Late last year, minutes after we published an online editorial by then-editor in chief Mark Galli about President Donald Trump’s fitness for office, the phones in CT’s offices began ringing off the hook. They did not stop for days. Written responses, numbering in the tens of thousands, poured in by mail, email, social media, and online forms. They were both negative and positive toward the editorial’s position. Many readers mentioned being moved to tears of joy.
As is often the case, however, those motivated enough to pick up the phone were overwhelmingly upset. Their recorded messages fell largely into two categories. Many spoke “from one Christian to another,” admonishing CT with the spirit (if not always the gentleness) of a pastor correcting a wayward member of the flock. But others spoke more like a judge at a sentencing hearing, declaring Galli, or every employee of CT, to be an apostate worthy of varying punishments (sometimes articulated with admirable creativity!).
What struck me most were lines that broached questions of orthodoxy; “I would not even call you a Christian,” one caller said. “Honestly, I don’t even think there are many real Christians left in the church anymore.”
Orthodoxy is essential. It is the rails on which religion runs. At the same time, two millennia of Christian infighting clearly demonstrate how fraught it is to browse the catalogs of Scripture and church history trying to assemble right doctrine. It gets even thornier when we stretch orthodoxy beyond the confines of doctrine and apply it to the gray areas of our everyday social and civic lives, as we inevitably will.
It’s not news that, no matter our personal views, we tend to sanctify them and condemn everyone else’s. Nor is it unique to Christianity—entire regions of the world are tinderboxes where the faithful are poised to strike against the faithful. And when we’re not sure where to limn the borders of social or civic orthodoxy, we’re tempted toward extremes: either contracting the limits to exclude nearly everyone, or expanding them so broadly that limits become meaningless.
Our cover story this month, about an Old Testament prophet’s unexpected answer to this conundrum, was in the works long before Galli’s editorial was written. It’s certainly not the first time the case for communal confession has been made in our polarized era. But it is a case worth making again and worth careful reading, reflection, and discussion. One of communal confession’s many powers is to check our affection for our imperfect personal versions of orthodoxy, reminding us that the boundaries around holiness are narrow indeed and that, apart from grace, we are, every one of us, stuck outside looking in.
Andy Olsen is managing editor of Christianity Today. Follow him on Twitter @AndyROlsen.
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