I would like to return to Susan’s entry on July 20 “ABC in Reactive Mode.”
Susan is absolutely right that, as an organization, ABCUSA has many of the “symptoms” of an addict. She is also right that her description is “generally exaggerated.” It is not universal and it is not the root cause of our problems—I do not believe that any of us set out to be “addicts.” The addictive condition is an end product.
There are “true believers” (and not just two groups) among us who not only have radically different positions; they hold positions that, if acted upon, cannot coexist at the same time in the same place. The key in that sentence is not the reality of differing ideas; it is the phrase “if acted upon.” A community can tolerate a large range of differing ideas, but not all behaviors (or actions) can be allowed. One of the good things that came out of the Enlightenment was that behaviors can (and should) be controlled, but mind police are an ineffective waste of time.
From a sociological perspective, boundaries are essential for the health and viability of a community. “Commonality which is found in a community need not be a uniformity. It does not clone behaviour or ideas. It is a commonality of forms (ways of behaving) whose content (meanings) may vary considerably among its members.” (Anthony Cohen The Symbolic Construction of Community Routledge, 2003). There are several kinds of boundaries, the least effective of which is the statutory boundary. The unwritten covenant of community is violated long before the written law is broken.
Baptist communities have a difficult time establishing and maintaining behavior boundaries. And the larger the amalgam of Baptists, the more difficult it is. That is one reason for our propensity for schism. But Baptists, even American Baptists, have found it possible to call some behaviors out-of-bounds.
These “true believers” (and the incompatibility of the practices they demand) cannot be easily dismissed, ridiculed, distracted, or ignored.
Not everyone who has doubts about the morality of homosexual intimacy is mean-spirited, ignorant, homophobic, or, God-forbid, a Fundamentalist out to destroy the denomination.
Not everyone who wonders about a compassionate, Christian response to homosexual persons is unprincipled, elitist, perverted, or, God-forbid, a Liberal out to destroy the denomination.
At the same time there are issues of power. For some, power is always bad and is to be avoided, but in reality it is notoriously slippery. I confess I am trying to claim and exert power. I am trying to claim and exert power on behalf of the large community of the middle. Of course, I may be self-deceived. But others seem to be jockeying for power for more selfish and/or more narrow purposes.
It is a complex symptomatology. Our responses are equally complex.
Some grotesquely oversimply the conflict, and blame it all on the Fundamentalists, or the Liberals, or the homophobes, or the perverts, or the power-hungry, or the hate-mongers, or the fear-mongers, or this Region, or that Region, or former SBCers, or ….
Simplistic analysis leads to simplistic answers/responses which will not work.
Others cannot cope with the complexity or the implication of the conflict, and so they deny the conflict. The capacity of this denomination to live in denial is legendary. Even as the Board of Educational Ministries was disintegrating leaders (who should have known better) were reassuring the denomination of the health and viability of BEM. While there is a fine line between describing the truth of a situation and apocalyptic obsession, denial will always prevent effective responses.
Still others want to bypass or avoid the conflict. They believe that if we get busy with something else we will be distracted enough that the conflict will die a natural death. Closer to home is the danger that unending diagnosis can also be a form of avoidance.
They arrived on the other side of the sea in the country of the Gerasenes. As Jesus got out of the boat, a madman from the cemetery came up to him. He lived there among the tombs and graves. No one could restrain him—he couldn’t be chained, couldn’t be tied down. … Night and day he roamed through the graves and the hills, screaming out and slashing himself with sharp stones. … Jesus asked him, “Tell me your name.” He replied, “My name is Mob. I’m a rioting mob.” … The demons begged him, “Send us to the pigs so we can live in them.” … Everyone wanted to see what had happened. They came up to Jesus, and saw the madman sitting there wearing decent clothes and making sense, no longer a walking madhouse of a man. … As Jesus was getting into the boat, the demon-delivered man begged to go along, but he wouldn’t let him. Jesus said, “Go home to your own people. Tell them your story.”