This month we witnessed another skirmish in the Christian church as Eugene Peterson, the renowned translator of “The Message,” appeared to offer some remarks in favor of same gender marriage. Within hours, some retailers were threatening to boycott his work and the internet was lit with angry condemnation of this “betrayal” by an esteemed evangelical voice. Peterson ended up clarifying his remarks in a way that was deemed acceptable by most of his detractors, but it’s another example of how same gender relationships have become something of a shibboleth in the American church.
That term, “Shibboleth,” is actually from the book of Judges, where we read the story of how one army identified their enemy by having them pronounce the word. It seems the losing side in this particular conflict pronounced it “Sibboleth,” and so retreating soldiers could be easily identified and dispatched by means of this simple test. The term has come to refer to any single issue or item we use to separate out into opposing camps.
At times like this, I’m intrigued by Paul’s haunting question in 1st Corinthians, “Has Christ been divided?” We will always have differences when we interpret the Scriptures and determine the best way to follow Jesus, but does difference of conviction necessarily lead us to construct “us-them” boundaries? The church was never conceived as an “anything goes” kind of community, and truth claims must be tested, but what of the sufficiency of Christ to bind us together in common witness to the redeeming power of the cross? For Paul, “Jesus” is the one word, however we may pronounce it, that is always seeking to draw us together.