By Gregory Brewer

With recent decisions in the Church of England, the Anglican Communion’s disagreements about human sexuality have reached a new stage. In the midst of so many conflicts both within the church and in our community, we all need to find “bridges of grace.” The phrase describes a posture of servanthood, expressing the gospel in word and deed. I have had extensive experience within the Episcopal Church dealing with conflict and learning to “live with difference” and “making room for difference,” even within my own thinking. And so I hope that my thoughts here can be an encouragement to others as they navigate these changes.

I still long to be in a church without conflict, though I realize that such a longing is a longing for heaven; for there is no ecclesial jurisdiction without conflict. Even Jesus promises us that “the wheat and the tares grow together,” and the extremely difficult thing about tares is that they can look just like wheat.

So within any body of people who call Jesus Lord, leaders are tasked with the responsibility to work through places of significant conflict and difference, including in matters of doctrine, discipline, and polity. Certainly, this is true within the Anglican Communion (however one defines the boundaries) and probably will be true for the foreseeable future. My task is not to define the boundaries of what is and is not an acceptable level of difference. My task is to describe what I hope is the posture any Christian leader would take when entering those placers of conflict and difference.


First: To enter these places requires me to ask, “Are those with whom we are dealing members of the baptized?” Or to put it another way within my context: can one disagree with the biblical position on marriage, for example, and still be considered Christian? If one believes that disagreement on marriages does not disqualify someone form salvation, then one can acknowledge that this is an in-house argument between believers. I believe this to be extremely important. If I can look across the table and see the person with whom I am disagreeing as one who is a joint heir of Jesus Christ, and one with whom I share the mutual hope of heaven, that sets the table for a different sort of conversation than a contest who is to be defeated at all costs.

Second: am I praying with and for the people with whom I am conversing? Jesus promised that it would be the Holy Spirit who would guide God’s church into all truth. Intercessory prayer is powerful, and God uses it to change hearts and minds in a way that is far superior to any rhetorical technique to win an argument. Prayer expresses an act of trust that we converse in the presence of God, who promises to guide the church into all truth. Prayer invites wisdom that cannot be found otherwise. We have agreed to a holy task: to discern truth together as witnessed in Scripture and in our hearts and minds.

Third: I have a personal interest in getting to know the people with whom I am having these conversations. These are those for whom Christ died and my job is to love them; and love means service. Jesus said, “I come among you as one who serves.” Service means caring for their needs, being generous in hospitality, praying for their concerns. Even if I see them as theological “enemies,” I am still obligated to love, meaning serve, my enemies: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them, and if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”

Our ultimate aim is not merely to win an argument, nor to convince the other side. Our ultimate aim is to serve for the sake of Christ those who with whom I am in conversation, and trust God to reveal the truth. Do I bring to bear the best arguments I have?  Do I listen carefully and thoughtfully? Do I ask hard questions? Of course! Love is no excuse for intellectual sloppiness. We are on a mutual task together: and that is to discern truth, and that requires not only prayer and mutual love, but also very hard work. But without the love and service, we see our opponents as less than the people they are. When that happens, even if we win the point, we have lost the plot. If there is no mutual good will, then there is no room for revelation. If my chief aim is merely to win, then I will be tempted to employ tactics of cross-examination that are demeaning and even harmful. When that happens, I lose sight of the fact that these are people for whom Christ died. We do not use dialogue as a tool for manipulation, but as a tool for prayerful discernment.

In the heat of these conversations, none of us will respond perfectly or with the emotional precision we would like. This requires patience. We get exasperated. There is a power dynamic between “oppressed” and “oppressor” that cannot be ignored. We all come to these conversations with a deep history that informs our theological positions. We all come to the table acting as representatives of others who have been tragically wounded by the very people with whom we are in conversation. All places of disagreement are never merely places of disagreement. They are also places of historic hurt, prejudice, and acts of harm that require us to face our histories and bring us to repentance. We do not have a history of loving each other well in conflict, and that history cannot be swept under the rug if we are going to engage lovingly in the present.

Fourth: such an approach to divisions and disagreements comes from a profound belief that all in the conversion are in God’s field, the Church, and God is Lord over that Church, and I am not. Yes, I have a role to play: to speak the truth in love, to guard the flock and love generously. This is a role to be approached with all humility. This is God’s church, not mine. Our position must be to join with others in the presence of God, acknowledge that this is God’s church and not ours, and ask God for the discernment and wisdom necessary to serve each other well, proclaim the gospel to the world and glorify God.

Last of all: Because “the wheat and the tares grow together,” because we “know in part,” and because we are all sinful creatures, even our best efforts and prayers do not guarantee the healing of our divisions. Indeed, the Scriptures even tell us that some “divisions are necessary.” But if we are willing to prayerfully wrestle together, not skirt the issues, and have the courage to “make every effort to maintain the unity in the bond of peace,” perhaps we will learn new lessons in humility, and model love in a way that heals some of our wounds and brings others to Christ.

The Rt. Rev. Gregory Brewer is the bishop of Central Florida.

2 Responses

  1. Tina Lockett

    I am thankful that you were one of my first professors many years ago. And I am thankful for these words today. Much wisdom.


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