a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.
Our premises create structure
As in the theory underpinning “ice nine,” our premises create structure.
[Ice-nine is a fictional solid polymorph of water from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Cat’s Cradle.]
The past five weeks [“UMC schism, a holistic take” mini-series in 5 parts] we’ve examined some of the dynamics working in (and structuring) the schismatic climate of the United Methodist Church [UMC]. Discussion stemming from that has produced questions and invitations to further theorizing….in today’s case, regarding an excruciatingly painful obstacle.
This week, I’m piggybacking on a notion researched and developed by Robin DiAngelo, a sociologist/multicultural educator, and I’m applying her insight to our problematic pattern.
One hinge-point I sense turns on the identification of harm. After all, our first rule as people in the Wesleyan tradition is to “Do no harm;” so it makes sense that it would relate to matters perceived to be of import. However, what seems plain enough has proven quite perplexing.
What is “harm,” and who gets to decide to whom, to what, or how harm applies? We find that in the tribalized context within the UMC, two dominant ways of thinking about harm coexist. Each “side” has staked out a particular harm-space on which to focus its narrative (and its outrage).
Polling selective perspectives
If one asks “Traditionalists” within the context of LGBTQ+ and our schismatic climate what harm has been done, their focus is typically on harm to the corporate body. This harm is vicariously experienced by members of the UMC in the abstract and results from the harm done to the covenant through blatant violation of agreed-upon rules. The individual members, as autonomous entities, aren’t directly harmed; it is the corporate-self that is harmed. The harm is due to the violation (and so, devaluing) of something important that we hold in common corporately.
Whereas, if one asks “Inclusivists” how harm has been done, there’s usually no mention of rule-breaking; rather, the focus will typically be on the harm that is being done to persons, i.e., to LGBTQ+ folks within the UMC. Inclusivists claim that the harm caused by traditionalist ideology is traumatic (and sometimes lethal) to LGBTQ+ persons. Of course, one hears very little regarding this kind of harm from “Traditionalists.” It is not difficult to imagine why. Let’s trace the dynamics that may be operating here.
I’m borrowing from Robin DiAngelo’s notion of ‘White fragility,’ so what is that? In a 2018 New Yorker article, Katy Waldman writes:
My way of describing/paraphrasing ‘White fragility’ accepts DiAngelo’s work and restates it in terms of trauma. My sense is that DiAngelo’s work also encompasses the intergenerational trauma that slavery and anti-black racism (Jim Crow, lynching, etc.) has visited on white people. I mean, it’s easy enough for white people to understand that slavery and anti-black racism has visited ruinous intergenerational trauma on Black people, but how that reality also traumatized white people is grossly underappreciated. ‘White fragility’ is the shadow expression of the intergenerational trauma that white people experience because of slavery and anti-black racism. It includes what’s been called ‘white guilt;’ but it is in no way reducible only to that.
Applying the notion to anti-LGBTQ+ repression/oppression/trauma is pretty straight-forward (no pun intended).
Gregory Bateson coined a pertinent term: double bind. — Here’s a key point from the Wiki explanation: “Unlike the usual no-win situation, the subject has difficulty in defining the exact nature of the paradoxical situation in which they are caught.” I created a graphic that, painfully, reckons with this problematic expression seen in some Christian faith traditions, e.g., the United Methodists’ so-called “incompatibility clause”:
Traditionalists advance in their journey toward justice with the acceptance of the fact that, as unintended as it was, proclaiming divine proscriptions against LGBTQ+ behavior has caused significant harm. Lethal harm.
I’d be willing to bet that Don Hand never meant for his “incompatibility clause” to inflict lethal harm on some UM youth. I have no trouble imagining why Traditionalists do not want to address (let alone come to terms with) that kind of harm. Much better to stick with the harm caused by rule-breaking. Conversely, Inclusivists prefer to avoid addressing (and coming to terms with) the harm done by rule-breaking.
Next week: “I Am Right You Are Wrong.” Come and see.
[this post ~850 words (~3 minute read)]