“And ya don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction?” This was the comment by a United Methodist pastor attached to a link a UM clergy Facebook discussion group. The link was about a wedding officiated by a district superintendent for two female United Methodist pastors. Obviously creating polity problems on several levels. Pastors lined up to share their thoughts and attack each other.
Attacking each other on this UM clergy Facebook group is standard fare. Facebook seems to catch pastors at their least self-aware, least charitable, least loving, and perhaps most exasperated moments. When we try to discuss issues, it feels like we are in a small room trying to talk over each other at our best, and yelling at each other at our worst. This discussion was no exception.
What caught my interest in the conversation were the words “eve of destruction.” This caught my attention, beyond its hyperbolic nature, for two reasons. The first is that “Eve of Destruction” is a Bishop Allen (an indie band) song that I really like. In the song, the speaker desires to be with the speaker’s friend. Even if the worst possible things happen, the speaker hopes they will still be together. I love this beautiful expression of companionship
The second aspect that caught my attentions is once again United Methodists were framing our disagreements in cataclysmic ways. Why do we keep doing this? There is no rule written that our disagreements have to lead to schism. Yet, this was not an isolated incident. I saw other United Methodists on Facebook and Twitter framing this situation in the same way.
Instead of seeing our conflicts and disagreements as the end of the world/denomination, we could see them as possibilities to grow in our faith. We have the perfect opportunity as a church to model what it means to be followers of Christ even when we cannot agree on important issues. This is not the first time in Christiain history that followers of Jesus have disagreed. Too often in our power struggles we have chosen division over modeling unity.
This is not an easy path, but Jesus never promised an easy journey. There will be hurt and pain, but at this point, no matter what happens, we are going to experience hurt and pain. We’ll have to act in love, even when we do not feel it. Paul’s famous passage on love is about acting in love, not feeling it.
We will need to surrender our pride. In acting in love, we have to admit we may be wrong. Choose our words and actions carefully. Frame our issues and divisions in ways that allow for unity and shared ministry. Disagreement does not have to mean an end to ministry.
In all this, we need to ask what do we ultimately want as a church? Do we want to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world or do we want to die on this hill? Are we willing to sacrifice self-righteousness and certainty for charity and tension? Until we define what is most important to us and act accordingly, we will continue to tear each other down. Our ultimate actions will speak volumes about what we actually believe.
The band Bishop Allen has a song entitled “Things Are What You Make of Them.” Very rarely does a song title capture so much truth. We need to make hard choices, but they are our choices. No one is forcing us in one direction or another. If there is schism, I have no doubt there will be a circular firing squad. Everyone will blame someone else for our divisions. For those who call for schism and frame our issues in cataclysmic ways, I hope these words from Bishop Allen, “when you wield the knife, learn to carry the blame,” make us pause and leads to a possible change in our rhetoric.