Wherever Liberals and Conservatives are Gathered, There is _____?

Photo by rishibando on Flickr

I am sure that when you read the title of this post, you filled in the blank with:

  • fear
  • ignorance
  • hostility
  • injustice
  • distraction
  • Jesus
  • or beer

Sure, there are individuals who might indeed warrant such descriptors, but might we be better served by filling in the blank with “faithfulness, conviction and grace?”

As you some of you know, this week I am attending the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Pittsburgh. There will be many topics towards which we will direct our energy and time, but the debate concerning the definition of marriage will be right there at the top of the list. It is no secret that I am supportive of marriage equality as a civil right. I am also supportive of my particular part of the Christian world, the Presbyterian Church (USA) also recognizing same-gender marriage as an faithful symbol and expression of the love between two people.

What I have noticed about the debate between the most passionate of both sides is the preponderance of two distinct arguments and assumptions about the other. Liberals say about conservatives, “They are driven by fear and a lack of awareness.” Conservatives say about  liberals, “They have strayed from the Word of God and are capitulating to culture.”

If we are going to get anywhere, we have to drop these arguments, because I believe they are not, as a larger narrative, true.

Liberals must understand that there many conservatives who have not arrived at their position about homosexuality and marriage out of fear, but out of a deep conviction about and understanding of God’s truth.  Likewise, conservatives must understand that there are many liberals who have not arrived at their position about homosexuality and marriage out of a need to satisfy cultural trends, but out of a deep conviction about and understanding of God’s truth.

Lobbing accusations about the motivations of others is fruitless and is only good for adding to our own cache with those with whom we already agree. Because these accusations can not be defended or disproved, we must give the benefit of the doubt to the other that each has been and is being faithful to God, guided by Scripture and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and not driven by fear, ignorance and cultural relevancy.

As one who has lived in disagreement with my church family for decades, I do believe we can find ways to live together in disagreement.  Should all involved truly yearn for that place to be found, it cannot be built on reckless, destructive and vindictive assumptions of the other. We will only find that place of healthy tension that disagreement brings if it is built on the common ground of faithfulness, conviction and grace.

That’s my hope and I’m sticking to it. Peace be with you.

  • MumbleMumble

    Do you think you should discuss whether or not it is appropriate for the church to instill itself in government at all? Why should marriage equality hinge on the dictates of religion? It is a civil function, and, currently, rights are being denied to couples because of their sexual orientation. It should have nothing to do with religion. When conservatives claim that same-sex marriage should not be allowed because it goes against God’s will, I DO believe that they make that claim out of ignorance. Not ignorance of what they think God’s truth is, but ignorance of how our government is supposed to work.
    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/gerard.t.lynch Gerard Thomas Lynch

    We have become so used to dealing in absurdities, such as denominations and sects, liberals and conservatives, that taking these vanities as homebase and proceeding from there, most are incapable of looking outside these formidable boxes. The Church has become so enmeshed with worldly wisdom and values, there is no starting point for the Gospel.
    Harsh? No, I say this in all gentelness and kindness. Such a well-reasoned article as the above, with its seeming inviting and rare appeal to openmindedness, so friendly, is a good example of the struggle we actually face: worldliness or Godliness. The article is a cloying deception from beginning to end. Madness, really.
    This is how far we have fallen from truth: I will be the fanatic who questions such well-established truisms of faith and traditions of sects. Or naive: foolishly resisting the notion of a division into liberal and conservative as a fact of life…dummy (that last word will be understood by the “great minds” of this apparent debate).
    For a long time I have been told by numerous Church elders to face reality. Over the years I have learned that much of their advice was insightful, if perverse; a reverse of where I should stand.
    Try to find the political in the spiritual and you are lost. Try to find Christ anywhere else than in love of neighbor and enemy alike, and you will fall back on the political. There is no compromise. A Christian is only–only!–a citizen of heaven.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gerard.t.lynch Gerard Thomas Lynch

    There is a hopeless distortion of the Gospel, and all of the above.
    Such a truly insane idea as Liberal and Conservative Chritsians can only take place in the mind of man, not the kingdom of heaven. This false, delusional, division is the stuff of Wonderland. Anyone–and, yes, you will not like this but–anyone who maintains such a possibility is blind. Ecumenical movements looking to conform beliefs are so utterly absurd it is infant jabber.
    A “healthy tension” is pure ego, the false self looking for a form of detente…in order to survive.
    We are “separated out” from WORLDLINESS (such hostile divisions of earthly wisdom and values as Right and Left) to be of maximum service to others: any other considerations are fluff, distractions, and enmity against God. Centered–hidden–in Christ is the only way: there is no left or right without peril of being utterly lost.

  • Katrina

    We’re having similar discussions in the Episcopal Church right now during our General Convention. I’ve been blogging the whole thing. While normally I hate people who comment on articles trying to sell their blog, this one from yesterday seems relevant: http://generalconvention.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/a-different-kind-of-pentecost/

  • http://www.facebook.com/kay.lawrence.104 Kay Lawrence

    Susan: as usual you get it! There are many in my Presbytery who truly believe that I speak “heresy” But the number of times we can work together for the church we love are many and keep us all going back for more.

  • The Rev. Bob Anderle

    This is to follow up on
    Presbyqueerian. I don’t at all imagine
    that Bruce feels any need for “support” or “defense” on this thread, especially
    in light of how gracious he was to you in response, but I want to write briefly to support
    his faithful words and also defend his posting in light of feelings expressed, also
    faithfully, by you, Presbyqueerian. Indeed,
    Bruce will likely take issue with some of what I’m about to say, heh. First, I’ve dealt a lot with this issue over
    the years as a 30-year Presbyterian from confirmation, and have felt the pain
    of many LGB friends and acquaintances on these matters, and so on and so forth…
    I need no lectures on what I don’t know or understand about the issue,
    period. I have an understanding,
    regardless of my setting in life, of the level of despair, anger, and frustration
    within the church that someone like you has been through. Still—though he may be so utterly and
    admirably gracious as to disagree with me on this, and acquiesce to you—neither
    Bruce nor anyone else has any reason to provide a disclaimer or apology for his
    position on this issue because of someone else’s imagined notion
    of “privilege.” If you think Bruce’s
    suggestions are wrong, then address them on their merit; not according to some
    biased notion of privilege. I utterly
    reject the post-modernist nonsense of challenging someone’s educated,
    thoughtful, and faithful position, attained by much prayer, sweat and
    tears, as flawed or less valid because someone else thinks the person has “privilege.” If I, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ,
    have sought the truth prayerfully on something, considering the various
    viewpoints, my own lenses, and the pain involved; and then make as faithful and
    Biblically-based and embracing a comment as Bruce did in this posting, that’s
    all that is required for its integrity.
    That view is valid despite my socio-culturo-politco-racio-etcetero-reality. If you disagree, disagree on the merits of
    the words themselves. The knee-jerk spiritual
    and relational fascism of progressives that I see so much more over time in
    these conversations, assumed under the post-modern rubric, that dismisses
    people because they fit someone’s notion of “privilege,” that turns “language”
    into a weapon as if anyone is objective enough, or redeemed enough, to use the
    most just or perfect language, is simply as sinful as that which we see from
    what we traditionally have called the conservatives. It’s what I call the “intolerance of the
    tolerant.” And in my view, it now has become part of what Bruce
    is talking about in this post.
    Bruce above has put forth thoughts on our coming together when we
    disagree that utterly embody Jesus’ teachings.
    That’s got nothing to do with
    anyone’s idea of privilege; indeed, abstract and emotion-based sentiments about
    someone’s privilege get us nowhere. What
    does get us somewhere is providing a practical way forward, to which folks on
    opposite sides can both appeal as a guide to specific behavior—which Bruce has
    done in this blog. That is, the church
    needs to hear, “before you have this conversation, know about the other side
    that they…..” fill in the blank. This is helpful. For every red-faced dude or hate-preacher out
    there, there are 3 more who aren’t, but faithfully have come to a different
    understanding. If you disagree with
    them, do it on the merits of the position itself. Lastly, I am struck at the grace of Bruce’s further
    response to you. He exhibits love for
    you by affirming your thoughts and forsaking his own despite your tacit
    dismissal of the integrity and truth of his words; would you be willing to do the same had he taken your approach?
    Worth considering. May the peace of Christ reign in us together.

  • Frank

    Let’s call homosexual behavior for what it is… Sinful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Valentine/1277133078 Michael Valentine

    Love does no harm to it’s neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10.

    How can you say you love God when you hate your brother? 1 John 4:10

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-Eggebeen/1659483138 Tom Eggebeen

    Hee hee … I didn’t fill in the blank at all … because I fear that what we have mostly these days is just that – a giant blank! Sorry! I’m in a rather *blank” mood right now!

  • Rev. Susan Wallace Moriarty

    I agree, Jim. As a hospice chaplain, I speak to many who have been disenfranchised from the church through the years. The # 1 reason is “church politics” and “self righteous judgment.” When approaching others with an open minded, open heart, gentle and compassionate spirit, there is no trouble engaging people in a dialogue about God and the Spirit in their lives. Believe me, there are many who have a strong life of faith and prayer, who haven’t darkened the door of a church in many years, and yet love God and in some ways are more Christ-like than those inside in leadership positions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gerard.t.lynch Gerard Thomas Lynch

    “They are driven by fear and a lack of awareness.” Conservatives say about liberals, “They have strayed from the Word of God and are capitulating to culture.” This precisely sums up how each side views the other. Nicely done. One side is demonized and the other side is seen as laughable; both regrettably prideful in the definitions of their opposite’s label. And there are many pieces to these definitions, nearly infinite caricatures. So, in effect, we are faced with endless differences.
    I am the lone “liberal” at the local Christian TV station where I work. That I don’t see myself as liberal or a “Liberal” is probably the most irksome, the ignoble implications being that I am suggesting I have truth while they merely have opinions. This is not what I intend to convey, yet without declaring a “side,” it appears that I am being “holier than thou.” Do I falsely confess being liberal or a “Liberal” to avoid these presumptions?
    To me, the labels within the Church are both heinous and worldly, more than utterly without value but true enmity against God. Someone said, “Generalizations are the worst form of prejudice.” Labels can do that with their eyes closed, which is the case.
    Can a person be left or right of Christ? Or is a person to be hidden in Christ?
    There are a number of things which seem very plain to me, unarguable, if you will. So completely obvious and straightforward i sometimes get the feeling I am in Wonderland. Being a combatant is wrong. Political partisanship is wrong. Patriotism is wrong. Sectarianism is wrong. Naming doctrine or dogma after anyone else but Christ is wrong.
    When I was younger, these points mattered greatly and I would reply with a rapier tongue. I was the iron and iron sharpening itself. Now the substance of fellowship is gaining greater sway and I am not so quick to “when I end the refrain, strike home.”
    These are my brothers. We are in this together until the end. It is not that I water down truth as I understand it not to offend or be “a stumbling block”; I soften my heart to accept where another person is…with the awareness that being right about truth is not as Christlike as being true to it. I am to be with their hearts, not against their ideas: for that I must utterly rely on the discernment of Spirit. And, of course, as wild as this idea may sound, I could be wrong.
    Kindness and gentleness may be all the truth I need to share at any given time, no matter how imperative to me it may seem that the other gets the point.
    To me, it all boils down to not surrendering completely to the moment, to not giving ourselves lock, stock, and barrel–heart, mind, and soul–to the Holy Spirit. Labels our own understanding, and God made it quite clear that His thinking is not our thinkig.

  • Sam

    so then what is that place that we can live together in disagreement?

    Being gay, how can I be in a place where people do NOT find me “normal” or accepted? I left the PCUSA a long time ago because I was not welcome. Would it be ok for a denomination to be racist and allow people of color to come worship? Give me a break, but I guess being homophobic as a denomination is ok. Let’s call it like it is.

  • sam

    wow…thank you for your insight and wisdom….blessings to you.

  • LLee

    I would use the word: chaos

  • CVStokes

    Bruce, I appreciate your candor and desire to hold both sides together. I would disagree with your characterization of how “liberals” have arrived at their convictions. (I am on the conservative side of the debate.) Every discussion I have ever had on this topic usually begins with “I know someone”. Having taught Luke-Acts at APU for almost two decades, I appreciate the model of how Peter changed his mind about Gentile inclusion in the church. However, if I can be crass, conservatives tend to rely on the Scripture-Tradition sides of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (not our tradition, I know), and liberals tend to rely on the Experience-Reason sides of the WQ. I am not at all convinced that we are beginning at the same place, we certainly are not ending in the same place, unless that place is called “pain and frustration.” I applaud your encouragement for benefit of the doubt to be given, but I wonder if it really matters at the end of the day. The peace of Christ be with you, which none can take away.

  • Dennis Evans

    Bruce, what you are saying is essential because in this issues the first step is to be willing to be taught to love one another. I think another step is to be willing to not see others through the lens of our own injuries. Another step is to understand ourselves as, by nature, insidiously sinful and dishonest without the help of Christ. Augustine said something like: “Of our nature, we are liars.”

  • Barb McRae

    Thank you.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    While I do not think that fear and ignorance drive the majority of people, you are absolutely correct in my privilege to even engage the question in the ways that I do have have. I have tried to own that in the past, but clearly did not i this case. Thanks for calling me on that.

  • Presbyqueerian

    Bruce, when people tell me at GA that I must have been sexually abused as a child because that’s what causes the gay, and I will perpetuate the cycle unless I repent, I choose to believe such a statement is made in ignorance, because that *is* giving them the benefit of the doubt. Similarly, when I was physically shoved out of the convention hall a few years ago by a screaming, red-faced conservative pastor intent on silencing my protest, I chose to believe he was acting out of fear. The alternative motivations for such violence are far worse. I know all too well that person *believed* they were doing God’s work in assaulting me, and so do Fred Phelps and other ministers who preach hate. There is a privilege in your rhetoric that equates what one side does with the other. The power relationships are not equal here. The physical and spiritual consequences are not the same.

  • http://twitter.com/shawncoons Shawn Coons

    I tried to say something very similar last year before one of the Fellowship shindigs.

    http://shawncoons.posterous.com/how-we-speak-to-another

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Yes, good one. As if there is ONE reason for our decline :-)

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Have no helpful response as I agree with you. I have no idea what is coming next, but know that there are many who will continue to push.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Good thoughts, would be an interesting and maybe playful way for folks to get to know one another as complex people rather than as an issue.

  • Aimee Goldmeyer

    My first word was love. Thanks for posting this – it gave me more to think about as I wrestle with the issue and how to engage others in conversation about challenging issues.

  • RusKosits

    Self examination as an important practical [and spiritual practice] can go along way in this arena. Our presbyterian polity does not allow for or require such a discipline, but i wonder what it would be like if advocates would be required to identify those sources and norms that they hold to that they know others do not accept and identify them as they speak. I imagine this has the power and potential to change the dialogue on such matters.
    As long as decisions made on a practical level, by majority vote, then lobbying at the margins will continue to look like it does – discrediting opposing advocates and caging delegates with emotional claims – injustice, hostility, fear – the stuff on your list indeed.
    Beer and Jesus are far better options.

  • Susan

    Agreed.

  • Susan

    Regardless of why or how… I would still like the opportunity to be married within the PC(USA) and get very very frustrated at people who aren’t LGBT and who I am NOT marrying dictating what I can and cannot do. How long must I wait? I’m 32 now. In my opinion already committed. I would like to have the support, love, and prayers from my church in a public ceremony acknowledging this and I would like it to mean something more than “Oh that was a sweet gesture, wasn’t it?”

  • Jim Moss

    Good post. Another fruitless argument is that one side or the other is responsible for the decline in PCUSA membership. Liberals often says that perceived intolerance on this issues drives young people away from the church. Conservatives often say that staying from Biblica standads is responsible. Neither are correct, IMO.

  • cajennison

    I vote for the beer…


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