The Stakes

Why did I request that UM Insight stop republishing my work? I did this because I think much of what is published on UM Insight is unhelpful to anything like meaningful conversation, and I don’t want to contribute to a site that I disagree with so strongly in its basic philosophy of discourse. I simply got tired of ad hominem attack. I got tired of character assassination. I became weary of insult, the attribution of false motives, and bad argumentation. – Rev. Dr. David Watson, “Disengaging?”, Musings And Whatnot, September 21, 2015

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Contrary to what you tell yourself, you do not do that great of a job making dissenting views feel welcome. As “advocacy” (forget about the journalism), you aren’t under any obligation to give “equal time.” But, don’t pretend that you want the free exchange of ideas when you want to be an advocate for your perspective. Those are two different things. But, all too often, people want to consider themselves “tolerant” when they only tolerate those who already agree with them. – Creed Pogue, comment on “Disengaging From The Conversation”, United Methodist Insight, September 22, 2015

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McIntyre would deny the efficacy of Steve’s faith, demonstrated in his life and work already accomplished in and for Cornerstone, the United Methodist Church, and the Church Universal. McIntyre would do all this for one simple reason – because Steve happens to be gay. For this reason, he cannot fully participate in the life and work of the church, he cannot have his relationships blessed by United Methodist clergy, and he could not, if he felt called, serve openly as a United Methodist clergyperson. McIntyre thinks this is OK. – My words quoted by Joel Watts as evidence of my having skirted “close to libel”, “An Open Response To UMInsight”, Unsettled Christianity, September 21, 2015

The flame of the Holy Spirit surrounds the cross of the risen Christ. This symbol and all it represents hangs in the balance.

The flame of the Holy Spirit surrounds the cross of the risen Christ. This symbol and all it represents hangs in the balance.

So yesterday I offered some thoughts on what constitutes an ad hominem attack, and why I think it is used just a bit too easily and frequently to bring people to stop talking to one another. Today, I want to take a few steps back and talk about the larger context in which all these conversations occur. It is impossible really to understand why things are so heated, why tempers are so on edge, and why there’s all this back and forth about how best to argue with one another.

Since 1972, the Social Principles of the United Methodist Book of Disipline has stated the following: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Over the ensuing four decades, the full meaning of this sentence has come to include not only denying sexual minorities a place in the clergy; it has also included denying church membership; it has come to include driving youth from the church and even being a factor in their suicides; it has come to include denying pastoral services, namely weddings, to faithful couples; it has come to include removing a faithful lay member of the church. Unable to state clearly that we agree to disagree about the meaning and implications of this sentence, congregations are withholding Apportionments and some congregations are trying to leave the denomination. Until next spring’s General Conference, we take out our frustrations and anger at one another in ways that hurt our churches, our clergy, and how the world sees us.

This is a very long, emotional, deeply theological, and – yes – very personal dispute, one that has hurt many while not at all contributing to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As I wrote elsewhere, we are once again – as we did in the years leading up to the Civil War – mimicking our dysfunctional secular politics, which is leaving us increasingly unable even to talk to one another. Warring sides and factions, unaffiliated groups claiming to speak for one “side” or another, and a burgeoning movement to create alternative structures in case real schism occurs only make matters worse.

Our online arguments and discussions are riven by these same factors no less than our larger gatherings. People feel passionately about this matter. They feel that adherence to our legal standards is a necessary part of keeping covenant with one another; others believe their pastoral duty, having been ordained to Word, sacrament, and order, makes their need to break the law of our church and face the consequences of their actions paramount. Some insist that those who do so should face the full force of church law – an ecclesiastical trial; others think the time for trials are over and any such actions be suspended until after 2016.

So this larger setting – decades of disagreement leading to the rise of unaffiliated groups within the denomination claiming loyalties of one part of our membership or another; people willing to risk their clerical orders to fulfill their ordination while other seeing only deliberate disobedience without consequence; people being hurt, removed from the pulpit, church membership, and even sexual minority youth being dehumanized by paid church staff – is that in which our discussions take place.

I think all folks would agree that what is at stake is nothing more or less than the continued existence of the United Methodist Church. Those are pretty high stakes. Furthermore, the reality that real people are being really hurt – to the point of depression and taking their own life – should at the very least give all pause as we try to be faithful as we are led by the Holy Spirit. I have always maintained that our lives as churches involve quite literally matters of life and death. That being the case, I also maintain that questions of how we talk to one another should matter far less than that we talk with one another, always remembering the discussions and arguments are not about us. Not really. I mean, should the United Methodist Church split, it will be an inconvenience to me. It would certainly impact our family life, leaving my wife’s future up in the air. It would also break my heart that we couldn’t put our mission and ministry ahead of all other considerations. The United Methodist Church does so much work, helping people around the world to live, to learn to be faithful, and even thrive – sometimes in places where even survival can seem an accomplishment.

Precisely for these reasons, I am no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter that much to me if someone thinks arguments are “poor” or people’s character is assassinated. If someone gets their feelings hurt because of something I or others write, what is that to me? This isn’t about them. Or me. Or how best to conduct civil, intellectual discourse. It’s about the life and death of our Church; it’s about the life and death of people around the world; it’s about the life and death of people right here in the good old USA who hear us telling them their lives are incompatible with Christian teaching. Someone thinking that arguments are just too heated, just not intellectually sound enough, not “fair” enough to “all sides” . . . what is that when people live and die because of the decisions all of us in the United Methodist Church make?

I have lamented more than once not that people aren’t nice; rather, I’ve lamented the lack of adults in our conversations. Adults don’t let personal slights or hurt feelings interfere with what needs to be done. Adults recognize the full context and setting within which we live and move and speak and write and act, set their egos aside, and get busy for the good of the whole. That’s what this is about, after all. It isn’t about whether someone thinks something I wrote is potentially “libelous” or whether another person thinks arbitrary rules of civility should dictate how we carry on our discussions. It’s about the life and death of our church and people to whom we minister.

In all honesty, if people get their feathers ruffled or their feelings hurt and refuse to engage others, that’s a sign to me they prize their person and position and whatever abstract rules of discourse and argument to which they might adhere over the life and health of the church. Children pick up their toys and walk away when others don’t play by their rules. This, however, is no game. We should all suck it up, accept that we aren’t the center of this particular universe, and keep our minds and hearts where they belong.

The stakes are high. It might be nice if people acted like it.

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5 thoughts on “The Stakes

  1. The issue is the survival of the UMC in the United States. Putting aside the political issues, the church has to be restructured. With an aging membership, how can the church be organized to take best advantage of shrinking financial and member resources? Another question is how will the church dispose of closed churches. Some have talked about these issues, but since these issues get into numbers, most members (and pastors) try not talking about them. It is about time to talk about these issues.

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  2. I agree those are issues that need to be addressed on a “What if?” basis: If there is schism, how best do we deal with those churches that wish to leave? And clergy? Are their orders no longer valid? What happens if we as Annual Conferences are left with properties, some perhaps with debt? I do hope Cabinets are working on these questions.

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  3. This statement speaks so loudly to me: ” I have lamented more than once not that people aren’t nice; rather, I’ve lamented the lack of adults in our conversations.” What does it mean to be an adult? I know I’ve about decided that when one “owns one owns stuff” we may finally be approaching adulthood. I presume there are more sophisticated or theologically sound ways to put that, but it is working for me–and helps me look harder at myself when I start blaming others for my lack of self-ownership.

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Comments are welcome, as long as they apply to issues rather than individuals. Don't make me break out the Benevolent Banhammer Of Love

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