Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why is the Church MIA?

Last week I asked where the moderates had all gone, but following my blog post I had a wonderful conversation with a few friends on Facebook that brought the question into sharper focus. In my blog, I called the people who hold the middle ground “moderates” but I suppose that isn't quite right. My friend Elva asked me what exactly I meant by “moderate” and “middle ground” and to my mind, I was thinking that the people in the middle are the ones who listen and discern what is important on both sides of the issue. Lately, at least in the political arena, there doesn’t seem to be much of that. Instead, we have a host of pompous windbags pointing fingers at one another.

In her gentle wisdom, Elva asked me if I thought that Jesus ever took the middle ground, and this helped me to focus my discontent on our current political situation. Jesus never took "sides," Jesus stood for what was right regardless of which "side" was offended. Jesus told the zealots to forgive and condemned the Pharisees to be more compassionate. It isn't about "sides" it’s about doing what's right. My friend Robert chimed in noting that after the passing of famed basketball coach John Wooden, one of his players remarked, “With coach Wooden, it wasn't who was right, it was what was right." As I thought about doing what was right, I wondered, “Where are the people today who can see what is right on both "sides" and help us to find our way to what's right disregarding partisanship?” As Elva pointed out, “Jesus would not have taken sides, he would point out to do what is right."

And this returns me to one source of my discontent. If we can agree that Jesus would be beyond taking sides and instead point those arguing toward what is genuinely right, then shouldn’t that be what we are doing? If we, the followers of Jesus, who are called, collectively, the Body of Christ, have been called to do the work of Jesus until his return, then something is seriously wrong. As I look at several of the recent political hot-button issues such as immigration and the proposed mosque in New York City, it seems as if believers tend to be just as good at taking sides as everyone else.

In our denomination, United Methodist, we have a tradition dating back more than two hundred years (since 1744), of meeting together at least annually to worship, pray, discuss where we are and to plan for the future. This tradition has become known as “holy conferencing” and, while in seminary, “The Conversation Matters” (Henry Knight and Don Saliers) was required reading. The principle of “holy conferencing” is that instead of bickering over polar extremes, we should meet together, to talk about our problems and our concerns and find a way forward together. Essentially, we believe that honest and genuine conversation can help us to find what is right instead of arguing about who is right. In recent years I’ve found hope for the future of our denomination as we’ve continued to have generally calm and adult conversations about divisive issues while other denominations have begun to fragment internally over those same issues.

Understanding these things, I still have to ask, where is the church in the midst of these divisive political arguments? I got it wrong last week. If anyone should be listening and discerning what is right on each side of these difficult issues, we probably can’t look to our politicians, moderate or otherwise. We would, however, expect to find Jesus doing that and so we should expect the church to be there as well. The church seems to be conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps we are gun shy in a political arena where we have been told that the church is unwelcome, but I believe the church has something unique and valuable to offer.

Instead of being “Missing in Action,” the church should find a way for our leaders to meet with one another to talk, and to find a way forward, together. Only then can we find a way to stop arguing about who is right and instead start doing what is right.

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