Toxic Tribalism In the UMC

It began innocently enough. I responded to a tweet about how fears that a traditionalist viewpoint does not equate to a desire to do away with the ordination of women and that claims to the contrary are fear mongering. I decided to respond. Below is the original tweet followed by mine:

You can read the rest of the tweets that ensued if you are so inclined but what ensued was a nearly day-long Twitter back and forth between me and some others who were not originally involved in the conversation but chose to chime in. The result was largely attacks against my integrity and one tweeter even went so far as to question my faith and further attack me personally. As you can see – and verify on my Twitter account – my response was not in reference to any leader within any of the traditionalist renewal movements (WCA, IRD, et. al.), yet it was assumed that these people were who I was talking about. I was not. As I later made clear, this was based on conversations that I have had with people over the course of several years in several settings. These conversations happened with both lay and clergy persons within the United Methodist Church.

It was demanded of me to name names. I refused because, frankly, it’s none of anyone’s business. What’s more, I’m not going to inject people by name into such a conversation when they have no means by which to defend themselves (many of these people are not on social media as far as I know). Because I would name “name just one” as one person tweeted at me, I was called everything from a gossip to a liar, all because I refused to “out” people who held these views. As I made clear multiple times (which seemed to go unnoticed), my tweet was a general statement intended to express that there are people within the UMC who are against women being ordained into pastoral ministry. While I have no knowledge of anyone currently in a leadership position within the major traditionalist renewal movements holding these views (women are involved in leadership, a point that I have never challenged because, websites, etc.), such people can conceivably have high influence over those who do have leadership titles, or can conceivably gain those positions for themselves. My point was to be on guard and not blindly think that such people don’t exist and would not push their views if given the opportunity. Nothing more, nothing less.

And I was ridiculed for it.

I can handle anyone disagreeing with me. Anyone is welcome to at any time. What I will not tolerate is being disrespected or personally attacked in the course of that disagreement. What happened today was proof that civil discourse has gone the way of the dodo and has given me cause to consider whether or not I will be as quick to weigh in on these subjects. Frankly, I’m not sure it’s worth the uptick in my blood pressure. And as I told someone offline just today: I have to wonder if this topic is even one worth spending so much energy on, if that hill is really worth dying on.

But what I believe today has further shown me is a reminder of the toxic tribalism that exists in the human sexuality debate in the United Methodist Church. I have further been reminded of the danger of one finding themselves in an echo chamber. I have noted people on both extremes of the human sexuality debate being stuck in these chambers, unable to fathom an argument that is contrary to theirs. They refuse to hear it and engage in ugly forms of debate when they are challenged. Moderates like me – someone who dares to hope that we can find a way to continue to coexist in spite of our differences – often find ourselves stuck in the middle because we refuse to place ourselves in these chambers. We see both sides, we engage with both sides (or, we try to). And more often than not, assumptions are made about our intentions or we are reminded for the millionth time that we need to pick a side.

If we hope to be the kingdom on earth, we have got to figure out a way to engage in dialogue without resulting to attacks on a person’s character and even their faith. It’s unchristlike to engage in such tactics. If you want to know why many people are starting to think that the church can’t be trusted, look no further than Twitter. We have all got to go to the table, engage with one another. In order to do that, we must leave our echo chambers, disband the tribes, and commune. Is there a time to go our separate ways? Perhaps. But we need not engage in behavior that is inconsistent with that of a disciple int he process.

Meanwhile, I cling to Christ. I further cling to the hope offered by the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the church at Galatia:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. Galatians 3:26-29 NLT

It’s time for us to start acting like it. I’m looking at you, fellow United Methodists.

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