With a group of United Methodist pastors saying that differences in the church cannot be reconciled, I think it needs to be said that not all differences need to be reconciled. Difference and dissension can be good things. They can lead to truth.
I have been reading David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest. As I read Halberstam’s understanding of how the United States became involved in Vietnam, one striking theme is the desire by key government officials to stop dissent. The military and political leaders actively squashed most voices who opposed ever increasing military and political involvement in Vietnam. People were promoted for saying what the elites wanted to hear, not what needed to be said.
Quashing of dissent led to many negative consequences. Truth was lost/ignored in the decision making process. Quality leaders were burned by those in power and their expertise was consequently driven out of public service. The country became more and more involved in Vietnam without really weighing what that meant. Politicians and military leaders made decisions and then future conversations/reports/subsequent decisions were made to conform to the direction the previous decision’s desired.
The call for schism (no matter how pleasant we make it sound by using words like amicable separation) is a call to quash dissent. We are basically saying that we no longer want to be in relationships with those who disagree with us. Their voices are no longer welcome in our presence. Homogeneity is our mantra. Actions that make us pause and discern have become a burden.
Schism when wrapped with a bow and gilded with flowery language might sound good. There are people in the church who are unhappy with what others are doing in the church. It is a painful time to be United Methodists. There are alternatives to schism.
As God’s people we could choose to live in tension. Wrestle with our differences. Experience the blessings and hurts similar to what Jacob experienced at Jabbok. Live with many questions. Wait until God’s will becomes clear. Learn to love those we disagree with. Turn the other cheek when others act in ways that hurt us.
We could also choose schism. Drive out those who disagree with us. Live in certainty of our own rightness. Make the people of God choose sides. Frame those who oppose us in the most demeaning ways. Practice instant gratification instead of patiently waiting on God’s timing.
When we drive out the dissenters, when we are surrounded by people who all agree with us (at least initially), will we be closer to the truth of God? The apostle Paul said that we can only see dimly now. Paul tells the church that in the midst of conflict we should choose the most excellent way of love as our way of being. Will we see clearer when no one offers an alternate view? Is schism choosing love?
Some might argue that choosing schism is an act of love. They might contend the Spirit would want us to do this. A call for schism is basically saying some of us are on God’s side, some of us are not, and we no longer want to be in association with those who are on the wrong side.
Who is on the Spirit’s side though? Is the desire for schism from our sinful nature or from the Spirit at work in our lives? After reading Galatians 5, can we say it is sin or the Spirit that puts in the heart of some the call for schism? A call for schism in the life of the church comes from a questionable place.
Will our differences be worked out in the short term? No. The truth is that they do not have to be. We can be the church and disagree with each other. Anyone who draws a line in the sand has only much power as we give the person. My suggestion is that embrace disagreement and unity instead of agreement and disunity.
Disagreement and dissension can be positive forces in the life of the church. If we choose healthy ways to resolve our conflict and practice good communication, we can live in tension. We can show grace in our hurts. The United Methodist church could model for the world what it means to act in love even in the midst of disagreement. With patience, time, and by the grace of God, we might ultimately discern a course of action that we all can agree is from God. In the meantime, we could focus on our love of Christ and our purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.