Several years ago, the United Methodist Church began exploring the topic of homosexuality and its place in the church. Is it a sin? Is it okay for pastors to marry homosexual couples? Is it okay for them to be members? Is it okay for practicing homosexuals to pastor congregations? Conversations started out slowly and have continued to build over time. Some people were reluctant to join the conversations and not everyone who did speak up agreed. There are at least as many viewpoints and perspectives as there are United Methodists, so we really shouldn’t be surprised by conflict and disagreement. Sadly, pre-pandemic, conversation had reached a crescendo and a division of our United church seemed imminent. It appeared we wouldn’t reach a consensus. It appeared there were too many irreconcilable differences of opinion on this topic to remain United.
Given the rapid movement of the coronavirus into the United States, focus shifted to address those immediate needs. Conferences have understandably been postponed and thus the things we are talking about now look considerably different than they did just a few short months ago. We’re talking about virtual worship, how masks are a way of putting others above yourself and we haven’t stopped telling people to wash their hands and practice social distancing for 4 months. In ways, it feels like we’re even more disjointed and less United than we were before, but we’re all just treading water, doing the best we can to learn how to navigate in a rapidly changing environment of significant health concerns, government mandates, schooling and working from home, all while dealing with significant economic and financial impact, with little to no proven guidance. There has been an incredible amount of misinformation spreading as quickly as the virus we’re all talking about.
In the midst of the pandemic, a spark lit a fuse and racially centered conversational topics are climbing the charts, so to speak: injustice, inequality, bias, privilege, listening, amplifying voices and whose lives matter. The United Methodist Church has announced the creation of a resource page including tips for ‘Dismantling Racism’. Again, I expect there are those who are reluctant to join the conversation and again, I’m certain that not everyone who speaks up will be in agreement with one another. Personally, I disagree with one of the tips suggested on the resource page, “Do an internet search about a particular topic instead of asking your black friends to explain an issue to you.” It’s not the first time I have heard this advice or similar guidance. But I think it’s flawed advice.
In my previous role at the company I work for, one of my responsibilities was to interview candidates for open positions. I had to attempt to choose the right fit for my team based off one sheet of paper and an hour long meeting with a stranger. I quickly learned what I expected from resumes and from candidates. I also rapidly developed some pet peeves. Since that time, I have moved on to a new role, but I find myself still sharing guidance with people preparing for interviews, what to do and what not to do. I don’t share guidance because I know everything about hiring. I’ve interviewed dozens of people, not hundreds or thousands. I didn’t graduate from school with a degree in human psychology nor have I mastered behavioral interviewing methods. I share because of what I have learned through my personal experiences and I share because I have a genuine interest in helping people through unfamiliar territory. I share because I want to help them succeed using whatever tools I have to equip them with. If a friend were to ask me for advice or help on this topic, or any other they know I’m experienced or skilled in, I would happily take the time to talk through what I know. I would likely also guide them toward internet sources I have personally vetted and found to hold reliable, beneficial information.
I think it can be dangerous to conduct an internet search on a topic you are not familiar with. Have you ever searched for a diagnosis for health symptoms? You might have poison ivy or it could be the plague. By blindly searching without an experienced guide, one could surely be lost among the search results. How can you be certain the information you find is reputable? There are so many voices in the world, each one with an opinion and a keyboard megaphone, myself included. How does one who is unstudied determine which voice they will be taught by? Also, with so many voices, a person searching for answers and finding too many to process may just give up and not learn anything, choosing to remain comfortable that what they already believe they know is enough.
Friends help one another.
Friends, help one another.
You don’t have to be particularly well educated or well spoken. Share from your personal experiences. What have you learned that can educate others thoughts? What have you experienced or felt that can help guide others actions?
Conversely, for those of us who are learning, carefully choose the voices you learn from, who shape your thoughts and behaviors. Listen first to those who are close to you. Hear from those who are willing to be vulnerable and talk through the tough conversations.
This is something valuable we can learn from the UMC. There are tough conversations, uncomfortable topics. We acknowledge issues exist. We recognize there is room for us to learn and grow. We don’t know all the answers. We don’t all agree. But at least we’re talking about them.