Non-Negotiable Issues

By Graham Glover

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On the issue of _________________, I will not negotiate. Moreover, if one’s position on this issue is different than mine, then we cannot be part of the same political party/ecclesial communion.

Do you have any of these issues?

Politically, these could include the divisive issues of abortion or tax rates. In other words, if a candidate or elected official is pro-life and you are pro-choice, then you would, under no circumstances vote for that person and if you had your druthers, wouldn’t be part of the same political party (and vice-versa). The same logic applies to one’s position on tax rates.

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Theologically, this could include your stance on how one is forgiven, how one attains eternal life, or to what extent different denominations/faiths should publicly associate with one another. In other words, is Christianity the only true faith? If so, is one forgiven and consequently saved by their faith in the Triune God, their deeds toward this God and their neighbor, or some combination thereof? If one is a Christian, can he/she pray with a Jew, a Muslim, or a Hindu? Do non-Christian prayers even count as prayers? And should this same Christian participate in the worship life of a Christian from a different denomination even if they have fundamentally opposite understandings on certain issues?

Hardly a week goes by where our political and religious leaders don’t take stances on their non-negotiable issues. President Obama laid out a few in his recent State of the Union address. This week, Rev. Matthew Harrison, the President of my denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, made clear some of his. On both fronts the lines of demarcation were clear. Negotiations are not an option. It’s an all or nothing approach to governing and ministry.

So, what are your non-negotiable issues, if you have any at all? I’m pretty sure we all think we have some of them. I know I do. The problem is that my non-negotiable issues don’t really mean much in practice. Conceptually they sound great, but practically they always seem to fail.

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For example, I’m a pro-life Democrat. Ask me how that works out when I talk and engage in politics. I’m also a Lutheran pastor who holds steadfast to my church’s confessions, but whose “congregation” is made up of mostly Christians from other denominations, of whom my Lutheran Confessions declare to be in error. My congregation also consists of a lot of unbelievers who reject any notion of the divine, and of pastoral colleagues who reject that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. I pray that my vocation is centered on proclaiming Christ and Him crucified (if not, then I’ve got a whole host of problems), but I look to Uncle Sam for a paycheck (my Lutheran two-realm sensibilities always cringe when I think about that reality.) To put it another way, I am adamantly pro-life, but I’m a member of a party that all but supports abortion on demand. I’m a life-long Lutheran that believes my church’s teachings are the most orthodox of all Christian denominations, but I minister mainly to those outside my theological flock. I would never co-celebrate a service with a non-Christian, and under most circumstances, wouldn’t do so with a non-Lutheran, but every day I work to support the ministries of those with whom I do not share a common confession of the faith. My non-negotiable issues are clear to me in principle, but when it comes to practicing them, I don’t think I do a very good job. And I think you are just like me, along with those political and religious leaders who regularly draw their battle-lines in the sand.

So go ahead and take your adamant stance on any number of issues. Rally your supporters. Do what you think is right. Proclaim what you know to be true.

Then come back to reality and realize that everything is and will always be negotiable. We may wish otherwise, but reality shows this is always the case…

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