Can’t we all just get along?
It’s the question many of us as Methodists are asking these days, isn’t it?
Why can’t we all just get along? Why can’t we just figure out a way to live together in spite of our differences?
Do we really have to divide over this or any other issue? For as many things as divide us, aren’t there more things that hold us together? Isn’t that worth preserving?
It’s what many of us are wondering, I suspect.
And yet, from where I sit it is becoming clearer and clearer that staying together seems less and less likely. Here’s why:
We have two groups in the United Methodist Church who believe that an absolute truth is at stake in this conversation. And neither one seems willing to compromise, even a little bit.
So, on the one hand, I talk with my progressive friends, and they assure me that same-sex marriage is a matter of civil rights. They feel sure that homosexual attraction is a matter of biology. People are just born this way.
Marriage is a natural expression of human love. So, why can’t two people who love each other express their love for one another in this conventional fashion? Call them old fashioned, but they just want to get married like everyone else.
Plus, in our society, there are several legal benefits and protections that are conveyed through marriage. So, how can we bar a class of people from those benefits by denying them marriage? Marriage is a fundamental human right. It’s why they talk in terms of ‘marriage equality.’ Everyone should be able to qualify for marriage and enjoy its legal benefits.
As a result, my progressive friends assure me: They will not back down. They will not compromise. They are not interested in negotiation. Right is right. And wrong is wrong. So, just do what’s right. That’s their view as best I understand it. (I hope I have expressed it clearly and fairly.)
On the other hand, though, I talk with my traditionalist friends, and they are just as adamant that the practice of homosexuality is a sin. They feel sure that the Bible forbids this behavior. They likewise believe that there is nearly 2000 years of Church tradition interpreting the Bible in just that way.
They are not all agreed on how people come to feel same-sex attraction, but they are sure that to act on that attraction goes against the traditional teaching of the Church. The expression of same-sex attraction in any kind of homosexual behavior is a sin. Not a sin greater than any other sin. But a sin, nonetheless.
Consequently, how can one speak of two people of the same gender getting married? If same-sex sexual activity is morally wrong, then same-sex marriage is just as wrong.
What’s more, my traditionalist friends assure me that there is a traditional, biblical view of human sexuality and marriage at stake in this discussion. Biblical anthropology is at issue here.
The traditional teaching of the Church says that God created humans male and female and gave them to each other in heterosexual monogamous marriage with a very specific purpose and goal in mind. It’s why the Bible begins with a wedding and ends with a wedding. Human sexuality is central to how God created us.
If this is so, then something very important about our human identity is lost when we redefine the traditional understanding of marriage.
As a result, my traditionalist friends assure me: They will not back down, either. They will not compromise. They are not interested in negotiation. There is a truth at stake. Right is right. And wrong is wrong. So, just do what’s right. That’s their view as best I understand it. (Again, I hope I have expressed it clearly and fairly.)
Now, if this is in fact a fair summation of each group’s views, then there really is no reconciling them. They are in clear opposition to each other.
The only real question is: How far are they willing to go to get what they believe to be true affirmed? That is, how much are they willing to tear apart the United Methodist Church in the name of Truth?
From where I sit, the answer is becoming more and more clear every day: They are both willing to go all the way.
Neither group seems willing to back down. Neither group is willing to compromise. Neither group wants to live together.
I’m sure that there are exceptions to this, but my sense is that the strong majority for each side is unwilling to negotiate or make concessions. They seem fully willing to tear apart the United Methodist Church in the name of their Truth.
For those who find themselves in that middle territory often called the Extreme Center, all of this may be hard to understand. My moderate friends keep telling me that they feel sympathy with each side. They can see the benefits of both points of view.
So, why can’t we just acknowledge our differences, admit that we’re not all of one mind on these things, and focus on the things we do hold in agreement? This is their earnest question.
The answer, as best I can tell, is that the other two groups, progressive and traditionalist, really don’t want to stay together. They want one church which affirms their Truth and only their Truth, to the exclusion of all others.
How we get there is anyone’s guess. I am not one of those who believes this will all end nicely and politely at the next General Conference. I think it will be a messy knock-down, drag-out fight.
I think people will be defrocked, churches will be evicted from their properties, expensive court battles will be fought, and a lot of mud will be slinged. And many good people on every side will be terribly hurt in the process.
But, unless something changes, that is where we are headed. We better buckle in and get ready, because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.