Growing up, I didn’t really think about divisions in the church. I was raised Presbyterian. I knew one of my sets of grandparents and some of my aunts and uncles were Methodist, but their church and ours seemed pretty much the same to me: music, sermon, prayers, offering, benediction, punch and cookies afterwards.
In junior high, I remember arguing naively with a Lutheran friend over politics, and I had a vague understanding that her church had something to do with the side she took. In high school, there were Christians with whom I disagreed about the Gulf War and Oregon ballot measures about homosexuality. I had a Greek Orthodox friend down the street who celebrated Easter on a different day than I did, but I didn’t really know why.
Then, my freshman year of college, someone told me that anyone who hadn’t spoken in tongues wasn’t really Christian. I wasn’t even sure what that meant, since I didn’t know people could speak in tongues. But the point was that I’d never before heard that my way of being Christian – the tradition of my family, my home, my whole existence up to that point – wasn’t valid to someone else who claimed to be Christian, too.
Two years later while traveling in Europe with other students and attending Mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, I remember a stark moment of indecision – as Protestants should we receive Eucharist or not? Some of us went forward, others didn’t. I have never forgotten that moment of uncertainty – am I welcome here? – though, oddly, I have forgotten how I responded to it.
Church division is historical, doctrinal, theological, social, cultural, racial. It’s about tradition and power and preference and conviction and interpretation and change and revelation. But what's undeniable is that division is always personal. It slices you from me, and it it separates us and them.
The hand cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you.” In the body of Christ, I am impoverished without you, and you without me.
That’s why unity matters.