a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.
We are stuck!!!
Jesus Christ’s Church is just fine!
However, the fact that The People Called United Methodist are having extreme difficulty presenting an embodied witness to Christ’s holistic community is an existential threat to the UMC.
The quick backstory is that the “two sides” have been in conflict for fifty years — most viciously (i.e., demonizing each other) over the past 30 years. Apparently, we misunderstood what Jesus was doing by ‘casting out demons.’ Consequently, the ‘two sides’ have been busy trying to cast each other out. [cf. 2019 Do No Harm series]
In June of 2016, Tom Berlin wrote a helpful piece: Getting to Church Vitality. In it, he offered a typology he’d borrowed from Tom Lambrecht. In this missive, I mean to adopt/adapt their typology in the hopes of tracing the genesis, mechanics, and structure of extremism; and the existential danger created through our (apparent) values chasm.
I want to piggyback on Berlin’s 2016 “Vitality” piece. My concern here is relevant, helpful witness. Vitality and relevance make good teammates.
I suspect the language that Tom Lambrecht used (and Berlin borrowed) was selected for familiarity, i.e., the “incompatibility clause,” e.g., “same-sex relations are incompatible with ‘Christian teaching.'” I don’t know why Lambrecht used the term “non-compatibilists.” Perhaps to avoid direct association with the term “incompatibility,” as there is no one who is “incompatible” with Christ. It would be rather ironic if that’s why he did that. Even so, somehow, the ‘incompatibility clause’ still makes sense to a number of folks, including Lambrecht. But what number?
I like graphics, as I’m inclined toward visuals. So, I’ll be using some graphics that I’ve created as illustrations for this missive. I’m adjusting the language a bit, and I’ll note that as we go. First, Berlin used sugar packets and so didn’t scale his groups. We’ll be using scaled graphics as visual aids. Notice, I’ve substituted “Inclusivist” for “Progressive,” and “Incompatibilists” for “Non-compatibilist.”
The everyday term, “compatible,” doesn’t fit, because, while holistic community is beloved, it’s rarely “without conflict.” Yet, churches are expected to be good examples of how holistic communities and persons handle conflict well. Snip:
Lambrecht/Berlin obviously realized that philosophy provides a pair of technical terms that work well for our typology, because they describe relationships in a way (i.e., absolutist vs non-absolutist) that matches-up with our context. So, “compatibilist,” e.g., non–absolutist positions. Snip:
And, “incompatibilists,” e.g., a mutually exclusive, no coexistence, absolutist position. —I note irony in that some/many/most Calvinists likely dwell within this compatibilist/incompatibilist philosophical sphere. Snip:
OK, in his 2016 piece, Berlin wrote: “I would guess that 70% or more of us fall into one of these two [e.g., his ‘traditionalist’ and ‘progressive’ ‘compatibilist’] areas.” —I’d estimate it’s more like 75-80%.
OK, the new “Centrist” category (non-partisans et al.) that I’ve added may have scaled something like this before 2010.
Thanks to the ubiquity of *political technologies* and the efficiency of two processes that political scientists call ‘sorting’ and ‘polarization’ (cf. Ezra Klein), I’d estimate the present “center” more like this:
I’m taking the two ‘incompatibilist’ groups at their word — they’re absolutist, mutually exclusive, and it’s their-way-or-no-way. Notice the graphic indicates that 1 and 5 are separated from 2, 3, & 4. Their can’t-coexist, absolutist ideology causes that. In spiritual warfare terms, they cast themselves out of the holistic community, unwittingly revealing their control spirit to others. Sadly, 1 & 5’s control spirit often remains invisible to them within their own shadow, even after it’s “cast out” (exposed).
Extremism runs on absolutism, chiefly certitude, and it drives 1 and 5. Compatibilists (2, 3, & 4) are not absolutists. The “10%” figure for both 1 & 5 is generous, imho, more like 5% each. There’re just not that many absolutists. Thanks to *political technologies*, sorting, and polarization, extremist influence is extremely oversized.
Instead of asking, “Who should leave?”, perhaps we can recognize that some have already gone through their absolutist ideology; yet their messaging is dividing/killing us?
Antidote to *extremism*
We’ve always held the answer, e.g., holistic community. But, extremism feeds on absolutism, e.g., mutually-exclusive division.
Graciously, between the two 5% extremes:
In the middle: the vast majority of churches who are trying to live life together despite the chaos of extremism. I mean, in most of these (holistic community) churches one finds people at any point on the traditionalist/inclusivist compatibilist spectrum.
Sometimes, the way it goes isn’t a bit pretty, and sometimes, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Yet, no one has words to describe how it works exactly. It works on tacit knowledge, and it’s messy, often awkward; and sometimes, it’s unwittingly harmful. The only way it can work is with an abundance of grace and room for the other, no matter what.
“Nice nice very nice, so many different people in the same device.” —Kurt Vonnegut
The two mutually exclusive “sides” aren’t native to 2, 3, or 4. The “sides” are the absolutist, red-lined-rhetoric projections of 1’s & 5’s channeled through their messaging and, thus, extremism is unwittingly internalized by 2, 3, and 4.
NOTE [8/25/22]: errors in this initial ‘a holistic take’ piece are rectified in a piece published on 8/28/22: “[UMC] fixing an early error.”
[cf. double bind]