Monday, February 14, 2011

Remember the healers

In the past few weeks, I've been hearing various people saying things along the lines of "It's too bad our Elgin leadership doesn't speak more prophetically regarding [name your issue]."  I want to respond to that.

One Brethren "hero" many of us are familiar with is John Kline, a subject of both song and children's book.  Kline is remembered for, during the American Civil War, crossing the border between North and South and providing medical assistance to both sides.

I must beg forgiveness for the violent imagery, but I think in some senses the Church of the Brethren is engaged in a sort of civil war.  A culture war between the progressives and the fundamentalists, most notably between the "gay supporters" and "gay opposers," as sociologist Carl Bowman categorizes us.  Many of us have strong moral and spiritual beliefs that put us on one side or the other of this proverbial Mason-Dixon Line.  And thus we find ourselves called to take up arms and fight for what we believe is right.

While this struggle occurs, though, we are still a church, and a church needs its leaders.  Elgin is not the headquarters of the Progressive Church of the Brethren or the Conservative Church of the Brethren; it is the headquarters of the Church of the Brethren.  Our denominational leaders are responsible for leading all of us, and to do that they need to cultivate relationships with and avoid alienating people on both sides of the line.  While many of us are drawn--and perhaps rightly so!--to be fierce and prophetic, we must recognize that the arrogant purism espoused in our admonishments to our leaders to be bolder comes from a position of privilege.  In some roles--roles that need to be filled--such purism is simply not an option.

The sin of slavery, after all, was a massively important moral issue in the spiritual life of our nation, I daresay as big as the sin of (to some) homosexuality or (to others) exclusion.  We might imagine John Kline felt the burning, holy call for freedom from the shackles of slavery--surely a cause worth fighting for!--yet we celebrate his decision to pursue a path of healing that transcended the conflict.

When you take up arms for one side or another, you give up the ability to transcend borders, to build relationships, to earn the respect that gives weight to your voice.  Many of us, often myself included, stand proudly as soldiers.  But we should not neglect our healers, for they, too, are doing God's work.


Travis said...

Great thoughts. I think there may be times for leaders to take stands too. John Kline, after all, was annual meeting moderator, and one of the elders who signed on to a letter to Brethren in Virginia encouraging them to renounce slavery.

Nico said...

Good point, Travis. I'm sure it's a constant struggle for persons in leadership, discerning in what ways to take a stand and in what ways to defer to the need for relationships. The difference, I suppose, between expressing a viewpoint and "taking up arms," though I've offered no real distinction here.

Something I always wrestle with is the use of visual identifiers, like the rainbow scarves that have been frequenting Annual Conference. Is it a constructive show of solidarity and support, or a way of drawing battle lines? Inviting or distancing?

Marla said...

I think that leaders may seek for a third way in the midst of division. I see John Kline as keeping peace between North and South...thanks for pointing him out.
Where are the people who look for a place that can make both sides say, "Yes, we can probably sign on to that."?

Katie said...

I keep making connections back to this blog as I'm reading for Brethren Beliefs and Practices for this weekend. In particular I just read about the Sauers and how they lost their business and property b/c they wouldn't fight in the Revolutionary War. Interesting stuff.
We're not talking about taking up arms of course but when our rhetoric reaches the vitriolic we do have to wonder like Marla says if there isn't a third way. I see lots of our denominational leaders striving for that and I have to say their cool under all this pressure makes me very proud to be part of this tradition. I wrote a paper this fall (for a Scott Holland class) on striving for "prophetic compromise" in which not all of our ultimate goals might be met but we would make strides toward justice and wholeness by meeting each other in the middle. It's tough work and it doesn't make either side happy but I think it's worth it in the end.