Perspective

One of the more hurtful experiences in my ministry was when a United Methodist pastor, a predecessor at the churches I serve, did a funeral for a member of my church.  The act itself was not very hurtful, but the pastor’s response to me calling out the inappropriateness of it was.  I wrote a letter explaining why I thought it was wrong and how it violated the Book of Discipline.

A week later I received a phone call.  The pastor told me that families should be allowed to ask whoever they want to preside over weddings and funerals.  What the pastor did was not in anyway undermining my ministry.  From the pastor’s perspective, the only issue was not calling me first.

We had very different perspectives on the situation.  It was clear from our phone call that both of us had trouble appreciating the other person’s perspective.  When it was clear that we were coming at it from very different perspectives and we were not going to find common ground, we just ended the call.  I am not sure if the other pastor left the conversation hurt, but I know I did.

Perspective is one of hardest issues we deal with as Christians.  We all can look at situations very differently.  Look no further than the 2016 US Presidential election.  I was eating with some fellow Christians and one raised a concern about the election.  He said that one of the candidates was a pathological liar, and he would let us fill in the blank of who that candidate is.  It became clear that I filled in the blank wrong in my mind as he kept talking. Different people see totally different things in the candidates.  Where one person sees a candidate who could help the country, someone else sees a candidate that could potentially ruin the country.

Our differing perspectives make being a church difficult.  It is very hard to have conversations about controversial issues when the parties involved have very different perspectives on the issue.  People can be faithful disciples of Jesus, earnestly seeking God’s will, and come to different conclusions on issues.

I would argue that at the moment, the United Methodist church lacks enough perspective to make any definitive decisions about the future of the church.  As people prepare for schism, argue over who started the schism, and are really nasty to each other on social media, it would be helpful for us to put things in proper perspective.

Ideally, we want God’s perspective.  When we cannot agree on God’s perspective over a particular issue, then it might be helpful to look at what the Bible says to do when we cannot agree on issues related to our faith.  Time and time again it says love.  We are to be known by our love according to Jesus.  Paul tells a fractious church in Corinth to act in love.

Nowhere does it say fight with each other in a death match.  Unity, not schism, is held up as the ideal.  If we cannot act in love towards each other than how can we love those God calls us to love?  If we cannot ascribe the best motivations to our fellow United Methodists that we disagree with, and see their attempts at faithfulness, then what is the point of being a follower of Jesus?

We are called to love each other.  Love is not an emotion, but how we treat each other.  Instead of seeing our struggles as a crisis that needs to be dealt in hurtful ways, we could see it as an opportunity to put our faith into action.  If we can learn to love each other in the midst of differing and important perspectives, then perhaps we can offer a fractious world a witness to something different.

The problems we have over differing perspectives on wedge issues are not the real problems.  Our real problem is that our perspective is focused on the wrong things.  We should be focused on how we can act in love with each other in the midst of disagreement as a witness to what Jesus told us to do.  Instead our focus seems to be on something less than love.

Having differing perspectives is hurtful.  No matter what we do going forward, people will be hurt.  The issue though is how do we respond to the hurt and pain.  What will our perspective be in the midst of it?  Winning? Self-righteousness? Power?  God’s radical call to love?

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Perspective.” ©2011 Copyright Ludo Rouchy. Licensed Under Creative Commons.

Messiness

The United Methodist Reporter featured a blog post by Scott Fritzsche entitled “Breaking up is hard to do (Let’s Admit it is time).”  The title aptly sums the essence of the post.  I would politely contend though that he is wrong.  Breaking up is obviously an option, but it is not the only option.  While it may be the most expedient possibility, there are other possibilities out there.  Why is the time now right?

Mr. Fritzsche frames an issue in the life of the church as an intractable dichotomy that cannot be resolved.  While acknowledging there might be deeper issues, he focuses on what he calls “sexual ethics and morality.”  In his exploration of this issue, he uses an analogy of marriage.  The question he shapes his argument with is “Can a marriage really survive with two diametrically opposed views on sexual morality?”  I respectfully disagree.  I challenge two aspects of his argument: the first is whether the marriage analogy is appropriate, and second that there are only two sides on the issue of sexual ethics and morality.

First, United Methodists commitments to each other are not the same as the commitments between two married persons.  Any United Methodist can withdraw from the church.  No one is legally obligated to be part of the church.  Persons wanting to leave can inform their pastors or bishops.

Leaving a marriage in the United States is more difficult.  It requires lawyers and the legal system.  If being a member of the United Methodist church is so onerous that dealing with the messiness of the church is too much too bear, the person can leave.  Legally, a person cannot just leave a marriage in the United States.  If we, as individuals, are together as a church, it is because we want to be on some level, not because of some previous commitment that would make leaving legally difficult.

While marriages can have more than two partners, Mr. Fritzsche frames his analogy in terms of a two partner marriage.  Marriage in this context is between two persons.  There are no two analogous persons in the United Methodist church.  The church is a partnership between millions of people around the globe.  We all freely entered it, and we are all free to leave it.

Secondly, there are not two diametrically opposed groups in the United Methodist church.  United Methodist views on any subject are different and fit on a spectrum.  Even on the issue of sexual ethics and morality people’s views in the church are varied and do not fit neatly into two categories.  It would be easier if there were only two groups with perspectives that were unchanging and the same on every issue.

Our varied views, however, are not set in stone.  They may change overtime.  A marriage might not survive if two partners have different understandings of sexual morality and act on those differences, but we are a church of millions of people with potentially millions of different understandings on any given issue.  We can survive and have survived with differing understandings on many things.

Mr. Fritzsche’s slavery example is problematic too.  The split of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844 did not occur because one day a bishop decided he wanted to own slaves.  It is more complicated and nuanced than that.  Just because the Methodist Episcopal Church split over slavery, does not mean that the United Methodist Church has to split over the wedge issue of sexual ethics and morality (or whatever wedge issue might be used).

It is still not clear to me why we are at the point of breakup.  Why is the time now right?  Mr. Fritzsche may not be willing to live with with the messiness of our current situation, but no one is making him.  If it is really that important that he is part of a church that is not messy, then he can leave.  Not all of us want a separation.  There is an alternative to separation, and that is to work through the messiness.

Messiness allows to practice our discipleship.  Praying for our enemies.  Loving those who hurt us.  Depending on the Spirit.  Waiting for God’s time.  Practicing discernment, self-reflection, and repentance.  Remembering and exemplifying what will last in the age to come: faith, love, and hope.  What if our disagreements are not problems to be solved, but tensions to live with that create opportunities to grow and be changed?

This is not easy work.  Being a disciple with other disciples can be challenging.  Human relationships are often messy.  There may be deeper and more intractable issues that Mr. Fritzsche hints at in the first and last paragraphs of his post, but I would contend that the perception of intractability might only be a condition of an unwillingness to live with the blessings and hurts of messiness.

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Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.” ©2010 Copyright Kate Ter Haar. Licensed Under Creative Commons.

Living in Tension

Folks on Twitter today are disappointed that the bishops of the UMC did not come up with a plan to save the UMC.  For faithful people who care deeply about Jesus and the church, this seems a bit weird.  We have a savior and the bishops are not Jesus.  Why should the bishops be the ones to save the church?

Salvation in the Bible takes time.  God did not immediately free the slaves in Egypt.  When the people of Israel were being oppressed by their neighbors, God would not instantly give them a judge.  People would often have to live in tension.

God would even sometimes create tension.  I have been leading a Bible study on 1 Samuel during the season of Easter and beyond.  It amazes me that God would anoint two kings.  Two different people were competing for the love and loyalty of the people – both anointed by God.  Saul, David, and the people of Israel would have to live in tension.  It would take many years for the definitive will of God to be made known on what direction God wanted to go.

When we read the Bible, we forget how much time passes between events.  How often people had to live in tension with the problems they faced and the hope that God would save them from those problems.  How long did the Israelites live in Babylon as captives?  God’s will and God’s desires are often only seen clearly overtime.

The United Methodist church is not the first church to have conflict.  Paul writes to the Corinthians about their conflicts over spiritual gifts.  They had real issues on how to use and express their gifts in worship and the life of the community.  The situation was fraught with tension.

Paul did not give them a simple solution.  Instead, he offered them a way through the tension.  Most Christians know 1 Corinthians 13.  It is Paul’s solution for how to navigate the tensions the Corinthians were facing.

What Paul offered the church is the excellent way of being in the world called love.  They might not agree with each other, but they could act in love towards each other.  Instead of telling them what to do, he offered them a way of being.  Would this way solve all their tensions?  No, but it would help them stay in community with each other.

As a church, we do not need more solutions or ideas.  We need to learn the way of love and how to live with tension.  Paul gives the hallmarks of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  He encourages them to act in love because we only see dimly now.  If we do not know everything, and we cannot see everything clearly, then we must humbly act in love.

The things of this age will pass away according to Paul.  Spiritual gifts, victories, and even denominations will come to an end.  What ultimately lasts and what ultimately matters are ways of being in Christ – faith, love, and hope.  General Conference, the bishops, even twitter, cannot offer a solution to solve the tensions we face.  It may take many years for these tensions to be resolved.  What we can do, and must do, if we want to be a church and a witness to our faith in Jesus, is act in love.

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Tensión. ©2009 Copyright Rosalba Tarazona. Licensed Under Creative Commons.