Friday, October 26, 2007

A label by any other name...

I've been stewing on something all week long. I heard a comment that was not directed at me but involved me. The comment basically came down to the point that because of the people I associate with, I am not within that persons' theological camp.

I realize that the person has no clue of who I am nor do they have any idea of my theological stance. But the fact that they chose to make a blanket statement is what irritated the snot out of me. Out of ignorance this person made a judgment of me. I don't mind if people classify me if they have taken the time to get to know me.

But I believe this is an example of how fractured we are becoming among United Methodists and American Christians in general. If we look at the larger context of the U.S. we see a growing division between factions. We cut the line between two groups: liberal and conservative. The line between the groups is growing more insurmountable but the "qualifications" for identification are not becoming any clearer.

More often than not, the label of liberal and conservative is a subjective opinion and not based on a set standard of principles. So if you believe different than me in some area, then that would make you liberal or conservative. If you promote an agenda I don't agree with, then you are liberal or conservative. If you work for something that is different than what I believe is important, then you are liberal or conservative. Our own ideas, beliefs, objectives, or goals become the standard by which others are judged.

The problem with the division that is growing between the "sides" of the church is that, instead of following the example of Christ and reaching out as Christ would, we fellowship and associate based on our own image. This isn't partisan politics. This is a form of self-idolatry.

I wish I could say that I had moved beyond it, but I know that I haven't. I draw the lines in my own mind of who is on whose side. But I have also made a conscious choice to associate beyond my own theological prejudice. That comes from some wonderful examples that I have had in the past. I have known men and women who were able to set aside differences (racial, gender, circumstance, ideological) to work together for a common purpose.

I also work to put myself in places where my own ideological principles are challenged. I believe that faith, personal doctrine, social and cultural and political worldviews are developed through challenge.

I hesitate to associate with organized groups within the Conference. It's not because I don't like the people. I have found that I like many of my colleagues. But I chose not to associate because of the label that would be attached to my name. But I believe that those days are done.