The Cost of Trust: One Behavior Being Ignored In Our Talk of Schism

Like many other clergy and laity in the United Methodist Church, I’ve been reading the proposals and responses again and again related to the idea of schism, the talk of dividing the church.  For some time now, I have been listening to discussion and the varying points of view.  I’ve tried to remove myself from my own beliefs and convictions to try and hear all sides with fresh ears (it has been difficult).  I’m still not done.  I still have people I want to talk with about it, clergy and laity both, as well as United Methodists and those outside.

This week however I put my finger on something that had just been gnawing at me.  I
think it had a lot to do with my son going before his Eagle Board of Review last night (which he passed and is now an Eagle Scout).  Each week in my High School years, I stood, held the Scout sign and repeated the values Scouting seeks to instill in boys starting with the first words, “A scout is trustworthy…”  For a number of years now, I’ve stood and done the same ritual, believing those are values which are timeless and I wanted to pass on to my son, “A scout is trustworthy…”

Quite honestly, it hit me hard.

Like others I'm sure, I was impressed by Dr. James Howell's appeal for the UMC to stay together.  Among other articles I read, I read Dr. William Abraham’s post from a few years back, “United Methodists at the End of the Mainline.” In his comments he references a sermon from a clergy in the Reconciling Movement who spoke about his position and the Reconciling Movement.  The message of that preacher went…

“Now it is our turn to get honest…We have moved far beyond the idea that the Bible is exclusively normative and literally authoritative for our faith. To my thinking, that is good! What is bad is that we have tried to con ourselves and others by saying ‘we haven’t changed our position.’”

           Then yesterday there appeared an article in The Daily Beast, a very thought provoking article I might add, entitled “Were Christians Right About Gay Marriage Along?”  In it, author Jay Michaelson, speculates that to some, gay marriage isn’t the end nor was it ever the goal.  In truth, their goal is to do away completely with marriage.  Michaelson writes,

“If your agenda is liberation, then the vision of same-sex marriage, in which gays become domesticated and live happily ever after, is a kind of nightmare. It is, at best, the squandering of a revolutionary potential, but at worst the growth of exactly what we were supposed to have shrunk: repression, patriarchy, convention, religion.”

      Is this really the end game for some in this movement?  And if the one is true, how far away is the other?  Can I even take your word if you told me you are against the second statement if you agree with the first.  I pray this is not shared within the UMC as a desired outcome. 

      I can’t help hearing those words, “A scout is trustworthy…”  I guess some could care less what comes to my mind.  You may think Scouting is a waste.  Fine.  But I think it is a critical, and clearly understated or entirely ignored part of the conversation.  Like scouts who stand and proclaim at their meetings regarding what they value (even though they are just starting to learn it), we clergy do the same thing in essence during our ordination processes.  We give our word, confirming our commitment to the polity and discipline of the church.  Our approach, I think, is very much in keeping with Jesus' words on giving our word too (see Matthew 5:36-37).

           In the book, “The Speed of Trust,” Stephen M.R. Covey describes giving our word or keeping commitments as the “Big Kahuna” of all trust behaviors.  He goes on to write, “…when you make a commitment, you build hope; when you keep it, you build trust (214).”  Throughout the book which reflects an extensive study on trust in organizations, Covey also notes the impact of betraying trust and the impact on relationships.  He often notes Warren Buffet’s famous quote, “It takes twenty years develop a reputation and just 5 minutes to destroy it.”  

     To break the bond of our word is what we are talking about when we speak about the breaking of our covenant vows of ordination.  I get we have disagreements of conviction, theology, and psychology regarding the issues related to sexuality.  I am of the conviction still to listen and learn what else we are not seeing clearly in the debate at hand.  But I’m also of the conviction that we have given our word, we have established a bond of trust (and we have a polity which says how we conduct debate and change) and some have chosen to break it.

           I am not ignoring the conviction and belief of those of you who see this as a justice issue.  I can respect you see it as worth the sacrifice to break covenant to bring the argument into the open, to try to change the perception and beliefs others hold regarding sexuality.  I want us all at the table but I find myself with a trust betrayed.  I don’t think this is a “straw-man argument.”  I am also not for the break-up of our denomination, I want us to be in connection but a trust betrayed is far from being quick to heal.  If you feel the sacrifice of betraying trust is worth the price, realize you still have sacrificed.  


John JP Patterson said...

Yes, I agree, it is a dilemma. I wonder, what were Jesus' thoughts before he broke the law and healed on the Sabbath? Before he ran the money changers out of the temple?

The church faced dilemmas over slavery and the subjugation of women, both Biblically supported. Yet, the UMC has completely discarded Biblical support of slavery and Biblical prohibitions against women speaking in church or having authority over men.

Today, this issue is still discrimination, based on widely disputed interpretation and translation. I wonder, would Jesus break this law, too?

Unknown said...

John, there's no biblical or historical reason to think that he would and you may think that Jesus was breaking the law, but he didn't (Matthew 5:17). He was breaking traditions that had been built up around the law not the law itself.

Great reflection and very good questions, Ken. Trust has been broken.

Jedi Pastor Ken said...

John, thanks for your response. I'm not sure but I get the feeling that your comment has an edge of snark to it. Please accept my apology if I am wrong about that, either way, I have no intent to add snark to my response.

I fear you might have missed the point of what I am saying. It may indeed be discrimination (though there are churches who do ordain LGBTQ pastors and whose clergy officiate weddings) for some. I believe I acknowledge the issue of justice in the last paragraph.

What I think I did a fair job of pointing out is that clergy who do officiate a wedding and have given their word as a UMC pastor, have broken a bond of trust. In my experience, when I have said I would do something and then didn't do it (or vice-versa), I would have broken my word, in short I would have lied. I might have a great excuse but it doesn't change the reality of a break in a relationship. Trust suffers.

It is not just a dilemma. If someone is going to go into this relationship KNOWING there are things you don't agree with in the Discipline, say you'll support it and then do the opposite, what else would this person also be willing to do? I am not going to trust this person.

Let us use the argument you present about the Pharisees. Jesus' actions were clearly contrary from the view of the Pharisees of his day. Did he break trust with them? Yes. There response to that is clearly evident. Clearly, Jesus’ main concern was not for the Pharisees and the Pharisees were not going to trust Jesus, that is clear. Jesus didn't try to appease all sides either.

You are also bringing dualistic thinking into this argument, that there are only two sides (or options) and I have clearly said in my post as well, I'm listening, not condemning. I am trying to seek another way (thanks to Morgan Guyton for giving me a 'third way' I hadn't considered).

In the dualistic approach which it seems to me you support (If I am wrong, again, my apologies), there is only to be one way you will accept. Let me see if this helps:

Pastor A, violates the Discipline.
Pastors B, C, D, on down, object.
Pastor A, declares that Pastor A is to get their way AND everyone else must deal with it AND take me at my word I'll not ever violate the Discipline again AND we’ll all get along and be happy.

I return again to my blog's statement and even the title, we're ignoring the reality that ordained clergy gave their word and then broke their word and violated the Discipline. Trust is broken and that costs us in our relationships and our ability to move toward unity.

There are numerous other sites where your points are being debated. My intent will remain trying to stay on subject; trust must be maintained and/or restored and I do indeed want my Methodist Church to be United. I hope this response clarifies my post and tries to adequately reflect what you wrote. -Ken

Jedi Pastor Ken said...

Cliff, thanks for your feedback. You and John hit on the difficult impasse I think we face. Thanks for recognizing my point of the issue of trust. I was starting to wonder if I had been unclear.

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