It’s All Talk
With the recent discussions I’ve had with Rev. Drew McIntyre, I got to thinking about the demands by some United Methodists that we engage in dialogue, leaving open all possibilities, keep all things on the table giving everyone the chance to air their feelings before we attempt to arrive at some consensus regarding the issues that confront us. Yet, isn’t that what we have been doing, and will continue to do, informally and formally? In small groups, in gatherings in narthex’s across the country after worship, in Administrative Council and SPRC meetings, and Annual, Jurisdictional, and General Conference? At what point are these various conversations offered the imprimatur of actual “dialogue” so sought after by so many?
My sense is that certain powers that be wish to construct particular forms of communication in order to control how the discussions are held, the boundaries and rules. so that one or another pre-determined outcome is reached. And here I am not pointing fingers at one or another faction or group. Whether it’s the Connectional Table or Good News or the Anonymous 80 or whoever. We all have our theological and ideological axes to grind; to pretend the two – ideology and theology – can be separated by some magical process is ridiculous. They interpenetrate and flow in and through one another; untangling them is not only impossible, but a fools game. Claiming to be able to do so is a lie. It’s best to be up front about that much. When we sit together or stand together and talk, whether about homosexuality in the church, women in the pulpit, how to interpret the Bible or whatever controversy lights a particular fire, faith and worldview go together like a horse and carriage, and trying to figure out which is the horse leading the carriage is impossible.
One thing about which everyone needs to be clear, however, is that the terms of these discussions have been set for a very long time. It is all well and good to go after, say, “progressive Christianity”, but to pretend to do so in some new way and without pointing a finger of blame is not only impossible. It’s a lie. Same thing with having a discussion about people from other faiths, say, or how we should approach those in our communities who attend no church. Before we can carry on any kind of honest conversation, we need to be honest with ourselves first. That means admitting that what we are doing is continuing a tradition of communication that may well stretch back thousands of years. We are trying, as best we can, to be faithful to our beliefs, our traditions, our experience, and most of all the Scriptures that guide our faithful living.
And we should also acknowledge, up front, the limits of any kind of dialogue. No minds have ever been changed by a really good argument, no matter how sound. No lives have ever been altered when an individual hears a point in a discussion and a light suddenly flashes and that persons says, “Aha! From now on I shall live this way!” Communication only ever sets the parameters for action, where the rubber meets the road. Far too often, we know the positions of those involved in a discussion long before the discussion takes place, making the discussion superfluous, while perhaps necessary at the same time.
The least productive place, usually, to have any kind of dialogue is the internet. Anonymity, distance, the lack of person-to-person contact give participants a freedom to communicate in ways they might not otherwise. There are exceptions, of course, including United Methodist Insight. By and large, however, the internet has become a sinkhole of insults, threats of violence, and expressions of bigotry and hatred that overwhelm any attempt at serious communication. That is one reason I do not allow comments here; I have no desire to police a bunch of crap, because for the most part that is what comments have become – crap.
So let us go about our business of discussions understanding the whole time what is really happening, setting aside any attempts at feigned innocence, cuteness, or trying to be roundabout in order to deny any direct accusation aimed at any individual or group in particular when in fact that is precisely what is intended. We all know the score; we should not pretend otherwise. It insults the intelligence of readers, already insulted by far too much garbage floating around in the form of seroes and ones.