Wednesday, November 09, 2005

In response to John's comment last night

When I posted this I was indeed going for levity. Last week we didn't realize the implications of not the first decision which I believe we all expected, but the implications of the second decision. It was before the mud-slinging and hate spewing started. Not that I regret doing it, but I regret that it missed it's mark. Humor can diffuse a situation sometimes -- or make it much worse. I'm sorry that I made it worse for you.

But the analogy of a witch-hunt and witch burning strikes me. If you study all the way to the end of the Salem witch trials, there are so very many parallels. A behavior that does not follow the norm -- sinful behavior perhaps is singled out. Hate and hysteria follows and when the fervor dies down there are bodies laying around.

There have been other times we have castigated a group of people for their behaviors -- I can think of several in Methodist history. The southern slave owners against the northern church -- or worse yet, their own brothers. Union county in Georgia is named so because most people in the county were union supporters. There were groups within the church that castigated Masons -- calling them the spawn of Satan. There are many hate filled pamphlets that were written; schisms in the church. There were those who supported prohibition -- and those who did not. There were those who supported women receiving the vote -- and those who did not. There were those who wanted the churches of the Central Conference to be disbursed -- and those who did not. There were those who supported women's ordination -- and those who did not.

In the history of the UMC (and all the branches of Methodism that have become the UMC) there have been many many incidents where a movement has risen up within the Methodist church and that movement has caused fervor -- and typically the Methodist denominations have selected the most socially progressive one. Typically. We started as a socially progressive movement within the Anglican Church -- one that stressed personal piety and holiness of heart and life. They (the early Methodists) were castigated by the surrounding society -- the word "Methodist" was one first used in derision.

So, I was striving for irony in this piece. Yet again the Methodist movement has found a socially sensitive topic. And yet again, people have become heated in their rhetoric. Those who believed that slavery was Biblical in the southern church and argued it in the 1840's and 1850's were sincere. The church broke in half. It took more than 100 years for us to unify. Yet all has been well. The schism was mended. From it there was growth. I believe that the social justice flavor that our denomination took in the 1890's was a result of that schism.

Where will this current fervor lead? I hope and pray that first it can be discussed dispassionately. But I fear this cannot be so. Will it lead to schism? Will it lead to hate mongering? Will it lead to brother fighting against brother? I pray that it does not. We have entered a state of postantidisestablishement. Hence the perceived weakening of the church universal in America. Hence the movement toward non-English (Hispanic for instance) liberation theologies. The English speaking world is no longer the leader in making disciples for Christ. Will the universal church in America become the church in Europe? This is a time for unity – not a time for schisms. Let’s continue the conversations in respect for each other and in the Love of God that is found in Christ Jesus.

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