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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

This Hurts

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Maybe objectivity is the devil's spade.

That's just a hunch that's grown the last couple of days, after almost a week of reading reaction to the actions of my church's General Assembly (stop here if you're a Not Prince Hamlet reader for whom this subject is uninteresting--but do come back soon, as this will be the last post of its kind).

An objective reading to the fallout wants to balance the expressed commitments and convictions of the respondents in parsing their statements. It's no surprise that a conservative interest group would decry an assembly that voted to clear the way for the ordination of gay clergy. Neither is it surprising that a coalition of churches founded and sustained upon a threat of secession would be again rattling sabers. Objectivity knows all of this and accepts it, just as objectivity knows that the glee coming from interest groups that have long advocated a change in ordination standards has to be taken for what it is, the victory song of a band that has finally won an institutional victory after a long string of losses.

But objectivity doesn't serve friendships very well. Friendship requires bald subjectivity. For affection to flower and for loyalty to grow, something beyond objective analysis of the facts on the ground has to operate. And so you invest in the church as a friend. You make friends with colleagues you don't agree with, because you know that friendship is the sum total of the gospel, because in Jesus the world has been befriended by the God it has sought to deny. So you leave objectivity aside in the faith that we are, after all, friends.

And then they tell you that there can no longer be a "common framework of conversation" between you and them, your friends. They tell you that your church exists in a state of "spiritual jeapordy." Because elected commissioners to a general assembly acted to regard as relative standards of sexual behavior when it comes to ordination to church office, they say that your church has "rejected unequivocally what has long been considered—and still is in the global church-- the biblical standards for sexual practice."

Here's what this is: this is your friends (who's own ordinations involved the taking of vows to be your friend) throwing you under the bus. Objectivity can't grasp that.

Yet objectivity is compelled to correct their inaccuracy. The commissioners to the assembly didn't do what your friends say they did (yes, you continue to call them friends). Nothing was unequivocal, and the action was less of a rejection than a reconsideration. And your friends posit too easily a global consensus regarding "biblical standards for sexual practice."

So much for rebuttal.

What hurts these days in a gnawing loneliness. Your friends are bad mouthing you to their other friends and even to strangers. They're proposing to share space with you but not talk to you (at least not so long as you continue to talk to the rest of the church). It sucks.

You may not have complete confidence in the actions of the general assembly. You may worry if it's the right thing to do. But what you shouldn't be worrying about is your friends, whether they will do like they said they would and remain your friends, or whether their conscience will allow them to take a more expedient route that leads to easier times with different friends with whom they have more in common.

You still call them friends. So you can't help but feel stupid as you watch them search the room for more desirable company.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:34 PM


Good post, getting at something I've been feeling not just after this assembly but for a long time, ever since NWAC folk started distorting my faith.

In my less charitable days, I think about it like I do the Rush Limbaugh phenomenon--where one needs to caricature ones opponents and affords them the opposite of intellectual honesty and good will.

And I see quite a bit of this these days from our friends who are hurting the GA's decisions: they see that they are slowly losing the argument, and they're wondering whether they can abide by that. I can understand that, and can empathize with their internal struggle on it, but remain hurt by the characterization of my faith in the process.

And I wonder, whether more clear-eyed explanations of things will help them shake the Limbaugh tendencies and bring them back into friendship and love, even as they themselves disagree with me on how we see some elements of the faith that we, in fact, share...

On my more charitable days, I see this as a real quandary for them. There are competing ecclesiologies afoot here, and for those who see the church as mainly the locus for social-righteousness, this can sting for them in a way that those who see the church as a diverse home for those seeking to know God and to do God's will, growing in faith and holiness along the way, does not sting so much.

Part of me responds by inviting my friends who are hurting to consider that we've been similarly hurting for decades, and have abided in relationship as a faithful dissenting minority, and encouraging them to think about what life would look like for them as the roles might shift. Part of me angers about the "taking the ball and going home" threat.

Generally I just pray, and hope that the so called gracious-middle of the church can be held together more or less. I try to be loving, and honest, and faithful, and compassionate, and all those good things....

BTW: a side note. Objectivity is illusive, of course....
commented by Blogger Chad Herring, 5:30 AM  
Any "divorce" is going to hurt, and, naturally, we should be saddened at the loss of community in whatever form it has taken.

To be sure, all things are relative, but some things are relatively better than others.

Our friends are wrong. Yes, wrong. Not so much because of their opinions, but that they have refused to be in conversation anymore. I agree - "thrown under the bus" is an apt metaphor.
commented by Blogger Landon Whitsitt, 6:13 AM  
curious if chad was at GA, because I actually said "taking my ball and going home" in reference to this on the floor of the assembly.

of course, I was quoted as a bad guy on an EPC website, and now I'm getting unsolicited emails that are anything but charitable (and not to mention that they are taking what I said out of context). Ahh, the church. God love it... I hope
commented by Anonymous matt, 7:43 AM  
No, I wasn't there, but I saw you say it (webcast), and I've been using that image too for years. :)
commented by Blogger Chad Herring, 7:52 AM  
I'm so sorry for what this is doing to you all.

My domination has yet to confront this issue, and I'm not looking forward to it when it happens.

There are competing ecclesiologies afoot here, and for those who see the church as mainly the locus for social-righteousness, this can sting for them in a way that those who see the church as a diverse home for those seeking to know God and to do God's will, growing in faith and holiness along the way, does not sting so much.

This is a very thoughtful sentence Chad, and most definitely the heart of the issue. For those of us that have already realized what is right in this situation, this is simply a wrong righted. But for them it's a"slippery slope" argument. And those kind of arguments tend to bring out that self-righteous side. (I've witnessed this recently with my demonination's Statement of Faith revision and it's not pretty.)

NPH, I love your wording here: "Friendship requires bald subjectivity". Your post has struck to the heart of the issue: we all in this together, even when it's hard for everyone to act like it.
commented by Blogger stephanie, 8:09 AM  
Here we go: the blogosphere as a place for friends. This is good.
commented by Blogger Not Prince Hamlet, 8:12 AM  
I was a Commissioner to the Assembly, most grueling work I've ever done (and I've done physical labor). I'm still not sure where to go forward from this point. I have 'friends' on both sides of this issue and I'm tired of the war that I've been watching for naught 20 years on this matter. Only time will tell how we work this out and if my 'friends' are real friends or the type that are good at pouting (the take my ball and go home is equivalent to adult pouting....even if you cut yourself off from someone you are still in relationship with them, albeit adult pouting). I hope and pray that this is an opportunity to do some serious family therapy and figure out how to relate to one another as God's children. There was some very couched (but not all so subtle) mud being slung in San Jose. It wasn't pretty and it grieved me greatly. I blogged about some of my early thoughts on this decision and I'm ready for the ensuing fallout for putting myself out there, which I've not been known to do from previously being on GA staff and living through the fallout to other staffers around me from Reimagining in 93 & 94, and seeking to remain a 'neutral' person on most issue so that I can more effectively build bridges in a very contentious Presbytery. Rocky it does hurt and your comments are right on.
commented by Anonymous Carla Gentry, 1:34 AM  

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