Last week I received a book in the mail, gratis: Seeing Black and White in a World of Gray. In both its title and cover design, the book presents itself as the doppleganger to Adam Hamilton’s ‘Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.’
My church folks will be the first to tell you that I’m neither a Hamilton aficionado nor apologist. His books and sermons have always struck me as so intentionally unoffensive as to be uninteresting. I’ve always thought him too vanilla, serving up barely spoonful of medicine with all the helpings of safe, saccharine piety.
This is a confession that will probably prevent my ascension to bishop but I’ve even (and often) joked that Adam Hamilton would be the perfect pastor for the First Church of Pleasantville– before the residents of the cinematic town discovered color.
But apparently my estimations of Hamilton as milk-toast, whitebread, and benign to the point of narcolepsy were wrong because somehow he’s managed to offend the black-and-white residents of the United Methodist Church.
Let me pause there and just reiterate the point:
The fact Adam Hamilton has managed to offend an entire segment of the UMC- offend to the point of provoking a rival book- says much more about the self-righteous, persecuted self-image of the offended backers of Seeing Black and White than it does Adam Hamilton.
You can judge a lot by a book’s cover. That ‘Seeing Black and White’ mimics (mocks?) Hamilton’s book and is not published by the official publishing house of the United Methodist reveals much about the state of the denomination.
The introduction alone to the book damns Hamilton with faint ‘bless his heart’ praise for his leadership and pastoral wisdom while accusing him of elementary missteps of logic and contradictions against the plain reading of scripture.
The rest of the book goes on to deconstruct Hamilton’s work and to argue the traditional perspective on marriage and sexuality. There’s nothing surprising or new in the book save the posturing of its title, it’s self-professed brave stand against the ‘gray’ of our postmodern, permissive relativistic society.
Indeed the only real surprise in Seeing Black and White is the delusion that what this stymied debate needs is but another impassioned exegesis of the conservative (or the liberal) position.
You’d think if it’s one thing conservatives and liberals could agree upon it’s that both sides are well aware of the other’s facts, texts and arguments.
Seeing Black and White is a clever title given its a rejoinder to Seeing Gray.
Still, while I’m neither liberal nor conservative, I have to admit I’m at a loss how anyone could seriously survey our culture, which is hyper-partisan to the point of dysfunction, and come away with the conclusion that what our world or Church needs MORE of is black-and-white thinking.
Black and white is exactly what ails my (increasingly) little corner of the Christian world.
Case in point, last night I viewed a live chat on Twitter hosted by Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter, two of the primary sponsors of A Way Forward, a proposed third way through the Church’s impasse on sexuality.
In a nutshell the third way boils down to this statement:
We propose that the United Methodist Church entrust to each local church the authority to determine how they will be in ministry with gay and lesbian people including whether they will, or will not, allow for homosexual marriages or unions.
The live chat I viewed involved Methodists, mostly pastors, from all over the country discussing the (de)merits of A Way Forward.
I sat transfixed the way one is when there’s pileup of cars and limbs strewn across the highway.
Karl Barth once quipped derisively that it’s a miracle any one comes to Church expecting to hear a word from the Lord. Watching the ticker-tape of mean-spirited condescension and self-righteous finger-wagging from my duly ordained colleagues, Barth’s words hit home last night, revealing the true sinfulness of this debate.
It’s not simply that one side has equated their view with ‘biblical authority’ and the other with ‘the Gospel of inclusion and love’ such that to compromise isn’t just impossible but immoral, for it would be to compromise either the scriptural word or the Word Made Flesh.
It’s not simply that the heels-dug-in nature of both the liberal and conservative views prevents the Church from addressing more urgent concerns like poverty in the developing world and discipleship in the post-Christian one.
No, the true sin is that the assumed righteousness of the conservatives’ and liberals’ respective causes is so BLACK AND WHITE that it leads to- and even justifies- self-righteousness.
There’s something wrong with a position when pastor upon pastor on Twitter don’t even pretend to be practicing what they preach.
I don’t give a damn about what Romans 1 says or what part of Leviticus Jesus never contradicted or who is the 21st century equivalent of the eunuch Phillip came across in the Book of Acts. None of that matters.
Because there’s something very wrong about the ‘rightness’ of a cause that permits ministers to be mean and blithely so.
As in most things, I think Barth was right.
It’s a miracle people even go to Church given what I see from her leaders on Facebook and Twitter and Tumbler.
And maybe Adam Hamilton is wrong.
Maybe the best way forward for the UMC is for its members to get rid of its pastors. Maybe then they could find the path to comprise.