Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Beard Gets Me Thinking...

With the Episcopalian church struggling over rifts in it's world communion over gay and lesbian ordination, and my own Presbyterian denomination facing schism over the issue, I found myself thinking about that compulsion we churchy folk seem to have over our own collective purity. Since the time of the apostle Paul, we've desired to set ourselves apart from those who fail to meet the standard, or who approach Christ in ways that we feel compromise the faith. So we seek purity, and divide, and divide, and divide again. Where does this sectarian drive all lead? Surely...surely...we’re only one schism away from being the True Church.

Seeking insights into our splittin' ways, I decided to read up a bit on the macdaddies of Christian moral uprightitude: The Amish. We all remember last year's Amish schoolroom shooting, and the mindbogglingly Christlike graciousness of that community towards the family of the shooter. Here's a sect that sets standards of humble personal piety which make Jerry Falwell look like the lead singer of GWAR. Surely in their agrarian, family-centered, simplicity they must have overcome that schismatic compulsion for division.
For perspective, I turned to John Hostetler's definitive book entitled, get this... Amish Society. Hostetler's a sociologist, and a former Amishman....and not the embittered sort. He approaches the Amish with an objective but sympathetic touch.

What his book shows is that the Amish share that desire to divide as any other part of the Christian world. Within Lancaster County alone, the Old-Order Amish disagree with the Beachy Amish, who disagree with the New Amish. There are Amish who aren't in communion with one another over issues that seem to us...well...silly. But within those communities, even a slight variance from practice might be a mortal failing.

So we’ll split, and split, and split, over issues that have little to do with what is at the heart of our faith. But purity...at least, in this mortal coil...just is not something that can be attained. It seems that the more we seek it, the more it will elude us.

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