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.

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.