Its hard to imagine but I’ve been running this blog since May 2007 when I was first challenged to keep an account of how I was spending my sabbatical (looking at sports chaplaincy). 12 years later I’m surprised that there are still folk who look out for my ramblings; many thanks for the encouragement.
Ive used this picture before but tonight Im thinking in a different direction. Im very aware that we’re living in a very divided world; Over and above all the potential for world conflict that is around us (sabre rattling between countries) our own country and my own denomination is caught up in conflict.
The nation continues to argue over Brexit, prorogation of Parliament, political parties and in general the whole atmosphere is quite toxic. the Brexiteers accuse the Remainers of thwarting the will of the people and the Remainers accuse the Brexiteers of being reckless with our future.
In a similar way a dispute is simmering within the Methodist Church; our Conference agreed that this year we’d explore a report entitled “Marriage and Relationships” especially looking at the meaning and understanding of marriage. Into this mix comes the subject of same-sex marriage and quite quickly has become the red hot potato of Methodism. One group arguing that the traditional view of marriage (one man, one woman) is the norm and is Biblical; the other side saying that there is room within Biblical understanding for homosexuality and therefore for same sex marriage.
I have my views on both of these subjects but I’m not airing them here; however my bigger concern is how the issues are being dealt with for I fear that both are creating an atmosphere of intolerance, misunderstanding, bullying and in some cases downright prejudice. Each bin represents a viewpoint and once in one bin it cant jump up and declare it wishes it was in the other. Recycling rubbish cant be put into landfill rubbish and so on. Brexiteers and Remainers are in separate bins, and in a similar way lies the various camps within Methodism.
The picture below is of a broken vase (result of an accident in one of my churches 5 years ago) and all that the vase became good for was the filling of the local land-fill site, sadly.
I fear that our society and our Church is running the risk of being broken by peoples attitudes and intolerance. It doesn’t matter one iota about who I disagree with or who disagrees with me, but what is very important is that I still continue to treat them as God created, for to fail to do that is to fail to honour God.
Although the preacher, George Whitefield disagreed with John Wesley on some theological matters, he was careful not to create problems in public that could be used to hinder the preaching of the gospel. When someone asked Whitefield if he thought he would see Wesley in heaven, Whitefield replied, “I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.”
Whitefield had the right idea: we can disagree but still admire, discuss, debate, recognise the good in others. Sadly, many disputes these days seem to mean that sides and stances are quickly taken from which there can be no shifting. On Facebook (and presumably other social media sites) abuse is hurled at any who people disagree with over Brexit (to the point of Retainers being told to “*****, to Europe if you disagree” or Brexiteers being assumed to be ignorant. In the Church some of those in favour of same-sex marriage have been told that they are not Christian and hell awaits. Similarly those who earnestly and honestly seek the traditional view of marriage are told that they need to “get modern” and are holding the Church back.
The truth is that in neither the Brexit nor issues regarding marriage are the problem; the problem is the culture of intolerance within both. Notice that Whitefield could disagree but still recognise God within Wesley. Oh, that we could do the same with those we disagree with.
Wesley famously said “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike ? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion ? Without all doubt, we may; Herein all the children of God may unite, not withstanding these smaller differences”
“If we cannot think alike, at least we may love alike; and can anything but love beget love?”
The trouble is that none of us think we have any bigotry, any homophobia, any racial prejudice and in that way it sneaks into our lives; we really do need to cultivate a spirit of love between us and others, so that the Kingdom of God may blossom in the lives of other people. Hatred begets hatred, but love also begets love. I know which I’d rather have. I return to the original picture of the two bins and I note the cross in between them. The only way to cultivate such a spirit is to see others through the eyes of the God who created each person and the God who dies on the cross to draw the world back to him. Reconciliation can only come through the sort of love that took Jesus to the cross. We have a choice ………………………
Which way will you and I follow ?