For the last 4 weeks, I have been teaching a Bible study on "controversial topics". We started the first week with the Wesleyan quadrilateral (Scripture, tradition, reason, experience) and set up norms and questions pertinent to each area that we would then apply to our controversial topics. Our "test case" was women in the pulpit--an issue that has been *decided* in our denomination for 50 years now (yet still remains controversial or prohibited in many others). Because we as a group have little to no tension or dissent about women in the pulpit, it was an easy place to start.
The next week we covered war, last week abortion, and this week homosexuality. In addition to the texts about where Methodists come down on these issues, we've been reading applicable chapters from The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays. His arguments feel balanced and moderate though his positions are fairly radical (in the sense of against the norm). For instance, re: war he argues that no war or violence is ever acceptable, on the part of a Christian, even in cases of self-defense. Re: abortion--he suggests that maybe the need for abortion (except for instances of rape/incest or danger to the woman) might not be necessary if the Christian community were to step up and say, we will provide for and care for you (mother) and your baby in whatever is necessary (i.e., health care, emotional and spiritual support, finances, child care, etc.) Both of these weeks, our group was not quite as radical as the author, yet through his writing we managed a balanced discussion.
This week, however was different. There wasn't "wiggle room" in his stance. Hays came down like an iron fist with a staunch "no" against homosexuality (while still advocating love, grace, and embrace in our churches). To be quite honest, I was not looking forward to this discussion after this reading. And besides my own dissent and disagreement, I also had to wrestle with the notion that I have come to respect him and his loyalty to scripture and authentic exegetical work.
This was the old lesson re-learned: We won't always agree, even if we agree on many other things and that is a tension to be dealth with, not avoided or dismissed. I would like people who are "right" or "reasonable" to always be so (at least according to the laws of Deb). I know it's not very advanced of me, but I don't like conflict and it's easier to avoid when other people agree with me, or when I agree with them.
I had had to revist this lesson a few months back when 7 congregants walked out of a bilingual worship service because "This is America and we speak English here." (Nevermind the scripture teachings of "there is no Mexican or American"...I mean, Jew nor Greek--meaning, Christian community is supposed to be more focused on the fact that our faith in Christ unifies above all else--nationality, language, etc). I had to restrain myself not to blanketly (I doubt that's a real word) dismiss each of those who called me to share their racist opinions and instead try and look for places where I could engage them and hopefully regain respect for them as individuals, as thinkers, and as Christians.