More Love, Less Schism

Schism begets schism.

When I was in policy debate in high school, an opposing team once argued that we should not be talking about a potentially dangerous situation, because the more we talked about it, the more likely it was to occur.  After hearing their contention, I was incensed.  The argument was so generic it could be used against almost any case.  I also wondered how true it was.  Can talk make a situation more likely to happen?

While there are some potentially dangerous situations that are not changed by the frequency of conversation (venomous snakes for example), some dangerous situations arise because they become part of our discourse.  Some problems will never develop unless they are named and made real by words.  In a world of almost infinite possibilities, some possibilities need the catalyst of our words for them to ever be likely.  Words can take a possibility that was on the periphery and make it the focus.  Our words can do this several ways.

First, we find power in naming problems.  Once named, we can then frame the problem.  With a problem properly named and framed, a person can offer a solution.  If you set the parameters for debate and define the issues, then it is much easier to offer a solution.  When you offer your preferred solution with your preferred outcome, you have power.  Without the naming and the framing, people might not have worried about it.  Even if they were concerned, your preferred solution seems better, because of how you named and framed the problem.

Second, naming a problem often hides other problems.  Some say that the problem in the United Methodist Church is that United Methodists are violating the Book of Discipline. These violations are causing stress and harm in the life of the church.  In naming and defining the problem this way, we are ignoring other problems that I would argue are deeper.  Problems such as an absence of love, too little compassion, diminished empathy,  a desire for power, self-righteousness, and/or a lack of self-awareness.  It is easy to name superficial problems, it is harder to deal with the problems we find hidden in our hearts.

Third, the more we talk about the problem, the more we set expectations about the problem.  If we talk about our problem using the language of schism, the harder it is to see a different end result.  When we use the language of winning and losing around the problem, it is hard to imagine a future where there are no winners and losers.  Language has power.  Using the language of “problems” gives us a different mindset than if we are using the language of dancing.

Language and words define our reality.  As we define our reality, our actions follow suit.  Perhaps our biggest issue as a church is the failure of imagination.  I wonder what would be different if the church developed and used a different set of words when talking about our ministry together.  What would church life be like if our language was built on ideas like faith, hope, love, beauty, truth, humility, justice, and creativity?  Instead, we use words rooted in war, conflict, arrogance, and power.

With our failures to imagine a different way, some want the church as it exists now to die.  They think it is beyond redeeming.  I would contend though that if we let schism prevail, we may not actually be solving our real difficulties.  If our problems are rooted deep in our hearts, then breaking up the church will not resolve them.  Those problems will still be there and they will still cause us pain.

Daring to believe that Love can change the world

One of my favorite songs is Aaron Niequist’s “Love Can Change the World.”  In the song, Aaron raises the question, “Oh do we still believe that Love-Love can change the world?”  It is a good question for United Methodists to wrestle with.  Do we believe that love can change the world?

Jesus does not spend a lot of time talking about schism in the Gospels.  He does spend a lot of time talking about love.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Let the world know you are his disciples by your love.  Love your enemy.  Love, in some form or another, should propel us to act in the world.

Most United Methodists know Jesus’ teachings on love.  Sunday school teachers teach the children to love.  Preachers preach on love.  Our hymns celebrate God’s love and invite us to love one another.  An outside observer might think we are a bit pollyannaish in the ways we focus on love.

Love though is not pollyannaish.  Loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind can be difficult.  Loving our neighbor proves easier to say than do.  Letting the world know we are followers of Jesus by our love proves ever more daunting.

If we give up on the call to love though, what does that say about Jesus?  Does Jesus’ teachings and ministry matter if we cannot practice the most important invitation – to love?  When we are advocating schism, setting the stage for a church split, disparaging those we disagree with in the church, naming and defining problems in ways that lead disunity, what does that say about Jesus?  Can we claim to be disciples and show so little love?

Schism does not solve our problems related to love.  It just entrenches them.  If we cannot act in love now when things are terribly difficult, how are we going to grow in our capacity for love?  By abandoning the chance to act in love when it is hardest?  Setting a precedent that when things are difficult, it is better to give up?

If the Bible is true, then the mandate to love has to be our highest aspiration.  The only way for the world to know if the Bible is true is by our actions.  How “true the Bible is” depends on how seriously we take it.  The truth of the Bible is most evident in our words, our actions, our silences, and our pauses.  When it is hard to love that is when love is most needed.  The light of Christ shines most brightly in the darkest moments.  If we are to be the light of the world then love is what gives our lives illumination.

Jesus often pointed out to the good religious folk of his day that they were missing God’s highest call to love.  They got so caught up in their understanding of God that they could not see God incarnate in their midst.  When Jesus challenged them to love and expressed love to the least and the lost, they attacked Jesus.  We are not better if love is not our driving motivation.

United Methodists should be able to agree on the importance of love.  It is at the heart of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection.  The church needs more actions of love and less talk of schism.  United Methodists should be to agree that the world needs Jesus, but Jesus will only be known by our love.

 

Broken Heart.” ©2010 Copyright Miguelpdl. Licensed Under Creative Commons.

Fear

If I had a big furry hat like Stephen Colbert and could make decrees, I would declare that fear could no longer be used in argumentation in the life of the church.  At two different annual conferences I attended this year, the speeches against constitutional amendment two centered on the fear of an unknown future where the word gender might be more fluid than a binary understanding of female and male.

In these fear laden speeches, we were assured that they were all for equality in the life of the church as long as gender means female and male, but we need to worry about the future.  With Facebook, states, and cities recognizing that gender might not be binary, we might regret including constitutional protections related to gender.

Using coded language, dog whistles, and fear, they wanted to scare folks about voting in the affirmative.  Without stating outright their implicit belief that we should have the right to discriminate against some people because of how they understand their gender, they tried to create a sense of anxiety about voting yes instead.  It sounds wrong to state outright what they mean.  The part of the Book of Discipline we were voting to change contends “The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth” (Article IV of the Constitution).  My l’esprit de l’escalier is “what person of sacred worth should we discriminate against?”

Folks who use fear in the life of the church should be ashamed.  Fear is the opposite of faith.  Instead of trusting in God and loving our neighbor, fear turns us inward and creates distrust between neighbors.  Opponents of constitutional amendment two should just say outright what they think, that even though everyone is of sacred worth, they should have the right to discriminate against folks who do not fit into their narrow selection of categories.  Any step towards ending discrimination now would be an infringement of their right to discriminate in the future.  It would be one more step away from some glorious and golden past they wish we could return to.

If as a church, we are going to peddle fear, we might as well just stop being the church.  We are not called to fear, we are called to faith.  Faith in Jesus challenges us not to discriminate, especially against marginalized people.  While the good religious folk of his day spent their time trying to be as pure as possible by avoiding the marginalized, Jesus spent his time with the folks no one else wanted to spend time with.  The same people the good religious folks discriminated against.  People complained about who Jesus spent his time with.  Jesus did not critique the folks on the margins, but the good religious folk who had their priorities in the wrong place.

When we peddle fear in the life of the church – are we being Jesus for the world?  Who exactly would Jesus encourage us to exclude from full participation in the life of the church because their understanding of their own gender was not binary?  If we have to use fear to make our point, perhaps our point is not coming from a place of faith.  If our point is not coming from our faith in Jesus the Christ then we probably should not be making it.  Instead, we should be praying for more faith and less fear.

Fear.” ©2006 Copyright Loretta Prencipe. Licensed Under Creative Commons.

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.