Of Polarization, Patriarchy and the United Methodist Church

The RNS headline reads "The Methodists Gather to Argue About Gay People Again." Written by noted Christian Ethicist David Gushee, the opinion piece goes on to say:

It's a titanic clash, epic, truly tragic, unresolvable, filled with conflict and pain. To me, by now, the arguments are stale and circular. What I mainly hear is the howl of pain of a small minority of Christians (and many traumatized ex-Christians) crushed under the wheel of a 2000-year-old religious tradition that cannot quite figure out how to account for their existence. It's all so very, very sad.

It is indeed very, very sad. It is also sadly representative of the concerted effort to marginalize that same minority of Americans - LGBT Americans - in order to polarize our political process. In the case of the Methodists, it is an effort fed, watered and fertilized by the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) ... an organization committed to "returning mainline churches to biblical orthodoxy" [their words] or destroying them in the process [mine]. They took their best shot at the Episcopal Church - ultimately failing yet inflicting significant collateral damage along the way. And now they're driving the schism threat in the UMC.

As a survivor of the Inclusion Wars in the Episcopal Church, I will argue that the impasse is not, in fact, unresolvable -- although the road to resolution is most certainly paved with conflict and pain. Conflict, pain and more round-table discussions, dialogues and mediated conversations than you can shake a stick at. And in the end, what it takes are leaders willing to listen to the Holy Spirit calling us into all truth and not the IRD calling us into the House of Fear. Fear of the other. Fear of loss of power. Fear of schism.

Episcopal Bishop Barbara Harris once called this struggle "the death rattle of the patriarchy" -- and I believe more and more that she was exactly right. Collectively we are deep in the throes of the end of a worldview that is long past its expiration date: a worldview steeped in the unexamined privilege of sexism, racism, heterosexism and a host of other interlocking oppressions that keep us from being the human family God created us to be.

So today my prayers ascend for the United Methodist Church. For all those yearning for the Good News of God's redeeming love available to absolutely everybody. For those willing to put their lives and vocations on the line to proclaim it. And for those who once again experience the pain of having their lives, vocations and relationships reduced to bargaining chips in this ongoing ecclesiastical version of the Game of Thrones.

But most especially today I pray for those who will read the headline "The Methodists Gather to Argue About Gay People Again" and be reinforced in their conviction that they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one. Because if that's the only thing they know about being a Christian, who would blame them?

No wonder Jesus wept.