Thursday, June 28, 2012

Respectful Disagreement

At the Arkansas Annual Conference of the UMC, we passed the following resolution concerning disagreement over the issue of homosexuality:

This link above is a copy of the resolution as it was proposed. This resolution was amended by the conference to add paragraph 161.f of the "Social Principles" in the UMC Book of Discipline to this resolution. This paragraph was added to the content of the resolution so that when this resolution gets discussed, people will be able to easily see what our official position is. This paragraph can be found at:{1F6BAEA8-E9EE-4867-B892-2F6871C78CB6}&notoc=1

Also, it should be noted that the resolution that was passed was the paragraph in quotes at the top of the original document cited above. The rationale that follows is not officially part of the actual resolution, and so could not be debated. So, at the risk of being redundant, but in the interest of maximal clarity, the resolution as it officially stands is 161.f plus the opening paragraph in quotes.

So the really important question about this is: What does this mean? Well, I am not exactly sure, to be honest. At least, I am not sure what the concrete implications of this are or should be. Many people see it as a useless proposal, because you can't really legislate respect. I get that, but official statements like this can help shape the contours of this debate in a better direction (at least, that is my hope). 

What I am interested in thinking about these days is what it means to have a sharp disagreement over something and to do it with "respect and humility," as the resolution says. I  must confess that when I held a very conservative view on this issue (as I did up until about 3 years ago), I was suspicious of people who argued that we need to be "respectful" and "humble" in the way we approach this issue.  A former "me" would have voted against this resolution. I always felt like this was just manipulative rhetoric coming from the liberals as a way of getting me to be more respectful of their view and more humble (read: uncertain) about my view. I suspect that some of the folks who voted against this resolution did so for similar reasons. Some people I talked to felt like they were being pressured to "give a little more" to the left. As I said, I can sympathize. But that really wasn't the intent of this resolution, as folks strongly on the conservative side were involved with writing and promoting this resolution as well. 

My little proposal as we go forward with applying this resolution is this: Let's resolve to listen to one another as we would want to be listened to. I think this follows from something Jesus himself said. We all have a tendency to filter information through our current convictions. When it comes down to it, we all do a lot more rationalizing than we engage in rational thinking. (See Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.) Out of our pride, we tend to assume we are correct with what we "feel" is right, and we then engage in lots of rationalizing and confirmatory thinking to justify our position and feel righteous about believing what we take to be the truth. I feel like this debate could be more productive if we just all acknowledge up front that we tend to do this. I do this. To counter this tendency, we need to be with people who see the world differently than us. If we just surround ourselves with books, magazines, news shows, and people who already think like us, I do not see how respect and humility could ever characterize this debate. I try to have ongoing conversations with a wide-range of folks, and I try to read books and articles from folks who I think I will disagree with. I still have blind spots, I am sure, but this at least helps. 

It also makes life more complicated for me. Over the years, I have changed my views on a number of things, sometimes in what most would consider a more right-leaning direction, and on some issues in what most would consider a more left-leaning direction. I am still in the process of changing my views, and probably will be until the day I die. We Methodists talk a good deal about "going on to perfection." I wonder if we need to apply this doctrine of sanctification as much to our intellectual life as our moral life. We are on the way to seeing clearly, but our vision is currently very partial and our understanding very provisional . We are not there yet. The biggest impact that my experience of changing my mind on some big issues has had on me is that it has encouraged me to stop defining myself and others by what we claim to know, but instead by the One who knows each of us (1 Cor. 13:12).

Jesus did this. Jesus was a master of being in genuine relationship with folks that he disagreed with. He was nonviolent, yet at least one of the twelve was involved in a terrorist group when Jesus called him (Simon the Zealot). He strongly disagreed with the religiosity of the Pharisees, but still ate dinners with them. He preached against sexual promiscuity, yet prostitutes loved being with this guy. Jesus could do this, I am convinced, because he knew in his bones that God longs to shine his warm love and pour out his healing grace on every person- regardless of their moral convictions and their ability to live up to those convictions (Matt. 5:43-48).  

Here is what this resolution comes down to for me: I think we have to make a commitment to be in relationship and in conversation with people who see the world differently from us if we are going to learn how to be respectful and humble in the way we hold our views.  And we need to pray without ceasing to be able to see the world like Jesus- to see the world as saturated with a boundless divine love that is big enough to help us to act like Christians as we struggle with this debate. So, two challenges for you and me:

1) Talk and listen more with people who have different views.
2) Talk and listen more with the Lord Jesus. 

It may just be (just maybe) that when we do the first one we are actually doing the second one. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Several really important things happened during the Arkansas UMC Annual Conference this year. The most important, from my perspective, was what happened on Monday night when the baseball Hogs beat Baylor to go to the College World Series! Calling the Hogs in the hotel bar after Jake Wise became our savior was the most moving worship experience for me during conference. 

The second most moving worship experience for me was getting ordained. This confuses lots of people since I have been a pastor for a while now. Well, in the UMC, to be fully ordained is a long process that is somewhat similar to the way people train to be doctors. They go to medical school and then have a period of residency, and in a similar way, to be ordained you have to go to theology school and then take a few years to be a pastor and show the denominational leaders that you can take what you have learned and put it into practice. I did that, so here I am. 

Here are some pics of the event:

This is when the magic happened.

This is when I got to be the "mantle boy" and represent the new class.

This is when I got to give the Benediction.
It was everyone's favorite part, because it signaled the end of the very long worship service.  

This is just a couple guys hanging out in black robes.

These are the three most brilliant and beautiful girls ever.

The Bishop left his shepherd's staff unattended for a few moments, so I tried it on for size. 

While I got several great ordination gifts, Andrea's  gift is far and away my favorite.