Monday, July 27, 2009

Preaching Polarization: the easy way out

My family and I went to worship at the church I grew up in yesterday to say goodbye and be commissioned. It's a faith community that has chosen to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church because of a disagreement over doctrine, specifically in terms of stances regarding sexuality, ordination and how to articulate and profess Christian faith in a pluralistic world. While I haven't made the same doctrinal choice and relational position in terms of the church denomination that I've grown up in, I still can call that church home. I was overwhelmed by the greetings of folks whose children I grew up with, the support and the genuine enthusiasm for our family and the way in which we are choosing to follow Jesus by moving to France. I was struck during a commissioning prayer time by the reality that life isn't black or white, that relationships are confusing and messy (that's what makes them so rich) and that life is much more a labyrinth sort of road composed of twists and turns, then a road with a fork that either has a "good" or "wrong" path to follow. A dimension of my perspective on that is well articulated by an article in today's SF Gate on the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral.

As the service went on and the preaching began I was overwhelmed. The sermon was intended to be upon prayer, how to, why and what for. Yet it proceeded to be an enthusiastic encouragement to pray and to do so often [to which I say amen!] that was brought to a climactic conclusion by a sudden polarizing proclamation that the PC(USA) is evil for its stance in terms of working towards the ordination of gay and lesbian followers of Jesus and for some of non-black-and-white articulations of Christian faith in a pluralistic world. I respect the difference of opinion, and actually believe I'm pushed to deeper faith and more thoughtful world-view perspective through the dialog in diverse understandings of the teachings of Jesus and the "Christian tradition". Yet I was disappointed for the sermon on prayer slipped into a polarizing war-crime, or rally around the pole speech about how the PC(USA) is evil and God-rejecting liberals who blow with the wind as opposed to the morally righteous and justified ones that have left that behind. I felt personally attacked as what I believe was lifted up as anti-Christian, and almost evil. I wondered what that had to do with prayer? I wondered how such polarizing talk of good versus evil can lead us to a deeper understanding and experience of community as followers of Jesus. I don't think that it can or does.

I probably make a similar more, on the other side of the spectrum. And I wonder do we have to rally the troops against someone else, or the "opposing side" or is there not anything deeper in the teachings of Jesus that push us towards a both/and understanding of the implications of his ethical teachings and spiritual guidance which we often embody in our moral choices and political actions? It seems like such finger-pointing is simply the easy way out, denying that the world in which we live, and navigate as people of faith is more like the twisty turns of a labyrinth than the straight lines and black-and-white choices of a forking road.


dbanoff said...

Matthew 5:38-44

Monte said...


38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[c] and pray for those who persecute you,

Couldn't agree more - I struggle to live it - I wonder why so often we take the easy way out, avoiding this foundational teaching of Jesus, choosing polarizing politics, rhetoric and preaching over radical Jesus-living. Is it because it's easier to say or because it's easier to live that way...probably both.

Anonymous said...

You would be proud of me, Monte. I actually got out my Bible and looked it up before you printed it.

Shhh! don't tell anyone I have a Bible in the house. Spoils my reputation.