Maintaining Conversation and Keeping Bondaries Wide

Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege of attending a lunch gathering at the law school at which our guest was Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. As Presiding Bishop, Bishop Schori is the chief pastor to the Episcopal Church’s 2.4 million members in 16 countries. She is visiting the Twin Cities for the installation of a new Episcopal bishop here and took what were perhaps the only two hours of free time in her schedule to accept the invitation of our students to come and meet with them.

She did not offer any formal remarks, instead allowing those in attendance (a group of students, faculty and staff) to ask whatever questions they wanted on any subject. One of the subjects that came up is how to deal with divisions within the church community, especially given changes that some welcome but others don’t, something that has resulted in some people leaving the Espicopal community in the United States.

Bishop Schori suggested that, as difficult as it may sometimes be, it is desirable to maintain boundaries as wide as possible. The goal, she suggested is to try to keep people in dialogue. If people stay in dialogue, there is the possiblity of relationship, but if people go elsewhere, the possibility of relationship diminishes. She acknowledged that this is not easy. It is hard work, she said, to let our boundaries be permeable enough to hear other people’s truths. But, as long as there is conversation, there is the possiblity of conversion, the possiblity that God can bring something new out of division.

This belief translates for her to a view that people should never be pushed out of the church, although they may sometimes voluntarily leave. Better, she said, to have a few heretics in the body than to push people out.

I’m not sure everyone has the same view of how to deal with deep differences. I have heard some people in the Catholic Church, for example, say things like, “Well, if they don’t like it, good riddance. They should leave.” I’m sure there are people of other faiths who say similar things.

It is true that it is a lot easier to write off those who disagree, to suggest they leave if they don’t want to to accept the prevailing view. But it seems to me there is a lot of wisdom in the approach articulated by Bishop Schori and that pehaps we could all do a bit more to keep those with whom we disgree in the conversation. We could all profitably ask ourselves whether we are maintaining our boundaries as wide as possible so as to foster relationship…even where it is difficult to do so.