When I was a freshman in high school my English class was assigned a research project. Each of us was allowed to pick our own topic, and while I have no recollection at all what mine was, I have never forgotten what topic one of my classmates chose: the title of her paper was, “Why Catholics aren’t Christian.” Now, I didn’t grow up Catholic so I had no dog in the race, as it were, but I remember graciously thinking “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Her paper was backed up not by research but pure personal bias. Even more annoying, my classmate accidentally misspelled Catholic – “Cathloic” – throughout the entire paper. That’s right. Every single page of her “research” paper asserted with the confidence of a misguided teenager that “Cathloics” weren’t Christian.
But here’s the thing – it wasn’t just the lack of credible research or her total disregard for spelling that annoyed me. It was something else. It was the bald-faced intentionality of divisiveness and exclusion that still, decades later, unnerves me.
What religious fervor stirred in her that she would spend six weeks of research trying to build such a case? And who were the adults molding her young mind to think this way? Through the centuries people have, of course, been subjected to much worse discrimination and intolerance than a naïve teenager could even imagine, but we are at a critical time in our religious and cultural history, especially in the United States where division across all sectors of life is omnipresent, and I think it’s time for a healthy dose of self-examination.
There is one urgent question we all need to ponder: When Jesus himself called for unity, why are Christ’s followers so inclined to sow the roots of divisiveness and to belittle the dignity of our Christian brothers and sisters on the grounds of difference?
Next week marks the Universal Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It began in the 1930s by a Catholic priest in France who envisioned the whole world praying for unity – and not just our human vision for unity, but that we would pray for God’s vision to be fulfilled.
Throughout this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we’ll be looking at the worldwide ecumenical movement*. During our Sunday services we’ll explore ways Christians can confront our own disunity, and how intentional practices can also help heal fragmentation and disunity we see in the world today, especially here in the United States.
We can take a cue from scripture, of course: God’s vision for unity is that humans will be united “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9) May we be fervently in dialogue with the One who will divinely guide us on earth to make it so.