The Courage To Admit We’re All Wrong
All of us need to stop worrying about who’s right and who’s wrong, because that just isn’t who we are called to be. We are called to surrender our lives to God, to live as those hidden in God through the risen Christ, in service to the world in need of the Gospel. There will be a cost to this dedication and service. It won’t be the cost of being wrong, because all of us are probably mostly wrong anyway. – Me
Sometimes I think this whole ridiculous debate about LGBTs in the United Methodist Church is like that poor forklift driver – just going about his business, makes one little mistake, bumps the wrong shelf, and the whole warehouse comes crashing down on top of him. The problem, of course, is there are “sides” in this debate, so each “side” think the other is the driver.
What if, just for the sake of supposing, we each see ourselves in that driver’s seat? We are doing what we’re supposed to be doing – making our points; making our positions clear; relying upon Scripture, and tradition, and experience, and reason to say and do what we feel is right – and we make a tiny error in judgment? That’s all it takes. One slip, one not-quite-clear line of sight, and BAM! Everything topples on top of us, and the only person at fault is me. Or, perhaps it’s you.
Two quotes, or perhaps anecdotes, from Karl Barth have always guided my thinking and acting when in disputes in church. The first is a quote: “We must never claim to know the truth. We must always live as if we had the truth.”
The other is an anecdote: Late in life, Barth was asked if he believed Schleiermacher was in heaven. Barth laughed and said that he looked forward to sitting down with Schleiermacher over a pint and a pipe and laughing about all the things they both got wrong.
As an observer of the debate over the status of sexual minorities in the United Methodist Church, as well as how we minister to them as part of our congregations, for a quarter century, time and again the points are raised about the necessity of Scriptural integrity; of keeping to the Discipline; of recognizing the historic antipathy toward same-sex love. Time and again, I have watched as the various vocabularies unique to the Methodist tradition – holiness, the traditions and even words of John Wesley, orthodoxy, our evangelical and missional emphases – have been hijacked to support a restrictive view of our denomination’s relationship to people who seek to escape the wrath to come. I have watched and listened as human lives are devalued in the name of the One who came to redeem all Creation. Through it all, I’ve wondered – what if you’re wrong? What if, for the sake of supposing again, all this bluster, all the emotional trauma within and around the United Methodist Church was rooted in a fundamental error that no one wanted to admit, or couldn’t admit, or was difficult to tease out amid all the Sturm und Drang?
I’ve also held myself and others who support full inclusion, as well as the right of United Methodist clergy to marry same-sex couples in those jurisdictions where it is legal, to the same standard. What if, for all our earnestness, for all our righteous anger, for all we just know we’re motivated by our love for neighbor that the Scriptures tell us is the Second Great Commandment; what if we’re wrong? What if, despite all we’ve learned about human behavior, human sexuality, all our declarations that we are only acting as we feel the Holy Spirit moving, what if we are wrong?
I am going to state, for the record, that I am willing to be wrong. Not just that I might have made a mistake in how I read the Bible, or how I understand holiness of heart and life. Nope – I’m going to make clear that I am willing to admit that I am wrong all the way ’round: It may well be that, despite all that speaks within me to the contrary, all the evidence from my experience, that same-sex love really might be anathema to the God who created us, as the Scriptures say, man and woman. I am not only willing to admit I might well be wrong. I am willing to be wrong.
Why am I willing to be wrong? Because of the people I have known in my life, people who have touched me with their love and friendship; their faith and courage; their humility and patience. I have benefited from the friendship and more from people whose sexuality is different from my own; my faith has deepened, my appreciation for how lives of faith can be lived out has grown; and I have been forced to face my own fear and bigotry toward those whose sexuality is different from my own precisely because of the fully human lives, in a Christian sense, and realized how wrong I was before. I am willing to be wrong because I was wrong before, and where did that get me? Humbled and repentant for my ignorance and fear, my small-mindedness and bigotry. I am willing to be wrong because, having been wrong before, I understand it is part of human life.
My challenge is simple: Are you willing to admit you might well be wrong? Are any of you, I don’t care which “side” you claim, willing to be that forklift driver, go about your job, and – once having been dug out from the rubble – admit the whole thing is your fault because you were wrong? All the declarations of faith, all the reliance upon historic affirmations, upon Scripture, all the belief in Scriptural holiness as John Wesley has passed down to us are nothing, because they are nothing more or less than human words trying to interpret and understand the infinite, eternal love of God revealed in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the salvation of all. We cannot contain, we cannot even comprehend, such a thing in human words. Which is the central wisdom of John Wesley and the tradition he founded: It is a thing not to be “believed” or “stated”, but only lived out together in love for the sake of the world God loves.
The other day, when I said that most of us are wrong, most of the time, I was not being coy. My guess is that, no matter how sincere our faith, no matter how deep our faith, no matter how earnest our seeking after Christ through the Spirit as we try to comprehend it, most of us are wrong about what we say and do most of the time. Yet, we aren’t called to be right.
We are called to be faithful.
For that, I am willing to be wrong. Are you?