Yesterday I had the honor of speaking to Northumberland Presbytery on the subject of conflict and competition in the Presbyterian Church (USA). My main theme was that the church has always been diverse and always will be. This means that there are some beliefs and practices that some people in the church engage in that other people have to tolerate.
There are limits to what the church will tolerate on the left and the right. There are beliefs and practices so standard and orthodox that nearly everyone accepts them. And then there is a gray area in each tail of the bell curve between those poles. Here lie things that someone is merely tolerating.
The danger that conservatives pose to the church is the belief that if we just expel this group of intolerables, the church will be pure. And if they don't get that expulsion, they are inclined to leave. But the legacy of schism is more schism. And a church of millions will never be pure. Some things will have to be tolerated by the right.
The danger that liberals pose to the church is the belief that merely tolerating some things is unjust because it creates a "second class" status. They believe that it we just all embrace every practice and belief that is allowed in the church as equally good, the church will be just. And if they get something tolerated today, they will come back tomorrow to argue that it is just as good, right, and orthodox as anything else in the church. But it is possible to be so open-minded that your brains fall out. Some things will have to be tolerated by the left.
We did an exercise in the presbytery meeting. I asked everyone to write down one belief or practice that anyone would need to accept to be an officer of the Presbyterian Church. We then talked about them. The items that different people came up with were a little different. But everyone came up with something. Everyone agreed that the church must have some standards. We then began the discussion of which things they would find tolerable, even though they are not ideal. We did not come to a conclusion on this discussion. But I think everyone accepted that there are some items in the "tolerated" category.