There is significant division among Christians. The main dividing line today (as I see it) is in our beliefs in how we engage with non-Christians. How does God want us to engage with the world? What message does he want us to communicate through our actions and words? These are important questions because they are a fundamental part of being a community of Christ followers.
There are two main camps: love and truth. Conservatives and fundamentalist hold that standing up for the “truth” is the Christian’s most important task. This is the Christian’s witness. The church is the pillar of God’s “truth” in the world. Our “salt and light” is to declare the “truth” and to guide the world toward that “truth”.
A problem with this is that, in order to be a defender of the truth, you must know what the truth is. In other words, you have to have the truth all figured out. And once you’ve done this, you can’t question or change the truth. To do so would obviously be antithetical to defending the truth. It is called compromise with a strongly negative sense of the word.
If you’re familiar with religious conservatism, I believe you will be able to see how well this fits. How many people have you heard complain that they weren’t allowed to question or their questions were dismissed? What is one of conservatives’ biggest fears in engaging the world? “Whatever else we do, we must make sure that they know this isn’t ok.”
I admit, I don’t quite understand why people feel it’s so necessary to defend the “truth” this way. I can see them potentially getting this a little bit from the old testament. But for the most part, I think it comes from a combination of history and human nature. People find it easier to follow a set of rules than they do to follow a living God. With rules, you can judge how good you are and then subsequently, how good others are or aren’t. With this “truth”, you can define who is in and who is out, as well as who is good and who is bad. But Jesus and his teachings go completely go against this (or at least their understanding of this). That’s one of the big reasons he was opposed.
To me it feels like conservative Christians are committed to a traditional set of beliefs, not Jesus. They feel they must fight for their view of marriage, creation, hell, the bible, patriarchy, etc., even if another viewpoint has more compelling support. This seems to be what got Stephen stoned. The argument he made for Christ was stronger and more biblical than his Jewish opponents’ traditional views. Since they couldn’t argue with him, they defended their traditions by killing him.
I don’t believe real love and real truth are in opposition. I believe Jesus defines both. The truth isn’t a set of propositions about God and sin, it’s a person—Jesus. Similarly, love isn’t a soft, “it doesn’t matter” attitude like what some people think of. It’s important to remember that Jesus told the woman caught in adultery “go and sin no more” as well as “neither do I condemn you”. Jesus said he didn’t come to condemn, so why do we? Jesus radically communed with all sorts of the “wrong” people. He actively demonstrated God’s love for them by associating with them, touching them, and healing them. He didn’t seem compelled to proclaim the “truth” to all of the “sinners”. In reality, he felt more of a need to reorient the religious to the actual truth.
The primary truth is that God loves us. This is the truth that we need to defend. This is the truth we need to share with the world. And we do this first through demonstrating it in a tangible way by our actions, along with our words. If people believe in Christ and decide to follow him, they will learn other truths along the way. But their acceptance of the “truth” is not prerequisite, despite what many religious conservatives convey.