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The HINGE International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church

Polarization and Progressive Christians Notes from the Editors..........................................1

Hermann Weinlick............................................3 Responses Eric Renner ...............................................................12 Rebecca Craver .........................................................13 Andrew Heil .............................................................14 Peg Chemberlin & Jerad Morey .............................15

The Author Responds..........................................17 Book Review............................................................18

Vol. 19, No. 2: Summer 2013

The HINGE Volume 19, Number 2: Summer 2013 The Hinge is a forum for theological discussion in the Moravian Church. Views and opinions expressed in articles published in The Hinge are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or the official positions of the Moravian Church and its agencies. You are welcome to submit letters and articles for consideration for publication. One of the early offices of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pa., was that of the Hinge: The office of the Hinge requires that the brother who holds it look after everything and bring troublesome factors within the congregation into mutual accord without their first having to be taken up publicly in the congregation council. — September 1742, The Bethlehem Diary, vol. 1, tr. by Kenneth Hamilton, p. 80. The Hinge journal is intended also to be a mainspring in the life of the contemporary Moravian Church, causing us to move, think, and grow. Above all, it is to open doors in our church. The Hinge is published with the assistance of the Center for Moravian Studies of Moravian Theological Seminary, 1200 Main St. Bethlehem, PA 18018, and all rights are reserved. Recent issues of The Hinge may be found at www. Articles in The Hinge may not be republished or posted on the Internet without the express permission of the author and the editor of The Hinge. Articles may be duplicated according to “Fair Use” rules, which allow for discussion in church classes and similar forums. The hinge illustration was provided by Todd Tyson of Kernersville, NC. Cover design was provided by Colleen Marsh of Bethlehem, PA.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Notes from the Editors When did people get so disagreeable? At least in America, it seems that we are either shouting in each other’s faces, or turning our backs on one another and refusing to listen. Saints preserve us: It even happens in the church! If only we could go back to the church’s golden age, when “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44), and all were in agreement about how to follow Christ. Except that the golden age never happened. The writer of Acts creates a beautiful model for which we should strive. We emulate that model when we break bread together in lovefeast. The letters of Paul, however, give us quite a different picture of the early church. Paul scolds the Corinthians for factionalism. He reminds the Philippians to “be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2). In Galatians he fights with Peter over whether to follow Jewish dietary laws (Gal. 2:14). After describing this fight, Paul turns on his audience: “You foolish Galatians!” (Gal 3:1). Yet that same letter to the Galatians offers a “model for how to think theologically about the challenges faced in the community’s life.”1 As Brother Hermann Weinlick points out in this issue’s lead article, those early Christian gatherings were characterized by diversity. Sorting out what it meant to be a diverse group of Christfollowers touched off arguments; but also led to theological breakthroughs. Paul argues passionately for unboundaried, non-polarized relationships within the body of Christ: “There is no longer Jew or Greek. There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). And still, Paul slings insults at his own readers: “foolish Galatians!” It seems Paul was not above a little polarization himself. It seems possible even Paul was afraid. Afraid that his work would come to nothing; afraid that somehow, Christ would not prevail. Unimaginable! In the grip of fear, however, even the greatest faith can falter. Fear infects every area of our lives. As Brother Weinlick demonstrates, fear creates a “winners and losers” mentality; we fear that the “right” ideas or people will “lose” some imagined battle. Fear creates discomfort with diversity and complexity; we are afraid of people not like us, thoughts not like ours, questions that require us to go beyond simple answers (do we secretly fear we’re not smart enough to consider challenging ideas?). Fear affects our self-worth; we fear that our convictions will cause others to reject us. In fear, we stake out our positions and build walls around them. A crucial point in Brother Weinlick’s article is that no one group or “side” is innocent of polarizing language or behavior. Behind those walls of fear one can find both “liberal” and “conservative” Christians (the labels themselves are polarizing). We hope this issue of The Hinge will give readers the courage to tear down some walls. Nothing divides us more than fear. But then again: Nothing more than fear divides us. 1 Richard B. Hays, “The Letter to the Galatians: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections,” The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), XI.184.


Opening Hearts and Hands to Those in Need

2013 MOSES LECTURES IN MORAVIAN STUDIES Jan Amos Comenius & Interreligious Dialogue Thursday, October 24 • 9am–Noon Free • Contact Hours: 3 Also available via live streaming video!

Amid religious intolerance, Jan Amos Comenius, one of the towering figures of the Moravian church, demonstrated a remarkably progressive attitude towards other religions, especially Islam. These lectures will explore the lessons we can draw from Comenius’s work for interreligious cooperation in our own time. Livingstone Thompson is a Jamaican-born theologian and ordained minister in the Moravian Church. He served as General Secretary of the Jamaica Council of Churches and as a member of the Central Committee & Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. He currently lectures in world religions at Dublin City University, Ireland. His books include A Protestant Theology of Religious Pluralism and A Formula for Conversation: Christians and Muslims in Dialogue.


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The HINGE International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church

Next Issue: How Moravian are the Moravians? The Paradox of Moravian Identity 2012 Moses Lectures by Peter Vogt

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Polarization and Progressive Christians Hermann Weinlick Polarization is clearly a problem in our culture. Many people find it hard to talk with people who disagree with them—whether the issues are political, theological, or relational. Although polarization certainly is not a new issue, it does seem to be more extreme in this year 2013. National and state political processes are severely crippled by this polarization. We see the crippling effects in public discussion of such topics as homosexuality and the definition of marriage; human involvement in climate change, abortion, the role of government and taxes in shaping our economy; and the place of religion in our life together. A common perspective among progressive Christians is that this polarization is due primarily to the work of right-wing, conservative persons, often associated with conservative, fundamentalist Christian churches and tradition. Many progressive Christians assume that polarization is the fault of people on the political or religious right, whom they see as unable to compromise in any way or even to consider working with those who have a perspective different from theirs. While this is certainly a significant factor, let me suggest that more progressive Christians have also had a role in shaping our present polarized state. ( Just to be consistent, I will generally use the adjective “progressive.”) I have been blessed to have represented the Moravian Church in several different ecumenical contexts, served as pastor in another mainline denomination, edited curriculum for another, preached in pulpits of several different communions, and had extensive contact with both Northern and Southern Provinces. I consider myself moderately progressive or liberal, although I am not very comfortable with such labels. Generally I am comfortable with the Wesleyan quadrilateral of authority of the Bible, tradition, reason, and experience (sometimes the Holy Spirit, rather than experience, is the fourth); I also sense that these are much more intertwined than we often like to think. My experience in the Moravian Church and in contacts with other churches has given me many examples of the narrowness of some progressive persons—perhaps more accurately, their conviction that theirs is the only right way to see the world. Any full-bodied Hermann Weinlick has served as Christian faith or life has a significant quantity of a pastor in the Northern Province, ambiguity and nuance. While I have a number of as director of publications for headings below, all are variations of the difficulty the Interprovincial Board of of many progressive Christians in accepting this Communication, and as an editor for a secular publishing house. He ambiguity—a stance often associated with more now serves as ecumenical officer of conservative Christians. the Northern Province.


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Thinking of Winners and Losers

One factor in this polarization is viewing many aspects of life using a paradigm with blacks and whites, winners and losers, people who are right and people who are wrong. We use language drawn from the military: winners and losers, allies and enemies. We use language from athletics: winners and losers, offense and defense. We use language from parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order: winners and losers, majority and minority. We use legal language: winners and losers, legal and illegal. In all these frames of reference, we assume that one side is right and the other is wrong. Certainly sometimes we can and must make choices now. But the winner-loser language assumes that the foe, the enemy, the wrong one, is out there, is somebody else, is someone we need to defeat or to change. But theologically we know that what is wrong—what is contrary to God’s will, what God wants to change or get rid of, what is sinful—always is, at least to some degree, within me, within us, within the “good” people. Or, as Walt Kelly’s Pogo says, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” When Jesus attacks the Pharisees, in strong language, I believe we misread this by reading it through us-versus-them, good-versus-bad lenses. I think, rather, that Jesus is speaking to them as friends, as fellow Jews with whom he has much in common. He knows they have the same basic values he has; he knows they worship the same God and seek God’s rule; he knows they take Torah seriously; he knows he can still sit down with them for dinner. Many scholars believe the Gospels paint the Pharisees too negatively. While the Gospels, assembled in a time of greater conflict between Christian Jews and other Jews, have a generally negative view of Pharisees, Luke’s language is gentler than that of Mark and Matthew. Luke 7:36; 13:31; and 14:1 have more positive pictures. Nicodemus ( John 3:1) and Gamaliel (Acts 5:34) are more positive pictures of individual Pharisees. On baptism—an issue with different perspectives within the church— progressive Moravians seem to me to be less like Luke’s Pharisees and more like Matthew’s, insisting on traditions that divide rather than acknowledging the traditions we have in common. The general practice of the Moravian Church and the tradition of the great majority of Christians worldwide is the baptism of infants, which stresses the gift of God’s grace even before we are able to make decisions regarding right and wrong or even have a sense of our own identity. A minority position, rooted in one strand of the Protestant Reformation and held by Baptists, Mennonites, Pentecostals, and some others, is believer’s baptism, which stresses the human response to God’s grace. In reality, cultural practices—practices that make infant baptism automatic and unrelated to participation of parent(s) or guardian(s) in the life of the church, and practices that use believer’s baptism at ages long before adulthood or responsibility—stain both these positions. In practice, churches in both traditions have a form of child dedication (infant baptism or dedication), programs of formation (Christian education), rituals of commitment (confirmation or believer’s baptism), and quite often recognition of the validity of the other position (many Baptist churches would not ask a Moravian who was baptized as an infant to be rebaptized in order to join). Yet some Moravians

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


who feel strongly about infant baptism make this a much more polarizing issue than it needs to be, largely because we want to be clear that we are not like Southern Baptists, many of whose practices in other areas of life we disagree with.

Comfort with Like-minded Persons, “Birds of a Feather”

Most of us are more comfortable with people who look like us and agree with us. This is true regardless of our theology, politics, denomination, or race. God created a community around Jesus, a community of response to Jesus, a community initially called The Way. Jesus intended this to be a diverse community. This intention is not stated very specifically in the Gospels, but certainly Jesus, for his social context, had a wide variety of human associations: diversity among the Twelve; interaction with women; welcome for children; touching sick, sinful, and demon-possessed persons; occasionally speaking well of Gentiles (although I have read one [progressive] commentator who sees Luke 7:1-10 as evidence of anti-Semitism in the first-century church!). We see this diversity in early Christian writings. Consider the discussion about Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. Consider the face-off between Peter and Paul described by Paul in Galatians 2. Consider the issues that Paul addresses in his letters to Corinth. Consider Paul’s relationship to master Philemon and slave Onesimus, dealt with in Paul’s letter to Philemon. The Christian church at its best and most faithful is diverse. This is one of the areas where it is most difficult truly to follow Jesus and live out Jesus’ hopes for his church. We may have diversity in councils of churches and parachurch groups like Bread for the World, perhaps in denominations, but less often in congregations. Christians have tried to live this diversity in various ways. The Catholic Church has monastic orders that have lived out their special understandings of Jesus’ way but are part of the larger church. Some individual Moravian congregations have lived out a special stress in ministry, like supporting individual missionaries or world mission efforts in general; serving needy persons in their neighborhood; reaching to a specific group on the margins; stressing faith and the arts; living a more radical life, like that in Anthony’s Plot in Winston-Salem. Of course, these foci usually bring together likeminded people, which I think is not a problem—as long as all see themselves as part of the larger church, living out their faith as they best understand it. November 7, 2004, was the Sunday after George W. Bush was reelected president of the United States. That Sunday I was worshiping in a congregation proud of its progressive life. The sermon, about the election, treated it in terms of the KüblerRoss stages of grief. The pastor assumed that all who were worshiping that day felt (or should have felt) as she did about the election, i.e., that we had experienced a loss comparable to death. In my mind at least, this sort of assumption about one another as Christians, and the actions and expressions resulting from such an assumption, fuels polarization. A few years ago Mel Gibson produced the movie The Passion of the Christ. It reflected a blood-centered piety that we can find in some strains of more traditional Catholicism and in some ways in the Moravian tradition in Zinzendorf and what


Opening Hearts and Hands to Those in Need

we call the Sifting Period. Many progressive Christians did not like the movie. Some felt that the film was excessively violent. Some feared that the film would support the condemnation of the Jews as Christ-killers, which has been a sinful part of our Christian tradition. The film got mixed reviews but was a box-office success. One progressive ecumenical entity had this on its website: “We have not seen The Passion of the Christ. Here is how to obtain our study of anti-Semitism.” (After I contacted them, the next day they revised their site’s mention of The Passion of the Christ.) This struck me as progressive Christians’ contributing to polarization by squelching discussion or assuming easy answers on a serious issue, such as how traditional understandings of meaning of the suffering and death of Christ speak to our time.

Ambivalence about Constantine

We hear that today we live in a post-Christian world. Christendom is gone. (In Europe, this is discussed more in cultural than in religious terms, often in relation to how to treat or integrate Muslim immigrants. We have seen a massacre in Norway and disputes over women’s garb in France.) Many, if not most, progressive Christians think that the fourth-century movement (associated with the Roman emperor Constantine) to make Christianity first a legal religion and then the official state religion was a bad move. It entangled church and state. It seemed to disregard the tension between church and state that was real in the first centuries of the church and was expressed most strongly in the New Testament book of Revelation. And it seemed to dilute the call of Jesus to a different, countercultural way of life. While much of the Old Testament seems to see God working through the monarchy and to describe a close relationship between faith and the state, many of the proclamations of the prophets and 1 Samuel 8 are aware of the dangers of this close relationship and of Judah and Israel’s assuming or taking for granted that they had a close relationship with God. Many progressive Christians see as good the changes of the last century, the coming of the post-Christian world. The church has been disestablished. It is no longer identified with the culture. People do not assume that they have to be church members or Christians to be good citizens. In this perspective, the United States is on the path that the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, have taken in Europe and Canada; we in the United States are just a little slow. Many more conservative Christians see these changes as generally bad for the church and the nation. While progressive Christians generally affirm these changes, I believe that many are more ambivalent about them than they admit. While they say the church is no longer established, they still try to influence those in power and think that those in power should pay attention to them. While they condemn the racism and sexism of the 1960s and the decades before then, they also mourn the passing of the seeming cultural significance of Christian faith and tradition of the same period. Consider the political liberalism of many statements of church leaders or church bodies like synods. Examples can be found in church statements concerning the civil rights movement, in statements about labor-management issues like a minimum wage, in protests against the war in Vietnam. The Moravian Church has fewer statements

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


about such issues than many other church bodies, but other mainline denominations, as well as ecumenical bodies of which we have been part, have produced such statements. The Mennonites come from the Radical Reformation, which, much more than the Reformation led by Calvin and Luther, seriously questioned the close relationship between government and church, and therefore practiced believer’s baptism, rather than automatic baptism of (virtually all) children. Mennonites in ecumenical settings have discussed with me that many statements of church bodies are addressed to political leaders and hope to change government policy. Mennonites have suggested that statements by denominational or ecumenical bodies would be more honest and more faithful if they were addressed to church members and designed to affect the attitudes and conduct of church members, rather than change government policy. I think they might also be less polarizing. Too often, progressive churches have made statements about what governments should do when their own members were not willing to do something. It is easier to pass at synod a resolution to tell the government to do something (for example, about immigration policy) than to pass a resolution asking Moravians to do something (for example, supporting undocumented persons). Do we want to shape government policy, or do we want to show the world how followers of Jesus live and treat people? That is not a mutually exclusive choice, but I believe the second option should the primary one. At the Northern Province synod of 2006, there was a proposal to revive the Moravian tradition of nonviolence and pacifism and include teaching about it in our Christian education. Unfortunately discussion was very brief; the proposal died soon after a World War II veteran made an emotional statement in opposition. However, moving in this direction would be, I believe, less polarizing and more productive than statements about U.S. foreign policy and defense program.

Ambivalence about Ambiguity and Complexity

We live in a complex world. Moral decisions and theological precision have seldom been easy, but the time in which we live seems complicated by many more factors than the previous century. Christians are a smaller portion of the population in the United States, although a growing portion of the population in much of the developing world, especially sub-Sahara Africa. Divisions between denominations and within denominations are compounded by the fact that our culture views the church primarily as a voluntary association with little authority to act or speak for me or even to suggest what I should believe or what I should do with my money, my legal rights, my body, my pots and pans, or my time. The fact that so many well-intended actions—by individuals, organizations, and governments—have unintended consequences makes life even more complex. We all prefer it when things are simpler. Whatever our theological or political stances, we breathe more easily when we think we have a simple, clear answer. One result of this preference is that often we assume that the person who disagrees with us has nothing to teach us; so we see no point in talking to the other person.


Opening Hearts and Hands to Those in Need

The Northern Province “holy conversations” about homosexuality—more specifically, about the possible ordination of gay and lesbian persons in committed relationships—seem like a waste of time (we will just repeat the same stale arguments we have heard before) if we assume that we have nothing to learn from the other. Some would prefer that we simply set a policy and move on; the holy conversations just delay the process. I am on the liberal side of this question; but I know that I have to deal more deeply with the question of how I relate tradition to the spirit of the culture. My culture generally is moving toward acceptance of homosexuality as a natural variant of human sexual expression. It is also moving toward rejection of almost all restrictions on sexual expression. On what basis might I welcome the first and question the second? More conservative and traditional persons help me to work on this. It is hard for many progressive Christians to believe that not every person who opposes expressions of homosexual love, or homosexual marriage, or ordination of homosexual persons is homophobic. I acknowledge that some Christians with more traditional understandings and feelings about homosexuality support their views with exaggerated or untrue statements about a so-called “homosexual agenda” or “homosexual lifestyle”; but for many, their understandings and convictions are rooted in what they understand is faithfulness to Scripture. (I do wish that more of our conservative Christian brothers and sisters took as seriously biblical teachings about poverty and treatment of those who are poor.) To call such Christians homophobic is not helpful or accurate, but it is polarizing. A non-polarizing approach recognizes the real issues: how to interpret Scripture; how to sort out in Scripture what is of God and what is rather a reflection of the culture out of which the Bible comes; and how to relate Scripture, tradition, and current experience. Many more progressive Christian voices, perhaps the majority, are universalists at heart, hoping and believing that in the end God will welcome home and embrace all persons. Such progressive persons are therefore welcoming to persons of nonChristian faiths like Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists, as well as agnostics and even atheists. One of the more radical teachings of Jesus (even perhaps the heart of his teaching) is love of enemies. But for some progressive Christians this embracing or forgiving spirit does not include more conservative Christians, in whom they find it difficult to see the image of God. Life is easier if we can put people in boxes, rather than face the ambiguity of life, including our own lives. Each of us is a mixed bag of attitudes, actions, and faith emphases. This is also true of denominations. The Catholic Church, so often derided by progressives for some aspects of its life, particularly in relation to sexuality, has been a powerful force for progressive action in labor-management issues and immigration. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Mother Teresa, both models for many progressive Christians, would in our society be considered conservative on the issue of abortion. William Jennings Bryan, remembered as representing the “backward” side in the Scopes Trial, was in the decades prior to this a leader of the progressive populist movement as the United States became an industrial power.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church

Fear of Not Appearing to Be Progressive in Sexual Issues


Many issues with strong, polarized positions involve some aspect of sexuality. This area of our lives has many problems in relation to Christian tradition. In many ways our tradition reflects a male perspective. Scripture forbids sleeping with my neighbor’s wife, but says nothing about sleeping with my neighbor’s husband; in other words, the commandment is addressed only to men, because men are the important people. One strain of Christian tradition associates the passing on of sin with intercourse. Catholic tradition officially frowns on birth control and makes divorce complicated. These stances have led many, I believe, to ignore anything Christian tradition has to say about sex. Within the lifetime of many of us, officially at least, a Northern Province Moravian pastor officiating at a marriage involving a divorced person had to secure the approval of the Provincial Elders’ Conference. Until recently Christian tradition has viewed homosexual expression negatively. Recent years have seen more vocal expressions of support from conservative Christians for some aspects of Christian tradition: opposition to homosexual expression; opposition to the recent drive toward approving homosexual marriage; opposition to abortion; support for the practice of abstinence among unmarried persons. Sex education in schools has been questioned because it usually does not teach these positions. Progressive Christians have generally tried to distance themselves from these traditional positions, partly from disagreement with them, partly from fear of alienating persons who disagree with one or all of these positions, partly from fear of appearing out of date. Despite all the problems with tradition—both in the Bible and in the last two millennia—I believe there are in our Christian tradition important and helpful guidelines for faithful living in relation to our sexuality: the mutuality expressed, for example, even in the male-dominated language of Ephesians 5; the faithfulness expressed in the use of marriage as an analogy for God’s relation with humanity; the family as the place of learning what matters in life and what is true; seeing our relation to God as even greater than our relation to family. I have seen a number of instances of progressive extremism in this area. I have read, for example, about the annunciation as God’s rape of Mary. To me this is the sort of literalism that the person who wrote it would ridicule if he or she heard it from a more conservative Christian. I have read that the Christian tradition that sexual intercourse should be limited to married couples is an example of people of faith not honoring the body as God’s gift. This is a little like saying that vegetarians, because they choose not to eat some things, dishonor food. Certainly in our sex-saturated culture, in which a majority of couples are living together before marriage, we need to discuss how Christian tradition can be alive and helpful; but to me, dismissing tradition as bad is not a very good way to start the discussion and is, in fact, polarizing. Another aspect of sexuality is the issue of inclusive language in speaking of both God and humanity. Certainly this is a very important issue. Pre–twentieth century translations of the Bible use almost universally masculine language, in both human and divine references. This language has been a significant factor in placing limits on


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the role of women in the church and in defending male violence toward women. But this is not the only issue of faith. To forbid all male references to God, because God is not a man, may be helpful; but it would also be helpful to forbid all references to God as rock, because rocks are not alive—at least to most of us in Western culture. In some progressive churches, Bible translations that do not make inclusive language a priority are discouraged in favor of those that do. I question this priority for at least two reasons. First, there are other criteria: Is the translation clear? Is it engaging? Is it fresh? Does it sound as if it is speaking to twenty-first-century people? Second, there is the pastoral dimension: Does the translation resonate in the heart of the hearer or reader? Does it speak to him or her? Inclusive language is one way of living faithfully; it is not the only way. Yet to some progressive Christians, inclusive language is as much a litmus test issue as abortion is to many traditional Catholics— and just as polarizing.

Moving Forward

Up to this point my essay has been largely negative, giving many examples— most within my own experience—of how I believe progressive or liberal Christians contribute to polarization in the church and American society, even as they prefer to attribute such polarization to more conservative or traditional perspectives. What constructive suggestions do I have? Many of us are familiar with the monologues about Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor on National Public Radio. His humorous critique of small-town life and human foibles (which are not limited to small towns) are rooted in his experience growing up in a small town near Minneapolis in a family of the Plymouth Brethren (a Christian group with roots in nineteenth-century England from whom come most of our ideas about the Rapture). Keillor now lives in the city and is, I believe, an Episcopalian, but he writes about the people of Lake Wobegon as one of them— one who therefore understands them, knowing that he shares their foibles. Close to a century earlier, H. L. Mencken also wrote about American life and foibles, but as an outside observer, as one who knew he was superior and wiser. I believe that when Christians speak about one another, we are more faithful to do so in the spirit of Keillor rather than that of Mencken. Many Christians—both conservative and liberal—do not really act as if they regard those they disagree with as members of the same family of faith, the same family of sinners saved by grace. In churchwide events I have seen both progressive and conservative leaders deny the microphone or stage to those with whom they disagreed. We can more faithfully and fully model inclusiveness and listen to one another, whether we agree with one another or not. Most of our clergy have taken courses related to pastoral work and have done clinical pastoral education, usually in an institutional setting like a prison or hospital, the better to understand the pastoral situation and needs of people with whom they will deal. Sometimes the pastoral concern is less evident in how we treat people with whom we disagree, whether in church or other circles.

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Why do people act as they do? Why do people assume what they assume about other people and their motives? What are people afraid of? Many of us, whatever our theology or philosophy, see ourselves as part of a persecuted or struggling minority; and often so do our adversaries. Just acknowledging this might help us act in less polarizing and more gracious ways. When we speak or write, whatever our perspective, we need to consider not only how we appear to those with whom we agree, but how we understand, speak to, and are understood by those with different experiences and convictions. A friend is a black Pentecostal pastor. Some of my friends in other denominations condemn the work of his church because they do not ordain women. Yet his church touches people that I do not and could not. His worship does not use bulletins, hymnals, or projected matter, because he does not assume that worshipers are literate or can read music. His congregation does not hesitate to welcome someone just out of jail. I would disagree with some of the theology and some of the ethics taught there, but I know that God is working through that pastor and that church. Rabbi Michael Lerner’s comment in relation to the tough issues of Israel and Palestine may be an appropriate conclusion: I’ve found in my work as a psychologist and rabbi that meditation, prayer, and other techniques for developing an inner spiritual life can contribute to maintaining a balanced perspective, can help us get back on track when we’ve gotten so powerfully moved by a particular perspective that we momentarily lose sight of the fundamental humanity and goodness of those with whom we disagree, and can help us remain committed to seemingly overwhelming goals that might otherwise leave us in despair [Embracing Israel/Palestine (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2012), 378]. What we say and what we believe are important, and so is how we live as followers of Jesus, whom we call Lord.


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Responses Eric Renner We are confronted with labels everywhere we go—labels on food, labels on programs, labels on products, etc. Labels can help us to make the choices that we need to make on a daily basis. However, labels, while they may be helpful in certain situations, can be very damaging when it comes to defining human traits, ideas or beliefs. Yet in our society we feel the need to constantly label people, especially if they disagree with our point of view. People throw certain people into certain groups on the basis of politics, religion, sexual orientation, social class, familial status—the list is infinite. Talking heads on TV talk about “Extreme Right-Wingers,” “Liberal Bleeding-Hearts,” “Environmental Wackos,” or “Religious Zealots,” as if all were groups plotting the demise of the world. It does not matter if it is Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, or Ed Schultz saying these things: when we label people, we are not living up to our label of “Christ-follower.” Labeling people is not what Christ calls us to do. Polarization leads to labels, and labels lead to division, and division leads to anything but being the servants that Christ wants us to be. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:26-29). This is what we should strive for. Too often, we forget that the people we label are just as much children of God as we are. The old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” was taught to me at a very young age. My parents tried to tell me that people will call you names and label you certain things, but that should not hurt you or define you. While that may be true at some level, labeling does hurt, whether we realize or not. We may not feel the hurt personally, but Christ feels the pain. When we inflict the hurt of a label on someone, we inflict pain on them and on Jesus Christ. Yet, even in all that society does to label people and to segregate people, I see hope. In times of extreme trouble and tribulation, I see labels dropped and people coming together. Three of the past four years, Fargo, North Dakota, has had to deal with the real possibility of catastrophic flooding. People have had to be evacuated from their homes. Many people’s homes, properties and livelihoods have been threatened. But, in the midst of this difficulty, people have always come together to help their brothers and sisters. Stereotypes fly out the window. Neighbors stand next to strangers as they pass sandbags down the line to stack up against the flood. In those moments, ethnicities, politics, religions—whatever label you choose—do not matter. Everyone comes together for the common good, and no one lets a label stand in the way of helping brothers and sisters.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


My prayer is that we can take this spirit of unity and oneness, seemingly reserved for times of trouble, and bring it into our daily lives. Rev. Eric Renner is pastor of Shepherd of the Prairie Moravian Church in Fargo, North Dakota.

Rebecca Craver I agree with Brother Weinlick’s premise. All people who participate in any part of the public discourse contribute to its outcomes. I think that maybe the apparent division in American discourse has as much to do with the tactics and manner in which we discuss issues as the particular opinions we hold. I have strong opinions and believe that I have thoughtfully reached my conclusions, so that I might participate in public discourse. However, I do not assume that my opinions will not change. My experience of life might change my perspective with time, or someone else may share with me an opinion that will challenge my assumptions and send me back to the drawing board. In the current culture of polarization it seems that anyone who wishes to be in dialogue with people who share divergent views is punished by both sides. In my lifetime (30 years), I have been shaped by a dominant worldview in which people increasingly use scare tactics and fear mongering to gain support for their objectives. In almost all spheres of influence—school, work, church, or politics— positions are presented in a way that condemns and bullies people to change their opinions using guilt, shame, and exploitation. No group can claim to be innocent in this area, because these tactics come from almost all perspectives. Such tactics do not promote understanding; rather, they promote the building of walls around our ideas to keep them separated from the rest of the world. I believe one result of polarization in our discourse is an atmosphere of shame cast over any people who wish to meet and understand the “other.” It is as if those who would practice a more balanced sharing of ideas are forced to meet in secret or simply to avoid meeting altogether. Our current cultural discourse in many ways implies that compromise, conversation, and listening are all signs of weakness of mind and conviction. It takes strength and conviction to continue on the path of seeking balance and understanding. The balanced path will not be met without resistance from all sides—both those whose opinions we share and those with whom we disagree. More likely, both sides will take a supported, thoughtful and reasoned opinion—although we may not all agree on what constitutes “supported, thoughtful and reasoned”—and turn it into an absolute that is no longer available for reflection or discussion. I believe that to entirely remove some beliefs from the conversation is to deny God’s ability to transform our hearts and minds. In seminary I resonated with the praxis model of theological reflection. For me it offers a way of being and understanding that makes room for personal and communal experience within the dialogue of tradition and culture. Simply, the praxis


Opening Hearts and Hands to Those in Need

model is a cycle of practice or experimentation followed by reflection, which leads to further practice and reflection. In my childhood home, discussion was encouraged, and while my parents did not always agree with my brother and me, we were safe to express our views. We were also expected to listen to views which disagreed with our own. So it is no surprise to me that my understanding of theology and theological development would be shaped by the same set of values. I want to offer my opinion and to persuade others that I have a valuable response to a particular issue, but if they are also persuaded by another perspective I want to be open to listening to them. If I cannot enter into dialogue, I miss the opportunity of reflection that calls me to greater balance in my practice of faith and life. It seems to me that Brother Weinlick addresses, at the core of our current discourse, the frailty of assumptions and the power we abdicate when we individually fail to challenge ourselves through dialogue and reflection. This fear-inducing behavior has, in my opinion, disparaged the inclusive and powerful message of Jesus to love our neighbor and our enemy. I hope to do my own work of reflection and listening as I encourage my sisters and brothers to do the same. Rev. Rebecca Craver is pastor of Edmonton Moravian Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Andrew Heil Brother Weinlick’s article usefully describes the complexity of our life and faith, the conditions and circumstances of religious polarization, and the pervasive hostility exhibited toward other believers with competing perspectives. In response to such division Brother Weinlick outlines the value of compassion, demonstrating empathy toward those with whom we disagree while carefully listening to consider how others perceive our words and actions. He writes, “We need to consider not only how we appear to those with whom we agree, but how we understand, speak to, and are understood by those with different experiences and convictions.” I agree that Christians from all sides are responsible for the spirit of polarization within the Church. Even so, I would like for Brother Weinlick to say more about the characteristics of healthy dialogue as we seek to be faithful to Christ and to one another. Brother Weinlick is right to highlight that all of us are brothers and sisters in Christ despite the intensity of our disagreements. And all of us are members of Christ’s Church by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). This is essential for us to remember as we desire to live together faithfully. I disagree with Brother Weinlick that congregations are less diverse than ecumenical councils and parachurch groups. Quite the contrary: The current religious landscape suggests that congregational participation today is often related to an authentic experience of belonging rather than allegiance to creeds and principles. Even a small church will have members living in very different theological worlds, who experience God very differently and whose faith journeys are connected, yet vastly diverse. This too presents its own challenges, as many Christians hesitate to share

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


their truest feelings and convictions with those whom they love most, and many others fear being rejected by faith communities for becoming who they believe God has created them to be. Even so, God has not made us to be afraid or to live a disjointed and fragmented life ( John 14:27; Ephesians 2:10). It is in God that we come to know our true identity, as we collect all of our broken and complicated stories, and journey together to discover God’s grace in every nook and cranny of our existence (Acts 17:28). Richard Rohr explains, “Only when we rest in God can we find the safety, the spaciousness, and the scary freedom to be who we are, all that we are, more than we are, and less than we are.”12 The Church’s ability to cherish its diversity will outline the trajectory to healing and wholeness, providing occasions to nurture, embrace, and support each member according to his or her unique journey and pilgrimage (see I Corinthians 11:17-34; I Corinthians 12-13). Such a practice of openness and caring must begin in our congregations, in our worship and service together. Fortunately our Moravian heritage is rich with wisdom in this regard. Indeed, our faith in Christ as chief elder relieves us from putting so much pressure on ourselves, since we believe and trust that our church is not sustained by our own efforts, but only by the grace of God (The Ground of the Unity, 11). Such relief should ignite our hearts into fellowship with one another, as we follow our conscience, speak honestly about our differences, and trust that Christ will lead us in the way we should go. 1 Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (New York: Crossroad, 2003), 26. For a meaningful overview on the issue of congregational diversity and its application in the life cycle of ministry, see W. Paul Jones, Worlds Within a Congregation: Dealing with Theological Diversity (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000).

Rev. Andrew Heil is pastor of Hope Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Peg Chemberlin and Jerad Morey Hermann Weinlick is correct to decry polarization and to conclude that “we can more faithfully and fully model inclusiveness and listen to one another.” We can do that, and it can set us free. We have felt that liberation in Minnesota. In 2012 we were divided by a ballot question defining marriage as between one man and one woman. While many faith communities were taking stands for or against the amendment, the Minnesota Council of Churches remained neutral, given the diversity of our members’ positions. We knew that the church is predicated upon love, democracy is based on relationships, and the quality of our relationships is contingent upon the quality of our conversation. What would our conversations be like around this amendment? We had heard that in other states, similar legislation was discussed only in the vitriol of television commercials and talk radio. We foresaw exacerbated cultural, generational, and political divides. Ultimately we did not want mass media shaping how we felt about each other.


Opening Hearts and Hands to Those in Need

After prayer, research and imagination, we discerned that God’s call was for the Council to claim a role that has always been part of the church’s identity: that of peacemaker. We would build bridges of empathy across divides. Courageous congregations across the state would partner with us to risk holding conversations designed not to change minds, but to soften hearts. This was the beginning of the Respectful Conversations Project. If you had gone to a Respectful Conversation then this is what you would have experienced: During a family-style meal, over small talk, and as you ask the woman to your right to pass the salt and make sure that the man in the tie has had his chance at the bread bowl, you get to know the other people at your table. After the meal, a trained facilitator instructs on the legislative process, the amendment language, and basic ground rules for a Respectful Conversation. Then the conversation begins at your table. In a timed, structured format, with another trained facilitator present, participants answer questions related to the amendment but about themselves. During an untimed open period, participants are free to clarify a previous response or ask each other “questions of genuine interest”— the most essential element of the conversation. In the design phase we knew this was a place wrought with conflict potential. We thought that if accusations of immorality and bigotry happened at all, it would be there. However, these accusations never flew. We held 54 conversations in urban, suburban, exurban, and rural communities, with over 1500 participants, and not once did a report of yelling, aggression, or destructive behavior come back to us. You would leave the conversation believing that the people with whom you disagree are just people whose life experiences and values informed their opinions, as your opinions and values are shaped by what happens to you. You are not likely to have changed your mind about your vote, but your sense of shared humanity with the people voting the other way is greatly magnified. This is the key piece to Weinlick’s call: We all must see the holy in the other, and if we will find processes that are built for such seeing and respect, then empathy is increased. We barraged participants with evaluations and learned that almost two out of three felt more empathy for those with whom they disagreed. “An increased sense of confidence that we can talk about difficult topics” was shared by 88% of respondents. What gave real legs to the Respectful Conversations Project, and the reason it is going on still, was that 96% of participants agreed that “I can see how conversations like this can be useful in other settings.” Later evaluations also showed that participants were using the skills they learned at the conversation. Months later we asked people about how their experience impacted them: I have tried to listen more carefully when someone is expressing an opinion I don’t share.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


When someone confronted me about a situation they were upset about, I was able to listen fully and pause before responding. When talking to my son about his school progress I was able to listen first and ask clarifying questions before lecturing. We had only dreamt of these social dividends. People came to churches for conversations about an amendment defining marriage. They left as better listeners, better engagers, and better parents. The experience freed congregations to begin addressing the “elephant in the Sanctuary,� whatever it may be. Church members report more confidence in their ability to tackle difficult issues. We are now helping to reduce community polarization on topics as diverse as the role of guns in society and the implementation of sustainable agricultural practices. Our experience shows that dialogue is possible, and that wherever two or three are gathered to better understand each other, there Someone else can be readily found, too. The Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin is executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches. Jerad Morey is the council’s program manager and communication manager. An expanded version of this response will be published in the November 2013 issue of Creative Nursing: A Journal of Values, Issues, Experience, and Collaboration.

The Author Responds First, I thank The Hinge for involving newer voices in the Moravian Church in continuing theological reflection (three of the four respondents were ordained within the last seven years). All the respondents are persons with whom I have had conversations and whose wisdom I value. Part of me wishes that respondents were more critical of what I wrote. I thank Eric for writing of his own experience in North Dakota, where flood or threat of flood has brought together all sorts of people. Often a common task to be done raises us above our disagreements with one another. I thank Rebecca for reminding us of an important truth: people change. Much of our discourse (or lack of discourse) assumes that we are all immovably set in our ways, that is, dead. But the gospel we preach is about conversion, about how God desires to make of us new, lively people. I am glad also that Rebecca reminds us of the importance of the models for dealing with difference that we provide for the children in our care (the sacrament of baptism tells us that this is many more than the children in our nuclear families).


Opening Hearts and Hands to Those in Need

I thank Andrew for disagreeing with me and speaking of the diversity even in the small congregation he serves, which is named, so beautifully in our needy culture, Hope. I thank him also for wishing I had said more about healthy dialogue. I especially thank Peg and Jerad for providing a specific example of modeling inclusiveness and listening, and perhaps thereby providing what Andrew missed in my article. More often than not, we can learn from one another.

Book Review Mark Crosby, Troy Patenaude and Angus Whitehead, eds. Re-Envisioning Blake. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 280 pages. Reviewed by Theresa Crater Re-Envisioning Blake collects essays from a 2007 conference to honor William Blake’s 250th birthday. Two essays discuss the Moravians: “Inconvenient Truths: Re-historicizing the Politics of Dissent and Antinomianism” by Keri Davies and David Worrall, and “Christ and the Bridal Bed: Eighteenth-Century Moravian Erotic Spirituality as a Possible Influence on Blake” by Craig D. Atwood. William Blake, poet, painter and printmaker from the late eighteenth century, is traditionally included in the Romantic tradition in British literature. Equally a visionary, he developed his own mythic system in his work with echoes of the Kabbala and Western metaphysics. Blake was sympathetic to the French and American revolutions, and many of his poems criticize the church and government’s lack of response to poverty and injustice. Relatively unknown during his life, Blake is now considered one of England’s greatest artists and poets. Davies and Worrall’s essay discusses mistakes that have crept into Blake scholarship. The mistake that particularly concerns Moravians is the idea that Blake was a Dissenter. In 1999, Keri Davies published an essay explaining that Blake’s mother had been misidentified: Her first husband’s surname was Armitage, not Hermitage as had previously been thought. Davies and Worrall discuss this discovery in detail, but the upshot is that Blake’s family was not involved in the Muggletonian sect (apparently different from Rowling’s Muggles). M.K. Schuchard found Thomas and Catherine Armitage’s names in the Church Book of the Congregation of the Lamb which met in Fetter Lane, London. Catherine’s second husband was James Blake, who most likely was not a member of the congregation, because Catherine is later listed as a widow who left the congregation.

The Hinge: International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church


Davies and Worrall explain that the confusion about William Blake probably came about when the Fetter Lane congregation petitioned to move to a larger space. There was a problem obtaining the license because they were not Dissenters, nor were they strictly the Church of England. Though recognized by the Anglican Church as an “ancient Protestant Episcopal Church,” in this instance the Moravians ended up having to claim an identity as a Dissenting meeting house, even though Zinzendorf preached regularly at Fetter Lane about his vision of reuniting the Christian churches. Davies and Worrall trace the original mistake to an article written in 1811 by Henry Crabb Robinson, who states that Blake didn’t belong to an Episcopal Church, but to a dissenting community. Later biographers assumed he was a Dissenter and perpetuated the error. Crabb’s article was translated into German (the original English article has been lost), and the confusion may have come from Robinson’s use of the phrase “dissenting community,” or dissentierenden Gemeinde. Not understanding the distinctive Moravian concept of the Gemeinde, some scholars apparently drew a straight line from dissentierenden to Blake’s being involved in dissenting politics of the time. Davies and Worrall call for “a realignment of … Blake’s background; perhaps, indeed, a reassessment of the very basics” (44). As a possible help in such reassessment, Craig Atwood’s essay offers information for scholars who might want to explore the influence of Zinzendorf of Blake’s work. With characteristic straightforwardness and clarity, Atwood explains some of Zinzendorf ’s teachings that Blake’s mother would have encountered while she was a member of the Married Persons’ Choir. He does not claim an uncomplicated, direct transference of these teachings from mother to son, but he does suggest Catherine’s steeping in these teachings during her first marriage would have carried over to her second, especially since other Blakes in the neighborhood were members at Fetter Lane. Zinzendorf taught that the Holy Spirit was our Mother. Blake seems to have no hesitation in attributing feminine qualities to the divine; Atwood mentions his poem Vision of the Daughters of Albion as an example. Sexualized imagery was common in Zinzendorf ’s writings and sermons, as well as the hymns Moravians sang. Blake did not shy away from sensual and often sexualized language. Atwood points to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell as one example, and also to the frank, but beautiful, nature of the paintings and etchings. Atwood also discusses Zinzendorf ’s sacred marriage teachings: The soul at death is gathered into Christ’s arms as a bride to her husband. She (the soul) is also drawn into the side wound, which is the source of salvation. Additionally, Zinzendorf did not see sex as only for procreation. He instructed the Married Persons’ Choir that intercourse in marriage could be a liturgy, a spiritual practice to come closer to God, with the husband as the Vice Christ and the wife as the Church. Since the husband stands in for Christ, it is not he who is “her lord and master” but Christ “who was lord of both husband and wife” (174). Atwood clarifies that “sacred sex was not a blanket endorsement of sex or a call to promiscuity” (175). Only married couples could practice it, in private, and it was sacred only if undertaken with proper reverence.


Opening Hearts and Hands to Those in Need

I thought as I was reading that modern psychologists agree that guilt over sex, and the subsequent shame and repression, has led to many a problem in the world. Mary Wollstonecraft, a contemporary of Blake, wrote in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman that the unchecked power of a husband over a wife can be bad for both. The Moravian teaching points out who is really in charge in a marriage. The choir system led to more freedom for women to pursue their interests beyond keeping house and raising children, without neglecting these important aspects of life. These potentially liberating and uplifting teachings were distorted and misrepresented, especially by Henry Rimius, who claimed Moravians were “sexobsessed” and used carefully selected hymns to prove his point (168). He also claimed Moravians were reviving the worship of Priapus, though no erect phallus is in sight in the hymns or teachings to the Married Persons’ choir. Nevertheless, after Zinzendorf ’s death, the Count’s teachings were repressed and some of the hymns removed or reworded, largely due to the criticism and misunderstanding Moravians had endured. Others have written in The Hinge that Moravian identity is strongly centered in our history, that we are proud of our ancestors’ accomplishments and dedication. Rightfully so. We have a unique identity. Perhaps we should become better informed of what our history actually was. Perhaps some of the eighteenth-century teachings might be dusted off and revised in some fashion for the twenty-first century. Is criticism and denigration a strong enough reason to abandon a teaching? Our early ancestors certainly didn’t think so. They died, endured exile, or packed up and moved to America for Zinzendorf ’s teachings. We might be surprised by communicating this history more. It might find more welcome than people imagine. It will certainly stir up some controversy, but that’s better than people napping during the sermon. At least I think it might be. Theresa Crater is professor of English at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She is an associate member of Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC.

Editorial Board Craig Atwood, Jane Burcaw, Sarah Groves, Hans-Beat Motel, Joe Nicholas, Volker Schultz, Neil Thomlinson Co-Editors: Ginny Hege Tobiassen, Janel Rice

Send letters to the editor, articles, book reviews, and other contributions to co-editor Ginny Hege Tobiassen at:

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Hinge 19.2: Polarization & Progressive Christians  

International Theological Dialog for the Moravian Church

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