My little pun title works on three levels: 1) a small portion of unappetizing food, 2) issued in times of war, and 3) the word ration used to mean “reason.” So, I am offering a small morsel of thought to a church at war with itself, that offers a slightly different reasoning.
Most analyses of the theological quagmire in which The United Methodist Church currently finds itself use a traditional bell-curve to illustrate the divide:
In this simple model, extremes are extremes – as far apart as possible, occupying separate spaces in a binary, either/or model of distinctly opposite poles. Moderates define the central space between sides and extremes, and any concession, compromise, or collaboration demands a move toward each other, toward the center.
But I want to offer a different analysis of our current reality:
In this model, everything changes. Well, almost everything. The differences are real and significant, and there is a definite divide, but note how these dynamics shift when the extremes are more alike than they are different:
- The extremes are closer to each other; close enough that it is like looking in a mirror
- They adopt very similar tactics
- Both claim a superior Biblical/moral authority than the other
- Both accuse the other of aggression and violence
- Both attack the character and integrity of the other
- Both adopt the victim role; abdicating agency and authority to external forces beyond their control
- Each inaccurately describes the other in reductionist and derogatory terms
- Both abdicate responsibility for the whole, only advocating and championing their end; each end wants to get its own way regardless of the impact on the whole
- Moderates and centrists are the new “extreme”; equally distanced from the ends, which lie close together
- Any move toward a center – a compromise, a concession, collaboration – demands that the extremes move away from one another instead of closer
- Neither can hope to claim the majority, so each relies on threat of exit; the tail wags the dog, as the majority seek unity and commonality, while the minority seek separation
Currently, the extreme positions would rather leave and “win” rather than evolve and grow. It is understandable that people are tired of fighting, arguing, accusing, and judging (on both extremes), but an honest effort to discern God’s will for this situation has yet to be tried. There are so many connection points for United Methodists – ethically, socially, theologically, and aesthetically, yet politics, power, and control of resources dominate the discussions at this point. In the old model of the bell curve, extremes pulled against one another; in the C, they are simply pulling away from parent organism, compromising the health, viability, and future of all. What might happen were we to set aside the vile animosity and live fully from the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit, thus completing the circle?
No one seems to want to close the C or complete the circle at this point in time. A bell-curve points out that there are always deviations away from the norm, but expansion of the middle works to include more and more. The C is elegant in its resistance to shifts. In the C reasoning, left leaning or right leaning are not viewed as allies to their extreme cousins; both extremes live from an “if you aren’t completely with us, then you’re against us” mentality (the “-ino” phenomenon – “in name only,” not true blue (or red) through and through!). In the C reasoning, ends always justify means, so there is no further purpose in even considering reconciliation, collaboration, or coalescing around core values and missional priorities. Note that should the extremes break off, we will still be in a C formation, but once again in a structure where all movement will be movement toward one another. The majority of participants want to focus on mission, outreach, service, and core values, not division and departure.
Ideally, we could one day form a complete circle, a symbol of unity, of eternity, of completion, and of God’s will for God’s creation. In a closed circle, the Spirit could flow freely, unobstructed. There could be no extremes, no “us/them,” no adversaries, no enemies. The church could simply be all God’s children united and dedicated to living the gospel in the world as the one incarnate body of Christ. We could have that if we wanted to; we could become A+ honor students. But for now, I guess the most we can hope for is a C.