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What would turn an adoring congregation into a murderous mob?

In Sunday's gospel, Jesus reads some scripture, says a few words, and an adoring crowd suddenly turns into a murderous mob.

What would turn an adoring congregation into an angry mob?

Some of you may remember I shared with you an essay that I had run across, which asks us to think for a moment about mathematical set theory.

You remember in geometry what "sets" are: sets are groups of things that belong together. A "closed set" is defined by a border, a line. Everything that is inside the line, border, or boundary belongs to the set. All that is outside the line, border or boundary does not belong.

An "open set" however, does not have a boundary - it is not defined by a line or a border. Rather, an open set is defined by a thing's relationship with the center. All that is moving toward the center belongs; all that is moving away from the center does not.

In open set theory, you can still determine what belongs in the set and what does not belong to the set, but not by looking to see what side of a line they are on: you must instead determine overall direction.

Apply this to the church. [1]

"Closed set believers have a 'territorial' concept of God's kingdom." It is enclosed within a boundary. "You become a member by crossing the boundary in an act of conversion. Once you are inside the territory, you had better be careful not to cross the boundary again."

Open set believers, on the other hand, define membership by movement toward or away from Jesus Christ as the center.

"There are still those who belong and those who do not belong, but you can't separate them easily, let alone state who is in and who is out once and for all. Those who appear to be close to Christ may be moving away from him, and those that seem far away may be heading toward him."

Instead of putting so much emphasis on a conversion process, what matters is what C.S. Lewis describes in Mere Christianity -- that choosing God is an ongoing process, and that all of our choices add up to a direction towards from or away from God.

Do you see how this helps us make sense of so much going on not only in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, but in the world?  

"for closed set believers, how one defines the boundary is crucial." Where one "draws the line" determines, for them, the nature of the territory within.

"A boundary-defining issue need not be central to the faith, but as 'the border-crossing,' it is taken as the litmus test of whether one accepts the central matters of the faith or not" - whether one is orthodox or not, whether one is traditional, bible-believing, or not.

(And so it is that a single issue - like sexuality - issues not very central in scripture or in other ages - can become so highly contested., with all the hysteria and venom. From  the point of view of closed-set believers, the integrity of the [border, line] boundary  is crucial. If it is breached, the entire territory within is under threat. [What's next?!?  Anything goes!] "And so any concession on the boundary issue is seen as threatening the integrity and even the existence of the whole Church."

"Borders require policing, and policemen. In [the world we live in] fixed borders will always appear to be under siege because people will always be bumping against them. So the closed-set model will [sees] a changing world as a threat - because it is a threat, to...borders.

Open-set believers are not as concerned with defense of borders as they are with discernment - they scan the crowd to see what direction people are moving, as individuals [as a community.]

They still intervene, but having no borders to police, they intervene, not as policemen, but as shepherds - seeking to direct the flow, towards Christ.

Their kingdom map - who is in, who is out, is [not static, but dynamic], a matter of hunches and possibilities rather than certainties. For open-set believers, no single issue is enough to determine the fate of a person or the Church."

Now here's what's very interesting: Closed set and open set believers cut across liberal and conservative lines: "liberals or conservatives can get very defensive about single-issue boundaries and protect them with militant certainty,"

Just dare to not tow the liberal line on pro-choice, or gun violence, or the environment, and you'll find yourself being treated by the camp as an outsider, expelled from the company.

Just dare to not to tow the conservative line on taxes, or abortion, or gay marriage, and you'll find yourself being treated by the camp as an outsider, expelled from the company.

Here's the good news: on the other hand, "open set" liberals OR conservatives can have very strong opinions on overall direction, but be filled with a kind of joyful flexibility, not having the need to make rigid judgments or pick battles. 

But here's what's problematic: each of these mindsets offends the other, as "Closed set people think open set people are unprincipled or weak because they will not stand and fight, and open-set people think closed-set people are intolerant and controlling."[2]

Doesn't that help make sense of so much that is going on, not only in our church, but in our culture in general?

The further good news is - as we'll hear in Kelly's homily this Sunday and explore together in our "The ABCD and E's of Faith" class - these two approaches to faith and life have clashed for centuries. And for centuries we've had scriptural guidance -- and church tradition and our reason to help us make sense of that scriptural guidance - to help us.


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