Let me preface these thoughts by saying that I came back to Christian faith in a college Christian community and have been shown intense love over the past few years. And so it is with an equal love that I hope to think about some problems in how campus Christian fellowships relate to other Christians.
I perceive a mutual and abiding suspicion between liberal and conservative Christian forces on campus. It is grounded in a conservative perception of liberal Christians as flimsy and compromised and a liberal perception of conservative Christians as backward and fundamentalist. And to a certain degree, both are right about each other, even if only because they have, like water, conformed to the containers ready to receive them. We might say that they are filling the niches that demand (and fund?) them, but I don’t believe that such a situation is acceptable as a status quo. I recall one evangelical friend recounting how a freshman-year visit to Harvard’s Memorial Church left him feeling as though he had been “spiritually raped.” And a liberal friend spoke to me once with pretty shocking contempt for the hateful and disgusting “gay-basher fellowships.” I have worshiped Jesus Christ in Memorial Church and with several of those allegedly “gay-bashing” fellowships; neither place is the barren spiritual wasteland that my friends would have me believe. But clearly both felt affirmed enough in their opinions to be comfortable speaking so ill of another body of Christians.
This is a problem. It is schism rearing its ugly head: Church organized around ideology rather than community allows conservatives and liberals never to mix, eroding any notion of Christians as people living together with Christ as the foundation. Schism has allowed us to erase the persistent tension that lies at the heart of community life, but it has done so at the cost of the community itself. It massages our bloated Pharisaic egos and gives license to our arrogant belief that We are the True Church. But it is wrong to train another generation of Christians to believe that “the Communion of Saints” is actually “the Communion of Saints who think exactly the way we do.” No. It is the Communion of all those people who find new breath in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who proclaim the Cross and the empty tomb in a world ravaged by sin and injustice and violence and pain. It is unconscionable to teach the members of one’s church or body that unless another Christian believes exactly everything that we believe, there is nothing worth listening to.
This is, I’m sure, a very common frustration, and it’s one that I do not have a solution to. But I read last summer about an ancient Christian tradition that may be relevant:
Another consequence of the growth of congregations was that it soon became impossible for all Christians in a particular city to gather together for worship. The unity of the body of Christ was so important that it seemed that something was lost when in a single city there were several congregations. In order to preserve and symbolize the bond of unity, the custom arose in some places to send a piece of bread from the communion service in the bishop’s church — the “fragmentum” — to be added to the bread to be used in other churches in the same city.
> The Story of Christianity, by Justo L. González – page 95
This fracture in the early church was caused by size rather than theological battle lines. But reviving this ancient tradition of sharing each other’s Communion bread could at least produce a moment of reflection in which a desire for Christian unity might be kindled in all who partake. Even symbolic steps are steps in the right direction.