I think most Christians recognize that not all beliefs they hold are of equal of importance. Firstly there are those beliefs that Christians throughout history have considered essential to authentic Christianity. Consider, for instance, that the New Testament Canon and the Nicene Creed are affirmed for the most part by Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions alike. Disagreements here generally put you BEYOND the Christian movement. Next there are those beliefs which, while still considered important, are not nearly so essential. It’s beliefs of this nature which often generate the most heated disagreements WITHIN the Christian movement. Lastly there are those beliefs that Christians that most Christians recognize as quite peripheral and entirely discretionary. On such matters there may be much diversity without any significant division. I think this is well summed up by the old saying:
In the essentials, unity
In the non-essentials, liberty
In everything, charity
Now, of late I have been thinking of whether a similar way of thinking could inform our understanding of Christian ethics. I noted with interest a call last week from some quarters for evangelical Christians to begin the healing process in the wake of the highly divisive election campaign recently held in America. It would seem that many think of our ethical differences in ways similar to the second category above, as important but not essential; as something we can disagree over without irrevocable division. Others however see the situation as far more dire. Now I find myself wondering, are some ethical issues more important than others? If so, which ones? Some clearly see homosexuality and abortion of first importance. Others would rank racism and care for the poor higher. Is there a way forward that, even where we disagree, we could agree on which issues are less important?