Looking Within

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2


Laboratory Peer Pressure by Gary Larson. It's always important to make clear to oneself one's own motivations for doing something.

Laboratory Peer Pressure by Gary Larson. It’s always important to make clear to oneself one’s own motivations for doing something.

 The other day, I wrote that I am no longer happy with who I have become. My online interactions with my fellow United Methodists have become little more than a mirror image of all the things I claim I dislike about those with whom I disagree. I dropped out of one private FB group because I no longer wish to have a modifier behind my identity as a United Methodist. I keep saying I do not want schism; that I believe our denomination is stronger with all of us together instead of one faction or another splitting off. I have not, however, done anything to encourage unity.
How is it possible to be clear about one’s own motivations? When we do or say things, particularly things that are controversial, there are certainly all sorts of reasons of lesser or greater import, that contribute to those actions or words. There is no way any of us – really – can be transparent to ourselves about why it is we do what we do or say what we say. There is, however, a need to pause, reflect, and perhaps share one’s own sense of how one came to the decision to speak and act in this way rather than that.
St. Paul is clear enough that, rather than conform to this world, we are to be open to be transformed so that we are open to seeking the will of God, in our lives and for the church as a whole. This is both an individual and communal necessity, this transformation. And I want to be perfectly clear: I’m just not sure there are any right or wrong answers prior to that kind of serious soul-searching. I have no desire to prejudice a search, particularly when I know that such things are never pure, thorough, or as entirely honest as we would wish.
What do I see when I look inside? I'm just not sure yet.

What do I see when I look inside? I’m just not sure yet.

It was the winter of 1989, I think. I was in the midst of considering the question, “What is a call from God? What is my call from God?” I was having a conversation with an old friend who was going through the same process. For some reason lost to middle-aged forgetfulness, the talk turned to the question of gay folk in ministry. As I said, I have forgotten what I said before and after, I remember all to vividly something I said, something that has stayed with me, shaped me, and pushed my thoughts on this question in the quarter-century since. “Since I have no idea what this whole call-to-ministry thing is, beyond believing that God is calling me to do something, who am I or anyone to question someone’s call to ministry just because they’re gay?” That simple, logical formula has been the plumb line for my reflections on these questions ever since.

The funny thing, of course, was that at this time the number of folks I knew who self-identified as a sexual minority was precisely zero. The whole issue was abstract for me. Within a year all that would change and the challenge I would face was my own inner thoughts and prejudices that suddenly came to the surface when I met actual flesh-and-blood folks who were happy to be known as gay or lesbian. Getting to know them as people for whom this modifier was only one among many that shaped their identity certainly helped. Realizing that I had now to live out what I had previously said I believed, viz., that these folks call to ministry was as legitimate as any other, I was humbled by own earlier forthrightness precisely because I had not reckoned my own feelings. In retrospect, this process was actually quite quick, although at the time it was largely silent, unknown to anyone else. I just wasn’t sure that being in Seminary was a place I could be honest about this struggle; I had to come to terms with my feelings on my own.

Fast forward to now. Our denominational battles over sexuality, our theology of sex, our policies and practice of ministry toward and with sexual minorities is, yet again, reaching a fever pitch as we come ever closer to yet another General Conference at which these matters will be front and center. Until just the past few days, I was quite sure what side was “right” and what side was “wrong”. Convinced of my own theological and moral purity on this matter, I was as disdainful and destructive of others as they have been of me. Anger, bitterness, charges and counter-charges of bad exegesis, faulty theology, even apostasy seemed so easy to make, especially since I was so sure I was right.

Then I realized who I had become.

So now, rather than man the ramparts, I want to know the answer to one, simple, question: What have been my motives not only to support full inclusion, but to act with such anger and – let’s be honest – hate toward those with whom I disagree? Rather than rely upon my confidence in my own righteousness, I really honestly want to know if, no matter how honest and well-intentioned, there might well be conformation at work, rather than transformation. Which is not to say that, suddenly, I’m going to become an opposite partisan in our on-going self-flagellation. No, I’m just asking a question I hope and pray we all do as we move forward. Are we really, truly so sure of ourselves that we believe we speak for God? How far, really, have we opened ourselves to the transformation of our minds so that we can discern the will of God? How far have we been motivated by a deep well of fellow-feeling for our fellow human beings? Are we so eager to be “prophetic”, to be heard as some forward-thinker, to gather around us those who believe and act like us that we are not humbling ourselves before God in prayer and one another, seeking discernment.

This isn’t easy. It shouldn’t be. It is necessary, however, if our discussion and dialogue is to bear fruit worthy of repentance.


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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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