United or not, Christians must get down to business

Dabora Nyibol, a returned refugee in South Sudan, prepares sorghum, a staple in her country. Photo by Stephen H. Padre/Bread for the World

By Stephen H. Padre

This is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, but there’s a big rift in the global church community. It manifested itself in a real way last week. The Anglican Communion, the worldwide umbrella body that brings together the world’s Anglican denominations (national church bodies in each country), suspended its U.S. member, the Episcopal Church, for three years from participating in the worldwide body. The reason is the actions the Episcopal Church has taken to more fully include people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. These actions include electing Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

To mark the week on Christian unity, I had written a blog post to celebrate the oneness of Christians before the news of the Episcopal Church’s suspension broke. After this news, my words in that post seemed too upbeat and not appropriate. I felt I needed to acknowledge my disappointment over this threat to our unity.

However, there is one place where our unity still holds, and that’s where I go to work every day — Bread for the World. I’m pleased to say that this unity manifests itself in a very real, tangible way in this organization and its work.

Bread is an ecumenical organization. It is supported by and works on behalf of many denominations across the U.S. We as Christians of many stripes come together because we believe fighting hunger is part of our mission. I take heart that Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, and people from many other denominations come together in this organization to change the systematic causes of hunger. Anglicans may disagree with other Anglicans, and Catholics may disagree with Protestants, but one thing we can agree on is feeding the hungry. The same Jesus we all follow was extremely clear on what we should do about hunger. On that point we are united as Christians. Bread’s existence proves it.

The unity of Christians that is already ours as a gift from God is for us to employ in our mission. It’s not unity for the sake of feeling good about ourselves. It’s so we can be a better Church, a Church that exists not for its own sake but for the sake of the world. Our mission as the Church is to heal a broken and hurting world. And a lot of that brokenness and hurt is caused by hunger.

And Bread’s focus is stated in our name: for the world. We’re a group of Christians working together on a shared task of ensuring every person has enough food to eat every day. We are being Christ’s ambassadors and directing our actions and employing our gifts outward, toward the world broken and hurting from hunger and poverty.

I’m still saddened by the latest divisions in the church, but I can also be happy at the same time that some unity still exists and that I can be part of it. I hope you’re proud to be part of it too. Yes, threats to unity are upsetting, but there’s work to do. Let’s get down to business. We have a mission for the world — bread for the world!

Stephen Padre lives an ecumenical life. Besides working at Bread for the World as its managing editor, he grew up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America but attends an Episcopal church in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Our unity as Christians should be for the sake of our mission and its outward focus to the world. A major component of the church’s mission is feeding the hungry. Stephen Padre/Bread for the World

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