Most of us can agree on major goals. For the church, it is “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul and love your neighbor as yourself” and “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We can rally around those things with unity and purpose.
BUT . . . the moment we seek to determine the details in the “how” of doing those acts of love and the work of being and making disciples, our unity often dissolves into interminable, soul-destroying squabbling and even death.
So, we make rules. We do it as a nation with our Constitutions, our national, state, and local regulations. We do it as a church with our Book of Discipline, with our committee and votes, with Robert and his Rules of Order.
We need them. We need guidelines and structure. We need what I have often called “the boundaries to our playground” so we can find creativity within that space as well as safety.
Ideally, the older and more mature we grow, the larger our playground becomes.
Ideally, we ourselves become more and more trustworthy and we use our own trustworthiness to trust others.
Ideally, we gain greater and greater freedoms to explore, to learn, to grow as confidence in one another grows and we can lessen the number of rules that govern our lives.
Reality: we layer law upon law, rule upon rule, restriction upon restriction because much of our experience of life has been littered with betrayal, broken trust, power plays, unchecked aggression, and the wanton disregard of others in our efforts to expand our own little fiefdoms.
In politics, business and the mafia, betrayals, power grabs, and aggression are winning plays. But in the church, we really are expected to live by different rules.
And yet, as much as we try to do so, we find ourselves following the same path Then we do what people have done from the beginning: look to the legal code to find the answers. The more we look to the code, the more that code has to expand to answer every contingency, thwart every possible power play, provide in advance for every betrayal, and, if cleverly enough written, offer special privileges to a certain elite.
This is human history. This is what we do. This is what we are doing today. This is, among other things, The United Methodist Church. This is the Roman Catholic Church. This is Sharia, Islamic religious law. This is the holiness code of Orthodox Judaism. This is the world of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots.
This is the world that says, “My reality and opinion is the only reality that counts. If yours is different from mine, then I must legislate yours out of existence. If that doesn’t work, then I must expel you from my community.”
This is the world I think Jesus broke into and said, “Whoa!!!! You’ve missed the boat. Again!”
I believe that God’s world is an extremely open place–but that is MY world. Others completely disagree with me. Years ago, I would have violently disagreed with me if I had known then what I am thinking now about theology, sexuality, the nature of God, the nature of the Holy Scriptures and the nature of the church. My internal world has changed radically over the years.
Forty years ago, I would have called the present “me” a heretic and demanded that the present “me” recant or be expelled.
Forty years ago, I would have burned the present “me” at the stake.
Forty years ago, I would have gone to holy war over those details because I just knew that I was right.
I still think I am right. But my “rightness” is not the same as it was. It is not the same as that of many of our African brothers and sisters in the faith. It is not the same of my beloved husband, whom I love dearly and respect highly but with whom I disagree seriously over some major issues. And we are both profoundly Christian, both United Methodist clergy and both have given our lives over to God.
At its best, that disagreement is held, nurtured, honored and covered by grace. The wide umbrella of The United Methodist Church is our genius and our hope to actually live and offer that same grace to a world in desperate need of it.
At its worst, that disagreement leaves only room for one of us to live. The other must die.
At its worst, that disagreement says that those who recognize a spectrum of sexuality to be expressed within the bounds of holy covenant must be labeled as “non-biblical” or “heretics” or even “beastial” as I understood one delegate to General Conference affirmed.
At its worst, that disagreement means we write a book of rules so large, so thick, so indecipherable to the majority of the church that only the elite of the elite can decode it and make binding pronouncements about it.
At its worst, it means there will be only one person left standing when this fight is over: the one with the biggest gun.
The song says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Can we, and those with whom I so hugely disagree and who so hugely disagree with me, find peace without insisting the other change? Can we possibly trust the redemptive movement of the Holy Spirit both in our lives and in the lives of others to bring us to perfection while, in our moving on to perfection state, we work side by side WITH our disagreements to do the will of God on earth as it is in heaven?
Can we? I think so. This does not mean we stop saying, writing, blogging, or tweeting what we think is true. It does means we recognize that others just don’t think the same way.
It doesn’t mean we don’t have a rule book or organizational structure. It does mean we work to raise trust and lower the amount of minutiae so we are freed for creativity and exploration and the explosion of grace that we need.
Let’s keep the conversations going and the doors open. Let’s lay down our swords. Seriously. Everyone. Put them down. Quit demonizing the “other.” Respect each other’s worlds and opinions. Create a holy structure big enough for us all where we can live in holy connection. Let us speak our truths freely. Let us disagree with respect and honor.
I will say this one thing: the church that refuses to “agree to disagree” over issues that are not central to our faith but where a significant minority disagrees with the majority position (like sexuality) is in serious danger of ringing its death bell. For some are clearly saying, “my way or the highway” and are sure they are speaking for God. That is the big difference in my forty-year ago self and my current self: I no longer say I speak for God with absolute certainty. I still speak for God, for I am called to preach, but with great trepidation and humility because I have learned this well: I just might very possibly be wrong.