While this is a response to a comment left on my “Weighing In” post, I want to reflect more broadly and not make this a purely personal explanation. That said, I need to go point by point here. This comment illustrates so much of what I find indefensible in the current discussion/debate. It is well-meaning, but poorly executed — and I want to be crystal clear here: I use this as an example only. Arguments on both sides contain essentially the same flaws, but each is detailed differently. I am more fully explaining what I mean, based upon someone else’s interpretation of what I “said.”
First, no I do not support “amicable” separation over hurtful separation — there can only be hurtful, faithless, selfish, disrespectful separation. No one is suggesting we “honor” our “opponents” (thought this thinly veiled rhetoric is often employed). The baseline decision is not to separate or stay together; it is to be selfish and divisive or humble and tolerant.
Second, to use flawed and false analogies is harmful and unhelpful. To compare a church in disagreement to an abusive marriage where violence is being done is to adopt and wear either the victim mantle or the abuser role. Shame on us for such immature and irrational attempts to justify our side to win our arguments. What kind of witness it this to the world? When we don’t get our way we are being abused? Give me a break. We are MUCH better than this.
Third, the concept that “breaking covenant” is “keeping faith” is absurd. The only reasonable conclusion from such thinking would be that we are better off without God than to need forgiveness. Giving up is rarely a sign of maturity or integrity among people of good faith.
Fourth, sticking around to make another’s life intolerable is adorable, but wrong. This charge is lodged by both sides against the other, and were it applied to a few individuals with an axe to grind, it would be a true statement. It harkens back to the ridiculous notion in the 19th century that blacks stayed in America after emancipation just to shame and annoy their former oppressors. You can see how dumb such a line of reasoning is.
Fifth, the “unity equals fidelity” argument is also cute, but unhelpful because both sides leave unsaid that it is not “fidelity to Jesus or God,” but “fidelity to my/our version of Jesus or God.” It still rests on the fundamental circle-dilemma — depending on where you draw the line of inclusion dividing “us” from “them” determines “fidelity.” The arbitrariness of this line, founded in poor theology and biblical misuse makes it impossible to use as a standard for reconciliation and unification. Every time human beings decide the limits of God’s grace and God’s mercy we are in deep trouble.
Sixth, here is a simple statement of how I identify the problem (in response to a variety of folks who claim I have misidentified the problem, then articulated something completely different from my main point…). Our inability to rise above our petty differences and our insistence on having our own way no matter the cost is our current witness to the world, and it is a clear indication of our level of maturity of faith. I personally believe this is NOT the will of God.
Seventh, using the body metaphor (or any metaphor) needs to be done with integrity, not taking cheap shots and faulty logic. An example, ““choosing sides is the opposite of healing”, – I think eliminating sources of infection, or setting the bone, or stopping the bleeding is the first step in healing.” Now, who is this person identifying as the “healthy body” and the “infection?” “Setting the bone” keeps the body in tact, but what is being proposed is not merely amputation, but cutting the body down the middle. How does cutting the body to its core “stop the bleeding.” I understand this person is simply trying to make a point, but we cannot keep making our points so poorly.
Eighth, rationalization and justification have almost driven us to the point of no return. Our rhetoric is so blinding and convoluted that we don’t even see the problems in our arguments. One example: “we will be stronger apart than we are together.” Both sides claim this — based on what? Nothing more than the opinion that life will be better when we no longer have to accept, respect, and engage with “those” people. The only people who believe such nonsense are those who have little or no knowledge of history or who do not understand how the church is different from tribal societies. In the vast majority of cases, historic and cultural, separation is a last-gasp act that actually speeds up decline and/or demise. The fact that we have our very own case-study in our own history (Methodist Episcopal Church South anyone? anyone? yeah, I thought so…) makes this all the more bewildering, and again is a witness to the world that we are ignorant of our own story.
Ninth, I reiterate, “sides” are the problem. That I am “against” separation puts me on a “side.” I have an opinion about whether separation will solve anything, and my thinking is that it is a misguided attempt to address symptoms, not root causes. People say they are confused by my statement that “being beloved community beyond our limitations and divisions is not optional.” Let me say it another way: beloved community is not up to us to like or dislike, nor is it something we create — beloved community is God’s will and mandate. We have the clear decision to make about whether we will be part of that beloved community or not, but right now we are trying to impose the will of the few on the many, telling others whether or not they can be part of the beloved community. I am an “individual rights” person on this whole issue. Anyone who does not like a church that is striving to include everyone and that is grounded in grace over rules is free to find another faith communion that satisfies their personal taste and desire. An inclusive, loving, just and striving church is not for everyone, and no one should be forced to love or be kind.
Tenth, should we separate, no one should retain the name “The United Methodist Church.” Separation goes against Pauline and synoptic gospel instruction, Wesleyan theology, and the heritage and values of The Evangelical Association and the United Brethren in Jesus Christ. The day we separate, “The United Methodist Church” ceases to exist — as it already has for anyone currently calling for separation.
Eleventh, why do some use “final judgment” passages to defend separation and exclusion. Yes, the Bible says that God will judge on the final day. How arrogant of us to believe that the handful of issues we are dealing with qualify as “end of days” criteria. I do not wish to usurp the power of judgment from God to decide who should be saved and who condemned. I am an evangelist to my core. If we are not filling the church with sinners, strayers, back-sliders, mistakers, the misguided, the broken and the weak, then shame on us. To decide now who God will not love someday is an abomination. Then to use scripture to justify this heresy is beyond contempt.
Twelfth, shame on all of us for the loose and fast way we treat “sacred text.” The Bible is not a weapon or a toy. To repeatedly and intentionally proof-text passages of scripture to make and score points is heinous. Anyone who decontextualizes and deconstructs scripture, ripping from it the historical, cultural, and ethical integrity is wrong. Have we not caught on that by butchering scripture and gathering the choice scraps we can make almost any argument “true?” Biblical manipulation and corruption does require a certain level of creativity, but it is one more witness that not only do we not know our own story, we basically hold it in contempt and could care less. Proof-texting is a no-no. We ALL need to stop it. Good Hebrew and Greek scholars avoid most of this arguments like the plague and are deeply embarrassed by our “Biblical” exegesis.
Finally, we must quit confusing “framing” with “truth.” Someone who disagrees with me is not automatically a “sinner.” The opposite of “my opinion” is not “lies.” “Truth” is not determined by finding enough people to agree with me. The very fact that we frame our conversations in terms of “sides” means we allow only one outcome: winners and losers. I have said that the Christian faith is not a competitive sport. I am not talking about “good/evil,” “sin/righteousness,” “right/wrong.” I am talking WITHIN the body. What keeps getting lost in this whole stupid debate is that there is no “us/them” — there is only US!!! This is not a conversation about who is outside our body — this is a conversation about getting rid of those whom we no longer want to associate. This is about exile. This is about disowning. This is about dissolving the family and saying our faith is a lie. This is human beings choosing not to love one another because “they” won’t love God the right way (our way).
I’m not going to fight against separation, nor will I champion staying together. We are a flawed, failing human institution. There is nothing holy or divine about any of us, except the Christ each and every one of us has inside. My opinion? The Christ that unites is of more value and importance than our inability to love each other. But, we are human. It is why we need a Savior. I simply pray we will take time to work out our salvation with fear and trembling together. I think God is stronger than we are — but the entire Hebrew scripture is a never-ending story of covenants made and covenants broken. While some believe Jesus ended all of that, our current situation simply proves we haven’t learned very much in all this time.