Antagonisn’t

It has been interesting entering the conversation about the future of our denomination and our interest, inclination and ability to stay at the table to work things out.  While I feel strongly that we are better together than apart, I acknowledge that others feel strongly that enough is enough, it is better to split now and pick up whatever pieces remain.  I have characterized the desire to split as short-sighted and destructive, but at no time did I mean to imply that people who wish separation are “evil” or “malicious.”  In the furious “us/themism” of so much of this debate, it is easy to scale the ladder of inference to its utmost and ascribe intent and purpose to the opposition.  This is a slippery slope of judgmentalism that can only backfire.  I don’t believe that people desiring a split are all self-centered, win-at-any-cost individuals, though there are definitely a few such souls in the game.  Those people I talk to are one or all of three things: tired, hurt and hopeless.  Most people seeking split in the church are simply tired of hurting and struggling and banging their heads against their respective walls.  They feel it is time to give up.

An analogy that I greatly dislike — but used by liberals about conservatives and conservatives about liberals and traditionalists about progressives and progressives against traditionalists — is that of an “abusive” relationship.  This is classic victim-mentality, paranoid, self-indulgent posturing.  But it has its root in the very real feeling that all hope is lost and that the options for the future are limited.  Generally, when two bullies are duking it out, neither is a “victim.”  But “victim” is preferable to “loser.”  Too many people in our United Methodist Church are feeling like losers at the moment.

Is it possible for everyone to lose?  Certainly, those who “give up” lose.  Surrender, forfeit, quitting — all forms of losing; but losing with something left for the future (she who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day).  It makes sense to just want the fighting to end.  Where things get screwy and toxic is when we get into a contest to make sure “they” lose more than “we” do.  This is the unpleasant place we find ourselves at the moment.  If you think the current discussion is ugly, unfocused, irrational and simplistic, just wait until we get to the division of property and assets.  You think you’ve seen un-Christian behavior so far?  You ain’t seen nothing yet!

The tragedy I experience in all of this is that we have lifelong spiritual leaders who are now saying that there is NO balm in Gilead.  We have leaders telling us that the power of God and the Holy Spirit is insufficient to guide us through our problems.  We have leaders preaching animosity and spite.  We have name-calling, back-biting, slander and mud-slinging becoming normative in our covenant communities.  Are we so jaded that we cannot be mature?  I know that when children are exhausted they get cranky and act out, but doesn’t our faith offer us any reserves of kindness and decency?

People who post comments on my blog are generally kind and reasonable.  The emails I get are often of a more colorful and passionate variety.  In the past week I have been called a “sanctimonious sack of <fertilizer>,” “a pustule on the body of Christ” (which I at least found creative…), and a handful of words with “ass” in them.  These things don’t bother me as personal insults, but they drive me crazy that people in the church feel it appropriate to address anyone this way!  I encourage and invite people to disagree with me.  I never claim to be right, I simply state what I believe to be true.  I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I hope and pray that we can engage at something above a third-grade level of personal assault.

A less caustic word that has been leveled at me regularly the past week is “naïve.”  This may be true, but what I find fascinating and troubling is what people identify as “naïve” in what I write.  So far, four things have been identified as “naïve:”

  1. my belief that we have the capacity to be better than we are
  2. my belief that there is a place in God’s creation for all people
  3. that giving up and splitting the church reflects a lack of faith in the healing power of God
  4. that we can unite around the things we hold in common instead of dividing over our disagreements

I take this to mean that my entire faith in God through Jesus Christ is “naïve.”  The antithesis to each of these four concepts I find unacceptable around which to build a faith — 1) that we are as good as we’re ever going to be (take that “moving onto perfection…”), 2) God creates human children to disdain and reject, 3) that going our separate ways is a witness to the power of God to unite and restore, and 4) what we don’t like and respect about each other is more important than what we value and admire.  Truly, I don’t want to be part of such a church.  I think I am happy in my ignorance and naiveté.

8 replies

  1. A view from the pew; a biblical take on this never ending brouhaha: Gideon only had to put the fleece down twice before he was able to move on; the apostles only had to cast the die once before they chose a replacement for Judas. So what does it say about the UMC that it has thrown this issue down 10 times over 40 years at General Conference, the only thing designated to speak for the whole church, received the exact same answer 10 times over 40 years and now there is talk of schism over this issue?

    People talk about finding out what we all have in common. Well, put your money where your mouth is; declare a cease fire and take the issue completely off the table for GC2016 and learn what it is like not to continually throw the church on this rock of a no win argument!

  2. The difficulty with the hope you express that we can “engage at something above a third-grade level of personal assault” concerning the current debate over separation in the UMC is that, if that’s going to be the case, we’ll need to find some debaters who have something above a third-grade level of maturity. Thank you, Dan, for being one of those “above third-grade level” voices.

  3. I read David Graves’ comment to your blog note “Weighing In” and your response set out in “A Heartfelt Response.” I don’t know why there is a Reply/Comment feature on this site, unless it is only for those who totally agree with you.

    You stated herein above that you “hope and pray that we can engage at something above a third-grade level of personal assault.” Yet you attacked David and his positions as being “indefensible,” “thinly veiled rhetoric,” “flawed and false analogies” that are “harmful and unhelpful,” absurd,” “adorable, but wrong,” “cute, but unhelpful” “cheap shots and faulty logic” “heinous,” and “beyond contempt.” I suppose such language rises “something above a third-grade level of personal assault” – but not by much…

  4. May your tribe increase, Brother Dan! Your non-anxious, self-differentiation in the midst of conflict is obviously perceived as threat to those who are highly anxious (about winning, about preserving their preferences) and fused to those who agree with them and their limited vision of church.

  5. It strikes me that the first two of these concepts/antitheses seem to have a distinctly Wesleyan/Calvinist dichotomy. Given the shift in general and ‘pop’ theology in the last few decades I’m not too surprised, but it is striking as general tenants of the current conversation in the United Methodist Church, a distinctly Wesleyan denomination. We might not be a particularly theology-heavy church in general, but i think maintaining our Wesleyan theological heritage through this conversation is important, too.

  6. Dan, maybe being naïve is akin to holiness. Some of the finest saints I’ve known have, though they knew “reality,” opted for the simplicity of grace, of faith doggedly living by love. They adopted a “second naivete.”

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