Saturday, March 27, 2010

Frustration and Fragmentation

Though there are not many anymore who can recall this, the atmosphere within the Synod was different prior to the unpleasantness of the 1970's.  I do not mean to say that there was no disagreement or that this disagreement was not heated (or passionate if you prefer).  It was all of this.  But it was much more likely that the people who disagreed so, well, passionately (or heatedly if you prefer) were still personally friendly after the dispute.  There was conversation after the argument.  We are much less likely to find that today.  Today it often seems that once the argument stops, the conversation stops.

I wish I knew the reason for this.  I have my suspicions.  One of them is related to the dramatic change in teaching and training Pastors that was the outcome of some of this conflict.  The end of the feeder college system, of the Senior College for the vast majority of pre-sems, the change from first career to an even number of second career Pastors, and the change from the majority of seminarians coming from a parsonage or teacherage to the majority coming from non-church worker homes all have contributed to a loss of colleagiality and a loss of civility.  The other is that the isolation that followed the unpleasantness of the 1970s has made more attractive for both Pastors and parishes to simply do your own thing and hide out off the radar scope.  So there are larger numbers of people who have no part in the conversation at all.

Another thing is the increasing compartmentalization of our lives, our culture, and our churches.  I recall coming into my first District Pastoral Conference and being welcomed by the gray hairs who had been there forever.  They spoke to me and I returned the conversation and we got to know each other.  I notice less and less of this going on.  Older guys tend to have a "wait and see" attitude about the newbies.  Newbies tend to think of the gray hairs as out of touch with the world/church/technology of today.  I recall being at a District Pastoral Conference soon after I moved to Tennessee.  I knew hardly anyone and found myself without anyone to eat with when everyone took off to the restaurants for lunch.  I ended up eating with the church growth crowd and after a minute of introductions the conversation veered away and I sat and ate in silence.  I am not saying they were rude but they had an agenda, they were agenda driven, and I was not part of the agenda -- an economy of words and time dictated that I was the odd man out.

Not everyone I am friends with sees eye to eye with me.  One of my closest friends forsook Lutheranism for Anglicanism for Orthodoxy for Roman Catholic - Eastern Rite.  Obviously I have not shared that journey but the divergent paths did not do as much to our relationship as his time living in South Africa.  Many of my friends use the hymnal but are low church in ceremony, casual and even conflicted about their feelings for the liturgy.  Yet our friendship is not harmed by disagreements.

If Gerald Kieschnick walked into a restaurant and there were places at the table among his opponents, I am fairly certain they would not invite him over to sit with them.  If Matt Harrison walked into the same restaurant and there were places at the table among his opponents, I am fairly certain they would not invite him over to sit with them.  This is not a good thing.  In fact, it is precisely this that will prevent our Synod from enjoying peace and good will.  I am not accusing everyone or painting with a broad brush, but unless and until we can confront the serious theological divide within our church body and do this as brothers in Christ (and sisters), the rancor and division will continue long after the theological conversation is ended.  In the same way, unless and until we stop papering over our theological disputes with some artificial "why can't we all just be friends," no amount of this kind of friendship can or will bind together the divergent theological opinions.

When St. Paul took St. Peter to task in Acts, it was not a personal dispute but a theological difference.  Apparently the Church was not divided by this and, if I am allowed to add on to the corpus of the NT, I might suggest that they both met for some brats and beer after the Council and continued the conversation begun under more official circumstances...

So I would encourage us to speak... to speak honestly... to speak openly... to speak with those we disagree with... to speak with those we do agree with... and to continue the conversation long after the theological debate has ended for the day... but especially to be people of good will... who will give our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ at least equal passion with our voicing of our positions over theological differences...


Rev. David M. Juhl said...

Your story about eating at a table with no one talking to you perfectly describes the one year I spent in the Volunteer State. Outside of my supervisor and a few other friendly pastors (you included), few would talk to me. Perhaps it was the "Fort Wayne Vicar" stigma, perhaps not. Regardless, civility among brother pastors who disagree is nearly non-existent.

And I am guilty of what you speak. Kyrie eleison.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Thank you for your excellent blog post. I agree with you and I think you have identified many of the factors at play. I am not without guilt on these matters, but I do want to do better.

This problem, as you know, is not just true of our beloved Synod, but also of our American society. The polarization is palpable.

Another factor is that whenever you say you disagree with someone, they hear you it as if you are saying, "I hate you." It is possible to disagree with someone and not hate them. We are so sensitive.

Lora said...

I agree with Pastor Stiegmeyer. This is a problem in our culture, not just in our you addressed with the compartmentalization of our lives.

When the Synod had its most recent delegate gatherings regarding the Blue Ribbon Commission, there was STRONG opposition and mocking regarding the fact that they assigned seating at the tables like they would in elementary school. My husband was a delegate, and he was incredibly happy about it. After all, elementary schools use seating assignments to lower the risk of bad behavior, cliquishness, and to keep everyone involved. Because people from different perspectives and congregation types were at the same table, REAL discussion and exchange of ideas was more possible than if the little groups just sitting in their corners complaining about the other groups.

Disagreeing is one thing, but you can't ever hope to reach agreement when there is no desire to hear the other perspective.