The following post is from April of 2008. In light of the recent goings on at the United Methodist General Conference, I thought this might be a good post to share again.
I’ve been a mainline Protestant for about 16 years. I grew up in the evangelical and black churches and found the mainline churches a breath of fresh air…for a time. In many ways it still is a better option than what I grew up with, but as I stayed, I started to notice that a more liberal Christianity had some of the same blind spots that their more conservative brethren had.
One thing I’ve noticed is how much many progressive Christians talk about the importance of community. I agree with that. But at some point, I’ve noticed that for some community is less a place where there are people with different thoughts and backgrounds, than a place where everyone thinks the same and where no one has to be challenged with a different viewpoint.
Carroll Howard Merritt shares in this post about how good it is to be in a place where she can preach what she wants to preach. She notes:
I’m in a progressive church now. There are very few things that I can’t say here, as a peace-loving feminist. I spend a lot less time worrying, and a lot more time ministering. With that freedom, my preaching’s gotten much more authentic and a whole lot better.
And I can’t help but notice that my writing’s gone from a crashing, swirling, damned-up pool to a steady, flowing stream, because I’m not calculating the consequences of every word. My mind has more space to think. I don’t have to worry about losing my job if someone takes the time to read what I have to say. I have more creativity here, I sense the Spirit moving more.
This leads me to thinking. Maybe the Spirit is moving, but maybe it’s also that she is in a place where everyone agrees with what she is saying. It’s easier to be “prophetic” when you are preaching to choir.
She also is frustrated by those who are looking for a middle way:
So, is there any way that we can move our discussions from looking for some sort of middle ground to allowing freedom for people? Instead of rushing to moderation, could we each forge a path where we are and have a vision for more than one way? Or is that an inherently liberal position?
You know, I’m just concerned about all those people who are trying to find their way. I know there are members in our church who couldn’t attend most congregations in the country. But they’ve found a path to God in our progressive Christian community. And, I admit, I’m concerned about me. And other leaders on this path. Because it’s just so much easier when we don’t have to pretend to be a moderate.
Her concern is that rushing to the middle leaves out those on the edges. I can understand to a point, but what about those who are truly in the middle? Not all of us are out protesting at abortion clinics or at a peace march. We have our issues, but we aren’t as strident those on the edge. In many cases, we want the church to focus on worshipping God and feeding the hungry instead of fighting the latest battle in the culture wars. I think sometimes there is a rush to the middle because some of us don’t want a repeat of what we see in the wider culture, where everything is seen in the terms of red/blue, liberal/conservative.
And maybe instead of seeing this as the middle, it’s more about trying to live in true community. You see, when I think of community, I think more of something like living in a small town or your family. You have relatives you love and those you don’t care for. But they are all part of the family and you try to live together. My problem at times when I hear churches talk about “community” it’s really about creating spaces where everyone thinks just like you do. But in my view, that’s not community.
Community is when you can worship with an old man who doesn’t condone you being gay and yet cares for you and likewise.
Community is when you can still love your fellow pastor even when they rant about the President or the way and you happen to have opposite views.
I think the “middle ground” is a place where we can see all of our differences and yet see Christ in each other. That’s community.
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