully convinced in their own minds," said Paul.  Diversity in many of these beliefs is fine.  Everyone does not have to come to the same conclusion about everything.  Honor your conscience, and live together in unity with charity toward one another, Paul advised.  "Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord.  Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God....  So then, each of us will be accountable to God."

Pope Gregory gave Augustine great flexibility when dealing with the various traditions that he encountered when he arrived as "Archbishop of the English Nation."  Augustine was not charged with enforcing Roman customs on the indigenous Celtic churches, but rather he was to honor whatever he could "profitably learn from the various Churches."  People are more important than things.

Later in Romans we will see Paul urge those whom he calls the "strong" to be especially flexible with those whom he calls the "weak."  He urges those who have a more mature freedom in the faith -- those whose consciences are not bothered by kosher laws or scruples about meat from the public markets -- to be charitable toward their more scrupulous brothers and sisters.  When you are eating at home among your own family, feel free to eat what you wish.  But when you are eating among the scrupulous, the "weak," refrain from eating what might trouble their conscience, even though your conscience is free.

Yet elsewhere, Paul does draw some strong lines.  Especially over circumcision.  Jewish Christians, following their tradition and the requirements of the Hebrew scripture, were certain that circumcision was a required sign and practice for those who would be acknowledged as God's people.  They pointed to the testimony of scripture and tradition, and demanded that uncircumcised Gentiles be circumcised in order to be incorporated into the community of the church.  Paul was vehement in his opposition.  "No!," he said.  Life in Christ was liberation from such legalistic traditions.  Jewish Christians could not require circumcision from their Gentile brothers and sisters, regardless of their convictions, their traditions, scriptures or beliefs.  For Gentiles to do so would nullify the glorious freedom that Christ has gained for us through the cross. 

Paul did not say that Jewish Christians should refrain from circumcising in their own families, nor did he say that they should remove the signs of circumcision, as some Hellenized Jews did.  But he also did not say that the Gentiles should be "flexible" with regard to the scruples of their Jewish Christian neighbors a be circumcised themselves for the sake of the scruples and conscience of their brothers and sisters.

I think these discussions and controversies are helpful guides for the present church and our own Archbishop of Canterbury.  We are in a discussion in the Anglican Communion over the scruples of those whose consciences are troubled by the grace and fruitfulness that others have found in the faithful committed relationships of their gay brothers and sisters.  "Let all be fully convinced in their own minds," seems like good counsel from St. Paul. 

Those of us who recognize God's blessing in gay relationships may believe that heterosexual marriage is "no better than" the lifelong commitments of those of homosexual orientation, while other parts of the church may not.  Let those who observe their commitments, observe them in honor of the Lord.  Let those who are strong, whose scruples are not troubled by heterosexism, be charitable toward those whose consciences are troubled by the freedom Christ gives us.  We need not require an acknowledgment that violates their consciences.

But, there is a line, as Paul insisted in the controversy about circumcision.  Those who have scruples about their tradition of heterosexual-only relationships may not require "circumcision" of their gay brothers and sisters.  They must not force their gay brothers and sisters to be circumcised "like them" in order to be welcome in the church's fellowship.  Heterosexually oriented Christians cannot demand of homosexually oriented Christians to be either celibate or married unnaturally to someone of the opposite sex in order to be part of the Christian fellowship.  To do so would nullify the glorious freedom that Christ has gained for us through the cross.  To do so would ignore the fruits of the Spirit that we recognize in the committed, loving relationships of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against such things."  (Galatians 5:22-23)

Today, as in earlier generations, we seek unity in diversity.  The church seeks to unite peoples of various customs and convictions.  "Let all be fully convinced in their own minds."  Let charity and generosity abound.  But where legalists would impose their scruples upon others' conscience, as the Jewish Christians attempted to do upon their Gentile neighbors, we must stand with Paul and say, "No!"  Let those who observe their traditions, observe them in honor of the Lord, and let all be fully convinced in their own minds.



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 9:10 AM, Blogger Daniel Ketcher said...

"It is not selfish to live as you wish. Selfishness is wanting others to live as you wish." - Oscar Wilde


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