On Civility. Again

Civility always favors those in power, and those in power don’t need to be uncivil because they have power. They don’t need uncivil words because they can act.

Firing someone is a very uncivil act but is never caught in these codes. Calling a chancellor a greedy son of a bitch because he’s firing people while his own salary increases causes far less damage to the chancellor than his ‘civil’ actions cause to people who get fired, but of course it’s not about promoting a happy community or bonhomie, it’s about protecting the delicate sensibilities of the powerful.

Whenever I hear a powerful person call for civility I instantly lost any respect in them and am suspicious of their motives and other actions. – Nobdy at Lawyers, Guns, & Money

These pastors are not following church doctrine and are following false teachings. The church doctrine regarding homosexual behavior follows the inerrant Bible. It is better to remain chaste than to disregard the authority of God’s Word. Oust them, enough said. – UMC.org/news

Making your own rules and teaching them as commandments are things that God will not accept. How quick people forget we are to be a holy people, set apart to belong to him and obey him.
“He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord”. Proverbs 17:15 – UMC.org/news

Recent events from the Trayvon Martin murder through the Michael Brown murder have reminded us how matters of civility around race are handled.  When it is noted that yet another young person of color has been killed by a white person, immediately some screech about “playing the race card”, even going so far as to insist that it is African-Americans and their white supporters who are the “real racists”, since they are the ones who notice the races of the victims and perpetrator.  Somehow claiming some imaginary moral high-ground in a self-proclaimed “color blind society”, these defenders of the murder of young black and Latino males insist that, once we set aside our ability to understand the history of white supremacy and the ongoing violence against communities of color, we can see these crimes for what they are: random events with no connection to anything but themselves.

Bringing up history, then, as well as race, as well as policies of official violence against persons of color is uncivil.  It is, perhaps, far worse than the actions themselves because some people become acutely uncomfortable being reminded that race and the attendant violence continue to plague our country.  Wouldn’t it be nice, to quote the Beach Boys, if we could just pretend our racial problems were fixed?  Wouldn’t it be nice to treat yet another killing of yet another young African-American, Latino, or Native American man by law enforcement as a singular incident, void of any context save the immediate circumstances?  Alas, we cannot; being moral people, we must not.  It is incumbent upon us to bring this up again and again and again in order to make clear that this cannot continue.

In the United Methodist Church, as we attempt to discuss how we as a people will minister to sexual minorities in our midst, hear many of the same voices.  It would be far better not to demand equality and justice; it would be far better to sit around a table and allow all voices to be heard, arriving at some compromise through the magic of consensus through prayer.  It might even be the case that those who oppose any change in our official policy toward sexual minorities be offered space in which to continue to practice religious-based bigotry without rancor from the larger denomination.

Like our on-going debates about race, the UMC’s debate about sexual minorities is neither new nor even, at this point, interesting.  The basic terms of the discussion are, as they have been since 1972, clear.  The options on the table are what they have always been: as a world-wide church we open ourselves to all persons without any regard save, as John Wesley said, a desire to flee the wrath to come; or, as a world-wide church, we continue to give in to narrow, proof-texted bigotry, closing our minds, our hearts, and our doors to our gay and lesbian and bisexual and trans brothers and sisters.  There have been, over the past several months, a slew of proposals laid before the denomination that attempt some kind of compromise, all of which boil down to disrupting the one thing that gives the UMC its strength: our connection would be severed in order to grant to those churches and pastors who continue to refuse the movement of the Spirit across the land space to continue to discriminate.  The results of such actions would be horrendous, not only on the finances and well-being of the connection as a whole, but the morale of all the clergy.  Once we carve out an exception for those who wish to continue to discriminate against sexual minorities, the flood-gate has been opened.  We are either a church ruled by the Discipline of faithful obedience to law or we are not.

And yet, too often, making clear that statements against sexual minorities are hateful, un-Christian, and in violation of the Spirit of the Church to which we belong is considered uncivil.  It is far better to allow statements such as the latter two quoted above pass without comment than to make clear just how wrong, how hateful, and how antithetical to the Spirit of life they are.  Those who demand justice inside the church are being uncivil; those who demand civility, as Nobdy notes (and I’ve said before) serve a status quo that is not only untenable in the long run, but hurtful and not in keeping with our call to be the Body of Christ for the world.

So I will not be civil, if civility is the demand that hateful comments not be called hateful.  I will not be civil if civility means remaining silent about changes to church polity and practice that will be in tune with the way the Spirit is blowing across our land.  I will not be civil if civility means allowing those who would prefer to practice discrimination, damning those whose only sin is living their lives as God has made them to be, continue to dictate to the rest of us what is and is not proper Christian conduct.  I will not be civil because civility has never changed systems of injustice.


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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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