What Have I Become?
[A]s difficult as it can be for some to read the harsh words we sometimes fling around at one another, it is also necessary and even, I would add, given Scriptural mandate. This is not about any particular individual’s feelings. This is about our beloved United Methodist Church, its integrity, and its ministry and mission. Being held to an arbitrary standard set in place by individuals or groups, a standard, by the way, that those advocating exclusion, schism, and bigotry have never applied to themselves, allows the terms of discussion to be set always in favor of those in power. Ignoring those rules, recognizing them for what they are and calling them by name; calling out by name those who continue to browbeat others with doctrine, with Scripture, and through the power of office is also necessary. – Me
Our first duty, as Christians, is always to search ourselves first for whatever sin and brokenness lies within our hearts. Having done so, we confess it, to God and one another. Twelve-step programs offer an additional point along the way: We not only confess to those we’ve hurt, but we actively seek to make amends to them, as much as is humanly possible. This post is confession, written with a broken heart at my own words, and hoping I can be forgiven not only by God, but by those who have been hurt by my words. I certainly do not demand forgiveness. I just ask, meekly, that this request be given consideration.
Over the past few days, I have been following – and partially participating – in long threads on FB in a private group calling itself “United Methodists For Truth”. I wrote a bit about it just the other day. I was preparing to do more such writing today. Then I went and looked at a couple older posts of mine, including the one linked above as epigraph. Rather than finding additional tools with which to engage in something akin to verbal warfare, I found myself confronted by my own words, and I did not like what I saw.
Writing is more than mere self-expression. For me it has been therapy. An outlet for things I think but don’t seem real until I see them on a computer screen (and I write more than anyone will ever see). Most of all, it offers me an opportunity to meet, engage, and develop actual, real friendships with people I have not, and may not, ever meet. To write even moderately well is a gift. It is never easy, particularly for an introvert, because it requires exposing parts of oneself to the world that we would far prefer remain hidden. Not to write, however, feels like death. To risk exposure, embarrassment, even error is farrigt better than dying. So, I write.
Writing is also a mirror. It offers not only the world a glimpse of oneself; given time and inclination, it offers us the chance to see ourselves as others see us. There have been many times I have gone back and read something I wrote and thought, “Gee, that was pretty insightful!”.
Today was not one of those days.
Today, preparing yet again to mount the ramparts in our ongoing verbal warfare in the United Methodist Church, I had an opportunity to read several things I’ve written, compare them with the words of those I describe as “opponents” and realize, with something like disgust, that I am indistinguishable from them. My self-righteousness, my conviction of my own correctness even as I plead my own error-proneness, setting myself upon a moral peak from which I can see the errors of others – all this and more has been a part of my writing. It is with sorrow that I am not, at all, a heroic teller of truths. I am not, at all, in any way morally, intellectually, or in any other way superior to those with whom I have engaged, often far too dismissively, in discussions. I am, and have been, resting far too securely in my own distorted sense of my own righteousness to see that I am no different, substantively, from those I far too glibly dismiss as in error.
This is more than distressing. It led me, fairly recently, to protest my superiority in words and phrases that are indistinguishable from those used by those who are equally certain of their own surety, their own righteousness, their own Biblical and theological positions, and their own desire to see our church remain faithful to our one Lord. Rather than thoughtfully and prayerfully consider some words directed in general at the intemperance of so much of our internet interactions, I lashed out at an individual I respect, who has supported my writing and become, in the process, an actual friend.
When I look on and see the bitter, vitriolic words; the bitterness, rage, and even hate seething just below the text on the screen; when I see all this and it isn’t in some “other’s” writings but in my own, it is long past time for me to stop and consider how the things I have written have hurt people. It is especially distressing when I know I have repeated these same words, over and over, for years. When I attack someone who insists there is a better way for us to do this whole Internet dialogue thing, if I have any reflective bone in my body (and I do! I swear!) I have to hang my head in shame. And I do.
I wrote recently, offering my support of the Commission on General Conference’s suggestions for alternative categories through which that body will consider legislation regarding human sexuality. I also offered something additional: That we do so as the worshiping Body of Christ, where we come together, as St. Paul wrote, with our human differences and distinctions erased. This positive contribution to our ongoing discussions was as rare as it was an early indication that I, too, needed to change how I contributed to the Babel that is the United Methodist Church’s discussions regarding human sexuality. That should have clued me in that I was not doing what I should do, viz., rather than directing hate-filled words at alleged “opponents” I should be constructive in my offerings.
So, I confess that I have only contributed to the divisiveness that I abhor. I have alienated and hurt people who might otherwise be willing to offer a sympathetic ear. I have not given prayerful consideration to honest – and truthful – criticisms and reflections, but reacted with dismissal, defensiveness, and even more hurtful words filled with self-righteousness and disdain for those with whom I disagree. For this I can only apologize and offer the weak tea that in the future I will search myself, be prayerful and thoughtful before committing myself to the computer screen.