In plenty of relationships, one partner will make a logical, reasoned argument regarding one thing or another and the response would lead an outside observer to believe that the argument was actually an attempt to burn the house down with the partner in it. One could say “we need to spend less money” and the other could hear “you’re a waste of money.” One could say “you’re doing that wrong” and the other could hear “your existence is wrong.”
The problem? One partner names a behavior that needs to change. The other feels a brokenness that needs to heal. No matter how good or right the arguments may be for changing behavior, the brokenness isn’t going anywhere until the need for healing is addressed. The problem is not that either of the approaches or any of the arguments and feelings are right or wrong – the problem is that building up the relationship is impossible until both are speaking the same language and dealing with problems rather than symptoms. As long as people talk on different levels, nothing good happens and the cycle of hurt feelings and intractable arguments continues.
The present partisanship in the United Methodist Church (and America in general) is like a marriage stuck in the same cycle. Conservative voices say we reject homosexual acts. Liberals say you reject people. The arguments of both sides are equally heartfelt and sincere but will never match logic and emotion until both sides can figure out how to build a relationship rather than win an argument. If a solution is to be found, it will have to be far more imaginative and creative than drawing a line in the sand and crystallizing the fact that we will always talk past and never with each other. Relationship is nothing without the coherence of logic and emotion.
Logic gives words, without which experience can’t be understood or lead anywhere. Emotion gives power, without which words are useless and void.
I tell every couple that I marry that there is no right and wrong in a marriage – there are only things that build up relationship and things that tear it down. If either person loses, nobody wins. I’d offer that same advice to the global church now. Even when you are absolutely correct in where you stand, you haven’t necessarily even addressed the problem that divides you from your partners in the Body of Christ. You can keep yelling, but that won’t make anything better as long each side continues to debate symptoms and can’t find a way to dig down to relationship.
Methodists have long claimed to represent a religion of both head and heart. It’s about time to unite head and heart in each person, movement, and side rather than just having a host of people and groups choosing one over the other and living under the same umbrella.