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Commentary: Is there really more that unites us?

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    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE From United Methodist News Service Commentary: Is there really more that unites us? A UMNS Commentary By Ann Whiting*
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 24, 2001
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      From United Methodist News Service

      Commentary: Is there really more that unites us?
      A UMNS Commentary
      By Ann Whiting*

      Jan. 23, 2001 News media contact: Tim Tanton� (615)742-5470�
      Nashville, Tenn. {026}

      There is more that unites us than divides us. Al Gore said this in
      his concession speech. George W. Bush said the same thing, if not in
      the same words, in his acceptance speech. We United Methodists heard
      the same words before, during and after General Conference.

      It's a nice sentiment. But we as Americans and as United Methodists
      need to be cautious. "Making nice" may feel better than
      contentiousness, but it may not always be faithful.

      The Rev. Erik Alsgaard, with the United Methodist Board of Church and
      Society, wrote a commentary shortly after Election Day in November
      entitled, "Voters' divisions mirror those of church." (UMNS #507,
      11/09/00). He compared the lines of difference in the presidential
      election with similar lines in the United Methodist Church: gender,
      race, socioeconomic status and geography. I want to explore two
      others: political philosophy and theology.

      There are fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives,
      both in politics and in the church. Webster offers these definitions:

      "Conservative: tending to preserve established traditions or
      institutions and to resist or oppose any changes in these."

      "Liberal: not restricted to the literal meaning, not strict ...
      tolerant of views differing from one's own, broad-minded ... favoring
      reform or progress. ..."

      Neither label nor position is inherently negative or evil. Our
      problems arise, I think, when we cling to the far edges of these
      ideologies or faith positions.

      Change for the sake of change is empty. Holding on to the past
      without critiquing the value of beliefs and institutions in a
      post-modern society limits our creative response to change. That's
      how conservatives get into the most trouble with liberals, I suspect.
      Liberals in the church, for example, get in trouble if they let their
      open-mindedness outrun their scriptural grounding.

      The faithful balance is to conserve those institutions that "work"
      and offer the hope of justice and peace in God's world. United
      Methodists must conserve our Wesleyan heritage of vital piety and
      social holiness. We also need to agree that revelation did not end
      with the closing of the canon. The Bible is the fundamental, but not
      only, witness we have to God's revelation. Liberals, more than
      conservatives, seem to embrace that ongoing revelation. And we all
      need to agree that any scriptural witness must always be filtered
      through the lens that is the life and ministry of Jesus.

      Unless we can embrace and live out the best of these two ideologies
      -- and avoid becoming mired in the reactionary positions of either
      side -- we will not be a united country or a united church.

      Moving from the abstract to the concrete, here is a representative
      list of the issues we cannot "make nice" about in the United States:

      Bitter, partisan divisions exist over legislation.

      The gap between rich and poor continues to grow.

      The "haves" continue to protect their positions and power, and the
      "have-nots" become increasingly marginalized.

      Racism and hate crimes continue to grow.

      City schools continue to provide sub-standard education and
      experience a high dropout rate.

      Gun violence continues at crisis levels.

      We continue to disagree on whether the targets of our efforts should
      be individual or systemic.

      We continue to disagree on the role America should play in the world
      as peace broker and peacemaker.

      Nor can we continue to ignore divisions in the United Methodist
      Church, such as we see in:

      Divergent beliefs on the authority of scripture and how the biblical
      tradition should inform current faith and practice.

      Differences in understanding how the Holy Spirit works in our lives
      and the life of the church.

      The practice of continuing to label each other and then vilify the

      The willingness of some to opt out of the connectional system in
      fundamental ways (for example, by withholding apportionment

      Failure to find ways to dialogue with each other on critical justice

      Failure to recognize that the debate around homosexuality is also the
      "lightning rod" for a more fundamental struggle to determine the
      character of the United Methodist Church

      The list of what unites us -- as a nation and as a church -- could be
      equally long. But what unites us will be diminished and superficial
      until we meet what divides us head on.

      Healing is not easy; grace is not cheap. But I believe we can heal,
      as a nation and as a church, if we listen to each other, embrace the
      good in the other and then name and work on those things that divide
      us. Now there seems to be more that divides us than unites us as a
      nation and as a church. It need not always be so, but we need to be

      The plumb line for embracing unity in the United States should be the
      same as it is in the United Methodist Church: Do justice. Love
      kindness. Walk humbly with God.

      *Whiting is editor of the Michigan Christian Advocate, the newspaper
      of the United Methodist Church's Michigan Area. A longer version of
      this commentary originally appeared in that publication.

      Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not
      necessarily represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United
      Methodist Church.

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