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.
“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.