there's a battle coming
There's a battle coming, and I'm scared. If history is any indication, it could be a bloodbath.
I hope I'm wrong, but as we speak, combatants on both sides are planning their strategies, connecting with allies, identifying targets. When Go Time comes, innocent civilians are gonna get hurt. I’m afraid that I’m gonna get hurt. The battlefield will be the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, and I'm talking about the debate over our church's approach and response to the issues of homosexuality.
There are good people on both sides of the issue: people who began with a question, rather than an attitude. There are good people who have wrestled with these issues spiritually, scripturally, prayerfully, and then formed an opinion on one side or the other. Because of their thoughtful approach, these people will have a legitimate claim to the moral high ground. In sharing their opinion, they will be respectful and intellectually honest enough to admit that they may not have the definitive answer. As I said, these are good people and they exist on both sides of the issue. We should listen to them. Whether we agree or not, we can learn from their reflective process.
But, there may be other voices in the room – voices which are not as polite. Individuals - many who carry the credentials of elders and deacons in our denomination – may rise to speak and issue statements that are not instructive or constructive, and are simply insulting. I’ve seen it happen in small groups and in large annual-conference sessions. Every day my social media feeds contain new postings from each side claiming to have the truest true truth on the issue and that if I don’t join their side, all hell will come to pass and I will have been complicit by my centrist position. So, I’ve actually grown more concerned about the tone of the debate than I am about the issue. Enemies are being made, and I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to be about.
From the right, they say that when homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible, it is clearly not pleasing to God. They have a point. But from the left, they say that Jesus’ message was one of love for all, and they have a point, too. From the right, the accusation is that the left is putting their own cultural comfort ahead of the sovereignty of God, and from the left, the accusation is that the right is bigoted. For every point there seems to be a counterpoint - for every accusation, a rebuttal. And both sides point to me in the middle and ask, "don't you care enough to take a stand?"
This ugliness is enough to want to avoid the debate altogether, but that’s not really possible. There are practical issues to be resolved. Should the church revise its stance on same-sex marriage? What should be the church policy toward LGBT clergy?
Unfortunately, it has been difficult for us to discuss these issues in a civil way, and avoidance isn’t going to work. “It’s the elephant in the room”, the zealots say, “we can't ignore it”. But, we can't seem to talk about the elephant without simultaneously poking it with a stick and pissing it off and we end up with this huge thing full of rage wreaking havoc on our church.
Some of those on the right and the left are so unwilling to accommodate another viewpoint that they are prepared to fracture our denomination. But what kind of a solution is that? Where’s the maturity when the best we can do is for each team to take their balls and go home? Where’s the acceptance, the tolerance, the forgiveness, the grace?
For those of you who are so invested in your point of view that you cannot fathom continuing to worship with people with whom you disagree, look around. You'll see people who are more like you and people who are less like you, but you won't see anyone exactly like you. God has made each of us different from the other. Let me challenge you with this question: do you believe that you were made more like God than someone else? How is it that you know the mind of God so well?
Whether I like it or not, the battle is coming - the armies are aligned. While I call myself a centrist, I actually do have an opinion on this, but my choices seem to be to throw my allegiance to either the bigots or the blasphemers … that’s how we’ve defined each other. In most cases, both of those characterizations are unfair and untrue, but such is the state of our polarization.
Not wanting to be a bigot or a blasphemer, I remain in the middle - fending off the “you’re either with me or you’re against me” coming from both sides. I wish that those on the right would stop asking me to be more judgmental than I already am, because I don't think that's a part of my Christian calling. And I wish those on the left would stop beating me over the head with the word “tolerance”, when they clearly have something to learn about the word, themselves.
Also for both sides, let's maintain a little perspective: I've read the Bible, and I don't see homosexuality as a major theme, so why should we allow it to be the issue which divides our church? Yeah, I know, it’s not about being gay … it’s about injustice or it’s about respect for the word of God. You’re all standing on your principles, but try standing on this one: as a body of Christ we are stronger together. In a cynical and skeptical world, dis-unity in the church will only move the cause of Christ backward.
I believe that lots of us in the center come to church because we want to love God and love our neighbors. We want to give a little and receive a little and learn a little and grow a little and we’re prepared to do that with whomever else shows up, whatever their identity may be. So, as these discussions play out, don't let your righteousness become self-righteousness. Please play nice. Save the theatrics and the threats. Remember us in the middle. Don’t wreck our church.
One of the things that I like best about our United Methodist denomination is that there is room – today, anyway – there is room under this large umbrella for different perspectives and traditions. But as the armies gather, I wonder how much longer this will be true. There's a battle coming and I'm scared.