Harley Scalf ~ The Dry Ground

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Are you with us or against us? That’s a question/decision I feel I face nearly every day.

The context, perhaps, is irrelevant. Watch the news and you have to decide whether it’s a left or a right slant on the story (rare is there actual reporting minus the opinion). Before that, you had to choose your news source: Fox or CNN, etc. There is no middle ground.

Speaking of no middle ground, are you democrat or republican, conservative or liberal, traditionalist or progressive, red or blue?

Our country is so polarized and polarizing. It’s a sad and disturbing place to find ourselves. At least we have the church, right? The church can speak hope, peace, and reconciliation to our divided nation, right?

Nope! The church is equally (if not more) polarized…at least it is in my denomination, the United Methodist Church. Perhaps it’s different in other places (non-denominational churches?).

To name the big issue(s), we are at war with one another over gay marriage, Ordination, Book of Discipline violations, clergy trials, and basically anything remotely related to the LGBT community.

I won’t argue a “side” here. It wouldn’t help anyhow. I will offer an observation.

An image that comes to mind is the parting of the Red Sea. You may remember how Moses, through the power of God, separated those waters. To the left they went. To the right they flowed.

That’s where I believe we are. We’ve separated ourselves (certainly not under the power of God). We’ve gone to one side or the other. We stand firm and mostly just demonize the other “waters” for not coming our direction. To be clear, both sides of the sea are guilty.

In the Old Testament story, God’s people crossed between the two walls of water…on dry ground.

If the “United” Methodist Church is to move forward with any kind of a positive witness and influence on our world, we’ve got to rush to find that dry ground. Some would say it’s finished and there’s no way we can remain one church, and so a schism is in order (or has already taken place). Perhaps they’re right…

But what if they’re not? What if there really is a place of dry ground whereby we can navigate the divided waters?

Our entire faith is based on the One who stood in the gap. With one hand, Jesus held firm to divinity. With the other, humanity. He brought together the greatest and most insurmountable divide in the history of the cosmos. That’s good news! It can be done!

What we need are not more people standing on the sides. We need leaders who are desperately searching for dry ground. We need people not afraid to walk in the middle of two sides of turbulent waters which could overtake them at any moment.

I’m tired of choosing sides. Choosing a side moves me either left or right. I, for one, want to move forward on dry ground. It worked for God’s people long ago. Surely, it can work again.

4 COMMENTS

  1. A view from the pew: I appreciate what you are saying and I am all for finding middle/dry ground. But what has truly become the disturbing part of this argument for me is the fact that 10 times over the space of 40 years the General Conference, the body that is designated as the only official voice of The United Methodist Church, has come up with the exact same answer to the exact same question. Why does nobody on either side view that as something of importance/something to take into account? In biblical terms, I view this ongoing argument within the context of Gideon: he only had to put that fleece down twice before he was able to move on: The UMC has put that fleece down 10 times in 40 years and still can not move on!

    How has the role of General Conference NOT been gutted over this argument? Why bother to go to the time, trouble and expense to have another one? In my neck of the woods, the Bishop gladly claimed the job of re-districting the conference that the General Conference via the Discipline gave him, but when it comes to an openly gay person being pushed through the ordination process, he turns a blind eye and lets that slide on “technicalities”, as did the Judicial Council. How is this NOT damaging the work of the General Conference?

    And just to be above board, my personal understanding is that homosexuality is a sin; I have not heard or read anything to convince me that there is any great new understanding as to what is or is not sexually immoral. The theology for such a change in understanding is all over the place and is often rooted in “I know some nice gay people”. Furthermore, quotes from John Wesley are often misunderstood/misused: social holiness and social justice are not the same thing. And as for the genetic/scientific support for it is ingrained: I spent almost 20 years working in scientific research, and I could find nothing in that area to convince me that I needed to change my stance.

    What I need from the UMC is for everybody on both sides of the argument to grow up, accept the answer and let us move on! If the General Conference had given the opposite answer 10 times over 40 years, I would have to view it as having validity.
    One other thought–I constantly hear people bemoaning the lack of trust within the denomination. Is it possible that that distrust has its roots in this argument in which nobody is willing to stand up and accept the answer?

    • I do think the role of General Conference (GC) has been diminished significantly…the past 2-3, especially. That was further the case when several large items about our structure/organization was decided, but then judicial council overruled those decisions. There were decisions made at GC, but the largest ones were overturned, anyhow. It made it hard to argue for the massive expense just to have the decisions reversed.

      I think you’re onto something here…perhaps an even larger issue that magnifies our obsession with ourselves and our lack of obsession with God (how else could we justify spending millions with the result having little to no impact on the local church??).

  2. I appreciate the desire for a middle way, and I like your metaphor. But I’m wondering how the metaphor plays out in practice. I’ve heard people calling for leadership in the middle way, but no one seems to have an idea of how we practically live together in a positive way when we are in complete disagreement. Is there a third way? I’m usually a proponent of living in the mystery of the greys instead of the polarized black or white, but when it comes to the GLBT issues, I haven’t been able to identify a compromise. In fact, Hamilton and Slaughter’s way forward proposal was met with not much enthusiasm, putting it politely. What would a middle ground look like to you?

    • That is putting it politely…nobody seemed to like their proposal (or so it seemed to me).

      As a bit of a confession, I’m not 100% sure what the middle ground looks like. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I think it first begins with people from both sides sitting down together & not demonizing (in word, action, or even thought) the other. There are good, decent, Christian people on both sides of this issue. They need to step out & begin conversations. I believe Adam Hamilton & Maxie Dunnam (perhaps the most well-known leaders of their respective sides?) have begun this type of thing…though I’ve not been a part of those conversations, so I don’t know the exact details.

      My point in the article was that God’s people didn’t see an option. They felt as if they were either going to die or going back to slavery. But, it was God+1 who rose to the challenge & made a way forward. Nobody saw it…nobody. Then, God moved in a mighty way.

      Away from the metaphor a bit…perhaps an amicable split is the dry ground. That would be MUCH better than an entire denomination feeling disenfranchised. It would be better than a mass exodus from the UMC (which some have predicted will happen if “things don’t change”).

      Again, I don’t know the answer, but this I do know: God is still God. God can still work miracles. If God’s people will humble themselves and admit that maybe their “side” doesn’t have all the answers, perhaps the dry ground will be revealed & we can all cross…together.

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