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SINGLETON DRONES ON ABOUT RELIGION AND CHURCH
A Retired Old Duffer's Blog Spot
DISRUPTIONS IN THE BODY OF CHRIST
July 3, 2008
This is a confession in both meanings of the word. It is a personal confession in need of absolution. It is also a statement about a deeply held belief concerning human nature. What I am about to write could lead some to conclude that I am a hypocrite. I have been called worse, but I think "hypocrite" does not fit. I have written and said some things that I believed at the time, and still believe, but my actions have not always given witness to what I believe. A hypocrite says things he or she does not believe. In many ways, whatever I am is worse than a hypocrite. I actually do believe what I have said even though my actions would indicate otherwise. Aristotelian logic can't do much to make sense of this. The anthropology of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures is a far better place to start. Although I fancy myself a student of Francis of Assisi, I might better be understood as an apprentice of the Apostle Peter. While I have not denied Christ in word, I have denied by my actions what I
believe about our life together in Christ.
In the fall of 2000 I published a brief article entitled "Struggle and Competition: Two Models for Dealing with Difficult Issues in the Church." It appeared in Let's Talk: Living Theology in the Metropolitan Chicago synod (ELCA). I began that article with the following observation:
Being the Church is difficult under the best of circumstances. Being the Church in times of internal conflict is even more difficult. Perhaps the most difficult issues we face as the Church are those that have the potential of causing pain and estrangement.
These words were written in the midst of a great controversy (one that began in the 1990s and continues on to this day) in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I came into the conversation not as a spokesperson for any faction in the controversy but as one calling us to confess our unity in Christ even in the midst of these potentially divisive debates. I managed to offend no one. My guess is that I also convinced no one. Nevertheless, I was asked to be the editor for a special issue on sexuality because I was not identified with any faction. One issue grew to two. As a sort of
final note to that dual issue I wrote:
I have come to believe, more firmly even than I did three years ago, that how the Church deals with these two issues is far more important than the outcome of our deliberations. I do not mean to trivialize these issues with this statement, but I do mean to make them both subordinate and subject to our unity in Christ and with each other through our baptismal covenant. The outcome of these deliberations will not be the source and purpose of that unity. While Lutherans honor the tradition of the Church, we also have it on good authority that councils can err. Our councils, assemblies, and workshops are often exercises in "muddling along" because we do not always have clear and unmistakable direction from our Lord about what the outcome of a given discussion should be. But we do have clear and unmistakable direction (albeit lacking in specifics) on the foundation of our unity, and the nature of the process we use to discuss these issues: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (Jn. 13:34-35) If we love a specific outcome more than we love Jesus and those Jesus has given us to love, then we have failed to realize the essence of the Church. From this perspective, how we deal with these issues is definitive of who we are as the Church. The outcomes themselves are less definitive. Thus, if we advocate, electioneer or strategize--in short, if we model our behavior on campaign practices in the world--rather than engage each other in loving struggle, we neither follow our Lord's clear command nor do we trust the Spirit. If we will not follow Jesus and do not trust in the Spirit, our future is bleak.
That was published in 2003. Over the next four years I observed the deliberations in the ELCA continue as a competitive debate with few signs of loving struggle. In 2007 my wife and I made the painful decision to seek our expression of ecclesia elsewhere. The decision came after years of struggle and a great deal of prayerful conversation. We have left the institution but retain many wonderful friendships with ELCA clergy and laity. Some think us a bit loony, but still love us.
With a friend we started a new intentional community. It was part of a small ecclesial unit which had already reached what seemed to us a Gospel-driven resolution to the sexuality issues. After significantly less than a year we, along with other members of the community (both formal and informal) found reasons we had to leave. The reasons may have been legitimate (I think they were) and we did have a conversation with our bishop about the matters concerning us, but the move was perhaps precipitous. We are still in touch with some members of that ecclesial body, but others I fear have been left feeling confused or hurt.
More recently the community itself became split. While one could perhaps identify two factions, I think it was a matter of several different individual perceptions. There were too many e-mails (which are poor vehicles of nuanced rhetoric) and too little candid face-to-face conversations. Too many of us acted on the basis of e-mail messages containing rhetoric that should have been the start of conversations, but often became the end of conversations. This may have been true of all. It certainly was true of me. Confusion, hurt, and anger are the result.
I can't judge the actions and motives of others. I can and do accuse myself of having betrayed my belief in the power of Christ in community. I accuse myself of having too rapidly accepted disruption as the status quo for the body of Christ and for social relationships in general. Unfortunately, I do not think my transgressions are unique. They might even be
considered commonplace in both the Church and in the world in general.
Thus I stand ready to enter into struggle and not competition, to discuss and not to debate; and to seek reconciliation. In short, I need to adjust my behavior to conform
with what I believe. I decidedly do not need to alter my creed in order to justify my behavior. What is at issue here is not whether
I am on the right path (I think I am) but whether I could have gotten there without giving offense to sisters and brothers who
perhaps need to be on a different path. I think I can. I hope others are receptive
Those who read this and know whereof I speak know how to contact me. To those to whom all of this seems vague, please read the above as on object lesson in the Biblical wisdom expressed by Pogo decades ago: "We has met the enemy and they is us." To that, let me add a corollary to Christ's promise that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against us; our Lord did not promise that we would be protected against ourselves.
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