Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8
I recently completed John Pavlovitz’s book If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk – Finding a Faith That Makes Us Better Humans (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021). I will confess, the provocative title drew me to the book. Pavlovitz’s ‘no-holds barred” candor about the current state of Christianity in the United States is thoughtful and insightful. Pavlovitz bristles at the way the word “Christian” is embodied by too many today.
Pavlovitz’s spiritual journey has been circuitous, from childhood in the Roman Catholic Church to ordination in The Methodist Church to Mega-Church pastor to influential author and blogger. In his book, Pavlovitz uses the identification “Christian” interchangeably with “Evangelical Christian.” I struggled with this as I read, finding myself wanting to say, “Hey, John, there are other expressions of Christianity in this country.” Still, Pavlovitz only echoes what has happened across media for the past several decades. As faith in this country has declined, the voice of so-called evangelical Christianity has become so loud and dominant that other Christian voices have been lost. Most Americans assume Evangelical Christianity represents and speaks for all Christians, with the possible exception of Roman Catholicism.
I identify with Pavlovitz in bristling when I hear the word “Christian” used in media stories reporting on “how Christians feel” about this or that issue in the country, or how “Christians” are voting for this or that candidate. More often than not, the position or candidate represents views that are narrow, judgmental and even hate-filled. “Hey, wait a minute,” I want to shout, “you don’t speak for me.” Pavlovitz articulates this objection and explores why the distorted representations are not consonant with belief in Jesus Christ and his way of love.
One chapter of Pavlovitz’s book was especially appealing to me. It is titled “The Church of Not Being Horrible.” He writes, “I’ve always joked that I was going to start a new church: The Church of Not Being Horrible. Our mission statement would simply be Don’t be horrible to people. Our what we believe doctrinal statement would be replaced by how we treat people promises…” About his vision of The Church of Not Being Horrible, Pavlovitz writes, “It may seem to be a low bar to set, but it’s actually a beautiful aspiration.”
Of course, in The Episcopal Church, we already have such promises. They’re included in our Baptismal Promises: Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself; strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. It’s actually pretty basic. Despite being basic, it is still hard work.
The 2022 Lambeth Conference is now over. Like all of you, I followed it from a distance. The bishops who gathered in Lambeth addressed a wide range of concerns from Evangelism, to Human Dignity, to Climate Change. If you want to know more, check out the Lambeth Conference 2022 website here.
To my mind, the greatest witness of the bishops attending Lambeth was that they were, by and large, not horrible to one another. This was not a given. There were real differences going into the conference, particularly over matters of human sexuality. Those differences were not resolved by the Lambeth Conference and remain profound.
From my outsiders point of view, however, the bishops gathered at Lambeth did show us that a group of people committed to the love of God in Jesus Christ could engage in fellowship, Bible Study, conversation and worship, often experiencing significant and serious differences, and still remain in caring relationships with one another.
As our nation continues to experience the very real threats of political and religious division and polarization, with animosity, hatred and even violence being fueled across mainstream and social media, the model of the bishops at Lambeth might serve us well. Profound differences exist between many of us over significant and serious questions and issues. Despite these differences, we should be able to engage with one another in a civil manner, respecting the dignity of one another, and seeking and serving Christ in one another. We should be able to love one another through it all, remaining in relationships marked by care and concern for one another and the world around us. We should, in short, be “The Church of Not Being Horrible.”
Blessings and peace.
 Pavlovitz, page 205
 Pavlovitz, page 206
 See Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 305
 See my July 22, 2022 letter to the Diocese of New Jersey in Good News in the Garden State found at https://dioceseofnj.org/weekly_message/lambeth-and-the-anglican-instruments-of-unity/
 See Sherwood, Harriet “Divisions in Anglican Church on show as Lambeth Conference Opens” – The Guardian – 29 July 2022 found at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jul/29/divisions-in-anglican-church-on-show-as-lambeth-conference-opens
 See Paulsen, David – “Bishops wrap Lambeth Conference with look ahead to unity, despite persistent divisions” – Episcopal News Service – August 6, 2022 found at https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2022/08/06/bishops-wrap-lambeth-conference-with-look-ahead-to-unity-despite-persistent-divisions/