By Tom Ehrich

Like citizens of our free land, Christians tend to divide sharply, and often do so with heated language.

We disagree about almost everything, from cultural norms to attitudes toward wealth and power to personal behavior to what Jesus intended.

To judge by our blogposts, our comments on blogposts, our letters to the editor, and our remarks in public, we are often appalled at what other Christians believe. How can this person call himself a Christian? Does she not know that her views heap burning coals on her own head?

In view of our fiery words, you'd think we had explored the extremes of Christian faith. In fact, however, we differ within a narrow spectrum, like those who debate Coke vs. Pepsi.

That narrow spectrum, in turn, tends to be far removed from what Jesus actually said, did and expected. I think we argue about things that don't matter because we can't stand the things that do matter. We are argue about sex, for example, in order to avoid the topic Jesus actually addressed, namely, wealth and power.

We debate a sermon rather than stand under the Gospel's radical call to repentance. We argue about faith vs. works rather than accept Jesus' call to self-denial. We fuss about theories like atonement rather than stand in awe at God's love and see that love as normative for our own dealings with hatred and greed. We "stand up for Jesus" with bold words against our religious enemies rather than walk with Jesus into the world's storms.

We wax eloquent in proving the other wrong, but fail to imagine how God sees all of us. We draw borders around our preferred ways of being a Christian, define all other ways as wrong, and fail to see that God walks through all of our borders as if they didn't exist.

The hotter our language, the farther we have retreated into self-protective tribalism. Meanwhile, God focuses on our perpetuation of slavery, economic predation, cheating for personal gain, wars for tribal supremacy.

If the world is a mess, we should be doing something about the mess, not adding to the mess with our dividing and posturing.

Personally, I think we are terrified. What God wants of us is so far beyond anything we are ready to give. So we fuss endlessly about institution and don't risk seeing the one who had no place to lay his head -- because that one has his hand out saying, Come, follow me, and we will be homeless, property-less, despised and misunderstood together.

The path to Jerusalem, Calvary and an empty tomb is terrifying, marked by suffering and total reliance on God. So we debate finer and safer points, not recognizing how they push God away.