James 1:26 (ESV)
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.”
This has been a hard week and a half for many people in our denomination since our special General Conference last week.
There is a saying my friend Jason shared earlier this week that I believe our culture and society, and of course Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites actively have tried to make it ok for us to forget or forgo- it is simply “Talk with, not about.”
I suppose I am a fairly progressive pastor. I am probably progressive in part to my upbringing in rural Maine by hard working blue collar but progressive parents and in part to my age.
I am no doubt more progressive because I have a transgender cousin I love deeply, gay aunts I love deeply and a sister I love deeply who is not only gay but was legally married and has been for a long time. She had my nephew I love and is one of the happiest, smartest, and cutest little guys around. He and Landon are about the same age.
I am progressive in part because of the way I have studied the scriptures and understand the nature of who and what God is-and have a framework of how I understand who and what God isn’t. Change is ok to me (even good and healthy sometimes) and doesn’t have a scary connotation to me.
But guess what.
Not everyone is progressive and that’s A-ok with me. I have traditionalist friends I love deeply and we of course have lots of traditionalist folks here at church. I love you all- right alongside the folks that think pretty much just like me.
We all have a different starting point in our faith, our understanding of God and the scriptures, as well as understandings of what church is and isn’t.
How though, do we maintain civility and civil discourse while disagreeing? I think the answer lies in living out “We talk with, not about.”
That’s hard to do when we are fired up and our emotions are driving us forward. It’s really hard to do when we so often rely on Facebook and Twitter-a tool that uses our likes and shares and our comments to feed us information that reinforces our beliefs and biases through a well designed and complicated matrix.
When we don’t “talk with but instead talk about” we begin to make the “other” into a monolith. Perhaps you hear people generalize and stereotype with things like: everyone who is progressive dismisses scripture and our UMC tradition OR everyone who supported traditional values or the traditional plan are just plain hateful. We know that’s not 100% true, right? Right?
We saw this play out after the 2016 presidential election on social media-you’d see folks imply things like: everyone who voted for Hillary hated America(or some version of that) and some on the other side would say or imply that anyone who voted for Trump was filled with hate for something or someone(or some version of that).
To be clear, crystal clear, I am not saying if you voted for Hillary or Donald Trump you are any of those things but that was a prevailing sentiment on social media. If you aren’t on Social media you probably have no idea what I am talking about- be thankful but trust me-it isn’t always pretty. As I look back, I am sure I was caught up in all that as well. Essentially, social media has created a culture devoid of nuance and subtleties. In some ways, it really is a sad state of affairs that we have found ourselves in.
Our scripture today reminds us that we must speak with each other and not about. Failing to do so not only devalues our passion but it can negate our religion. The Gospel and Jesus ministry is rooted in really three things: Love God, Love each other, and Love ourselves. We can’t do any of those things if we are actively talking about rather than talking with. How can we continue to be in space and relationship with each other when we don’t agree? I think Jesus tells us clearly throughout his ministry: speak with and not about. Let’s try it? I do believe it is what Jesus would do.
Here’s just a few scriptures where Jesus does just this: Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 12:17, Matthew 3:13-17, and none so illustrative as when Jesus broke bread at the last supper with disciples who would betray him, deny him, doubt him, and desert him in Matthew 26:17-30. If we are called to be Christian; we are called to be in community with each other.
Rev. Lou Ward
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