We are engaged in a fascinating bog here in Portland. There are strong and many calls to draw a definitive line in the sand to say who is right and who is wrong, who will win and who will lose. We have come to the place where no one can possibly “win”, but we are committed to making sure if “we” lose, “they will lose more. We will force our will on the bishops, on the body, on the process, and on the denomination. The frustration rests in the fact that we do not have leaders actively working on a way forward. Our track record up to now is to take a “gentle” approach, in hopes that if we wait long enough this will work itself out. Even decent attempts at Christian conference have failed for a simple reason — they have been offered as “events” not as a new way of being and behaving together. Any time you do something experimentally and irregularly you undermine its potency.
Another deficiency is the lack of accountability and consequences. Our church as a whole is looking for someone else to take responsibility and make a decision FOR us, so that when the decision is made, those who oppose it have someone to point fingers at and blame. As long as “our church” does this to us, we can wrap ourselves in our victim mantle and abdicate any responsibility. By casting this dynamic and interpersonal human engagement as a “win/lose” proposition we can guarantee victimhood for someone. It is a very USA approach to complex problems to try to make them as simplistic as possible. In the entitlement reality of our modern US America nothing much matters except that I get my way. If I win, I am vindicated, I am absolved, and most importantly, I am right.
Asking our bishops to declare a winner and a loser is immature and irresponsible. Upon a decision of whether we accept LGBTQI on their terms or not, we won’t really settle anything. Anyone who has read my blog knows that I am for full inclusion of all people, and that I believe much of the opposition to LGBTQI people is wrong headed and based on poor biblical interpretation and theology. That is MY position and perspective. But if the bishops are forced to make a declaration and the body is forced to vote, I don’t gain anything. Nothing has changed. We split the church, we alienate our blood and baptism brothers and sisters. We end the hurt of some to cause the hurt of others. We all lose, and God’s people once more find a way to do more damage than good and to proclaim to all the world that our faith is hollow.
Forcing a decision to be made for us does nothing. It does not heal the horrible hurt that has been inflicted on LGBTQI people for years, it will not mitigate the hurt that is done to biblical traditionalists who honestly believe they are standing for the integrity of their scripture, and it will not help the millions of people in the mainstream of our church who simply don’t understand why this is such a volatile and damaging disagreement.
We live with a bad assumption that has not served us well. This assumption is that we know how to talk to others about difficult topics, and if we only frame a conversation as “Christian conference,” we have the capacity to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. The flaw in the thinking is that communication is as natural and simple as breathing, therefore we must be good at it. Forty years should prove how poorly we communicate. Until we have a process for learning how to talk to those with whom we disagree about difficult and potentially harmful realities, we will not improve. There is nothing in our process that promotes or provides improvement. We truly need arbitration and mediation, some collective re-training and education, and some professional guidance in critical thinking. Aligned with this, we need to focus some of our best theological and philosophical thinkers to do extensive and intensive reflection on the whole corpus of Hebrew and Christian scripture, as well as some cultural anthropology on the contexts from which our sacred writings come.
Yes, we are stuck, but we really haven’t committed to finding a way forward. We do the same things over and over and expect different results. We have not changed our system. Why would we expect different outcomes? If we really want to be the body of Christ, if we truly revere being the people of God, and if we truly believe that God loves the whole of God’s creation, we need to call all people to make a commitment to work together to take responsibility for this make-or-break decision. No one can make it for us. We have got to make it together, or everyone will come out a loser.