We all do honour to what we believe when we give witness to those beliefs in civil discourse. I could be right or wrong. You could be right or wrong. But the correctness or incorrectness of ideas and beliefs does not change how we should treat one another — ever.
I do not regret the efforts of reformers over the centuries and millennia to work for changes to the church as an institution or to practices of piety when Christians have lost their way. I do not regret the church rejuvenating efforts of mystics or of theologians who call upon us to reflect upon what it means to be Christian. I do not regret Jan Hus, Martin Luther, John Wesley, or countless others who have pointed out the flaws in the church and called for us to do better. I do not even regret that sometimes the genuine call to growth in faith and piety can mean that institutions and power structures suffer divisions. What I would regret is if we made an idol of an institution of faith instead of being true to the faith itself.
It is difficult being church together. The History of Christianity is filled with a progression of conflicts over right teaching, the authority of the church and its leaders, and the proper shape and character of a Christian life. These things are important. Sadly, though, these conflicts often distract from the example of Jesus and his life and ministry in this world. Instead of an athletic contest to see who can best exemplify God’s love as demonstrated by Christ, Christians waste large amounts of energy on arguing with one another. It is discouraging to those within the faith and its various traditions. It is wholly off-putting to those ‘outside’ the church who are trying to decide whether they see anything of value in Christianity.
What keeps me going as a Methodist Christian is the question I ask myself with regularity. It is a question, in fact, that I ask my students when I teach — Do God and the world still need Methodists?