Saturday, October 29, 2005

Can We Talk? - Part 3: A Via Media

Some people are so tired of talking about homosexuality, they are just ready to stop talking and divide the church. Group all the people who think one way over here; group all the people who think another way over there; now let’s just be two separate churches. A similar thing happened in 1844 in the Methodist church, except the issue at that time was slavery. It took almost 100 years for the two branches to be grafted back together. However, the people who wrote the schism proposal at that time wrote it with foresight, burning no bridges and leaving the pathway open for reuniting at some point in the future. Some think this is the way we should go now.

Some other people want to continue to bash one another over the head over the issue of homosexuality, wielding their various ideologies as weapons with which to seek and destroy those who disagree. Locked and loaded, they head off to Annual, Jurisdictional, and General Conferences bristling and ready for battle. The early church used to have big councils at which the loser of the debate was burned, along with all his writings. Weren’t those proud moments in our Christian heritage? Yet it sometimes seems the church hasn’t come far from those … umm … less gentle days, especially when one witnesses the rhetoric in the air around recent conferences and other denominational events.

You know, I believe with all my heart that there is a third group of people out there. This caucus is not vocal, not very well organized, and has for the most part been silently frustrated at the carryings on of the other two groups. Let’s call this group the Via Media Caucus. They do not want to divide the church, and at the same time they want to be able to honestly disagree in Christian friendship. At the last United Methodist General Conference, the unofficial Via Media group almost got the Book of Discipline changed to read, “Christians disagree on the compatibility of homosexual practice with Christian teaching” instead of the inflammatory, “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Here’s the amazing thing: There are people who believe all kinds of different things about the issue in all three of these groups. There are some people in favor of ordination and marriage for homosexual people who want to stop talking and split the church, some who want to keep battling, and some who want to find the middle way. And there are people against ordination/marriage of homosexual people in each group, as well. This is why this particular issue is so astonishingly complicated. There is no “us” and “them.”

The good news is, when there is no “us” and “them” – it’s all us! Everything we do starts with the commonality of the gift of life that has been graciously given by God, the gift of salvation that has been offered to us through Christ, and the gift of God’s reign on earth that is promised by the power of the Holy Spirit. In order to continue to be faithful to the church God is calling us to be, we must start the conversation from this common understanding.

The people who back up their beliefs with, “Because the Bible says so, that’s why,” have got to understand that this reasoning is meaningless without acknowledging the particular context through which their beliefs were formed. The people who try to say, “All perspectives are of equal value,” have got to understand that this simply is not the case, and to stubbornly hold to such a view is an example of the very same rigid ideological thinking they are trying to argue against. Both of these lines of thought throw up roadblocks to any helpful conversation. The Via Media, beginning around our commonality, may just be the only way any more conversation will happen.

These past three blog posts, I have not been trying to persuade anyone as to the sinfulness or not of homosexuality. I have just been trying to answer the question, “Can we talk?” I think the answer is “Yes,” but only if we are willing to first acknowledge our common humanity, open ourselves before God in worship and confession, and go beyond the senseless, mind-numbing diatribe that some people are trying to pass off as conversation these days. We may not be able to ever persuade our conversation partner to our perspective, but the conversation itself can be holy as we gather around God’s table together.


Adam Caldwell said...

I have to be honest. I am surprised that you haven't gotten more discussion on this topic.

It is difficult to get people out of an us v. them mentality. We always want to play victim and if we change the terms to us, then there is no victim.

Good thoughts.

Andy B. said...

I am too, Adam. I have been trying to say that, in spite of ourselves, we are ALL ideologues who have been shaped by our particular contexts. Maybe people are more comfortable when the front lines of the battle are more clearly drawn. "Us" versus "them" is easier!
- AB

John said...

I think that the schism over slavery was important. It was morally vital to stand against the evil of slavery. This was an issue worthy of dividing over.

DogBlogger said...

Seems that all of the discussion is going on over at Wesley Blog, especially now that the Beth Stroud and Ed Johnson verdicts have been handed down.

Andy, I really like what you're saying and the way you're saying it. I just wish we'd manage to arrive at the place you're trying to guide us, and right now I'm not optimistic that we will.

If we arrive at schism, I foresee myself making a painful choice between my theology and many of my friends in the faith -- a choice I do not want to be forced to make.

Dave Wood said...

I'm not surprised at all that more people aren't participating in the discussion. People are just plain tired of talking about it. It has nothing to do with us vs. them or taking sides to divide the church. We're just tired of worrying about something we can't control and don't have a say in. The church is going to do what the church wants to do, no matter what I say and I have other, more important things going on. I personally don't care if someone is homosexual or not. But I'm as tired of listening to supporters as I am to detractors. I suspect a lot of people feel that way and that's why there is not much conversation. It may very well divide the church. We will all have to make a choice when that happens.