Healing Family Rifts (Stone-Campbell Style)

As I've noted before, the movement that gave birth to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has had at its core beliefs a commitment to pursue Christian unity.  Barton Stone called unity our polar star.  Thomas Campbell decried the divisions in Christendom an evil.  The question that presented itself then and now concerned how do we pursue unity.  Over time, this movement of unity became fragmented.  We speak of three branches, but even within th branches there are divisions.  Besides that there are other communities that have ties, but rarely get recognized.  You could say that we've failed at this effort, but I don't think that's the case.  I think our human inclination is to gather around common sentiments and beliefs.  Unity is easy in theory, not so much in implementation.

Two weeks ago now, Central Woodward Christian Church sponsored a conversation for pastors and church leaders on healing the rift, with Scott Seay of Christian Theological Seminary as our leader.  It was a start to a conversation, but just a start.  Yesterday I had lunch in Nashville with Gary Holloway, the Executive Director of the World Convention of Churches of Christ -- an institution that seeks to bring all three major branches together.  Gary is Church of Christ, I'm Disciples, we were introduced to each other through the auspices of Dennis Helsabeck, my college mentor and part of the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.  We talked about how to heal the rift -- centering in on relationships.  Ecumenical partnerships are successful not because we can get an agreement on paper, but because people from different places and views sit down and get to know each other.

In that vein, as I spend this week at the Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville, I am reading the papers of Edgar Dewitt Jones, the founding pastor of the church I now serve.  Jones was actively involved in the Ecumenical Movement in the 1920s through 1940s (if not before), serving a term as President of the Federal Council of Churches.  In reading through the papers I found an interesting exchange between Claude Witty, an irenic minister among the Churches of Christ in Detroit, and Edgar Dewitt Jones.  Witty is known for his efforts to reach out to what were then conservative (and thus disaffected) Disciples through James Deforest Murch.  I had been wondering if he had a relationship with Jones, and I've been rewarded.

Jones writes in April 1938 to Witty noting that Witty was hosting a convention on Christian unity, asking if there would be a place for him in it.  Jones writes:

I have a consuming passion for the reunion of the church, and I hope in your plans you will not leave out what sometimes you refer to as "the most liberal church of our Brotherhood in Detroit."
Witty replies that he knew well of Jones' passion and had been following it.  He notes that they approached the question of unity from different viewpoints, but "that is no reason why we should not cooperate as much as possible."  He goes on to note the appreciation of the personal friendship that the two men had -- note this reference to personal friendship -- and welcomes Jones to participate.  Witty notes the divergence within the movement --

The difference between the two extremes is so great that the task of bringing them into immediate accord is absolutely hopeless.  But I believe there is enough in common between the liberal conservatives and the conservative liberals to enable us to start closing the breach that has so shamefully separated us for more than a century.  That is what we are working for at the present time, and we entertain the fond hope that if we can make progress, we will soon be able to extend our efforts, so that we may reach those who are today farther apart.

Jones would have been part of the further out, but the relationship between the men allowed for there to be at least the possibility.  So, here's the question -- how do we build relationships that will allow us to engage each other with respect, breaking down the barriers that divide?  It's not easy, but clearly not impossible!


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