I like the line-item veto, that red-pencil right to scratch out one line without rejecting the whole bill. The line-item veto can be dangerous in politics, interrupting the usual checks and balances; so in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. I don’t like it in government, though. I like it in life. Last month, Eugene Peterson experienced why, when LifeWay, a leading Christian bookseller, threatened to stop selling his books.
Peterson the venerable evangelical author and translator of the popular Message Bible, has for decades brought a sage voice in wisdom-starved times; but then, in an interview, he momentarily considered performing a gay marriage, and everything changed. Peterson’s tentative “yes” had barely moved from his mouth to Religion News’ website, when the Christian right hit back: “LifeWay only carries resources in our stores by authors who hold to the biblical view of marriage,” came word from on high. Peterson had to recant, or LifeWay “will no longer sell any resources by him, including The Message.” Peterson’s written words, which have helped hundreds of thousands of Christians, had not changed. But suddenly the books were damaged goods, because their author was impure.
The left does this, too. Some pro-choice leaders of the national women’s march last January could not fathom walking side-by-side with pro-life women. In spite of sharing the experience of being women and the hope that women will be treated more humanely, because they disagree on the abortion issue, they banned them.
Doesn’t this one-difference-and-I’m-done-with-you way of doing faith and life seem immature to you? More importantly, isn’t it short-sighted? If Peterson had stood by his brief “Yes” and LifeWay had stuck to their “No,” they’d have deprived myriad souls of Peterson’s wisdom and LifeWay of one of its best-selling authors.
Your pastors will remember having to learn the Donatist Controversy in their seminary’s church history class. During the 4th century, Donatus led a purist’s sort of Christianity in North Africa that believed sacraments (baptism and Eucharist) only worked if performed by righteous priests. If celebrants had caved before persecutors and temporarily renounced his faith, the sacraments they offered became worthless – fruit of the poisonous tree. No line-item veto for Donatus.
St. Augustine wrote the Catholic church’s reply: “Whether people receive the sacrament of baptism from a faithful or a faithless minister, their whole hope is in Christ.” Because baptism and communion come from Christ, not from the clean or unclean hands that perform them, the failings of the priest cannot compromise them.
The Catholic church got it right, I think, when they said no to Donatism. Persons and communities are complex collections of thoughts and actions. Throwing the whole set out for one disagreement is the stuff of middle-school social politics, not grown-up living. That church or preacher or member doesn’t ordain women (or does) or do gay marriages (or does) so we can’t learn anything else from them. Our neighbors voted for Trump or for Hillary, so we shun them.
Shouldn’t we rather pull out the line item veto, friends…then get a bite to eat together and talk about something else?