Sunday, April 18, 2010
Disunity on Display
It was a beautiful, late summer morning, and I was driving a car full of groomsmen to my old roommate’s wedding ceremony. As we meandered through the tranquil countryside of upstate New York on the way to the church, the conversation turned to religion. The best man, sitting next to me in the passenger seat, asked about my studies in divinity school and we began talking about the differences between various Christian denominations. About halfway through our discussion, we followed Route 21 into the tiny village of Palmyra. There, at the intersection of Main and Canandaigua Streets, our eyes could not help but drift up to notice four soaring church spires that pierced the sky. On each corner of the intersection stood a different church – Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal. The best man, who attended a suburban nondenominational congregation, remarked how he had never really thought about Christian disunity until he saw it dramatically displayed on that street corner.
That moment remains etched in my mind whenever I consider the importance of Christian ecumenism. As it turns out, another young man – Joseph Smith – was troubled by that very same intersection over a hundred years earlier. Born and raised in Palmyra, Smith’s frustration with the competing denominations in town contributed to his disillusionment with traditional Christianity. Thus the scandal of Christian division – embodied on a remote corner in New York – gave birth to the new religious movement of Mormonism.
What about you? Do you worship across the street from another church? What keeps us divided? How does our disunity effect our credibility or "witness" to the world?