Thursday, October 2, 2014

Name change

I guess I never thought changing my name would be that big of a deal.  It seemed like a normal thing to do when you got married.  My mom had done it, and most (though not all) of the moms I knew had done it.  Besides, when you’re a girl, and you’re young, you pick up things like writing your name with the last name of the boy you like, or maybe Mrs. Boy’s Name, possibly surrounded by a lot of hearts.  I did this.

By the time Jon and I actually started talking about getting married, I didn’t really know anymore.  I chafed at the thought of being called “Mrs.” (Seriously, a title change based solely on relationship status, for women only?)  I got actively grumpy at the thought of being called Mrs. Man’s Name.  And I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my name. 

On the one hand, I was fine with who I was as Allie Rosner, I had accomplished a lot as Allie Rosner, and I kind of wanted to stick it to the patriarchy, also.  On the other hand, I wanted to have the same name as my potential future kids.  Jon said he didn’t care what I did, and I yelled at him that he didn’t understand that this was a real crisis of identity.  Jon also didn’t like the way our names sounded hyphenated together, as much as I insisted he was saying it wrong.  He said to go ahead and call the kids Rosner, but I think he was bluffing, and in the end even I was a little too old-fashioned for that. 

In the end we decided that I’d add Bass on the end and he’d add Rosner in the middle, and I would try my best to go by all three names and keep Rosner in the mix.  It seemed like a fair and adequately progressive compromise, and I was happy with it. 

Since then, legally changing our names hasn’t been a hard process for either one of us, but emotionally it’s actually affected me more than I thought. 

We came home from the DMV the other day with promises of new licenses in the mail, and I was happy about getting that done.  But later I started feeling a little sad.  BASS would be in big bold letters at the top of my license now, and Rosner relegated to the middle, where no one cares.  I also had to drop my own middle name, Gail, because I knew if Rosner was my second middle name there was no way anyone would end up using it.   I couldn’t really put my finger on why I felt sad about all that, except that it’s who I’ve been for 30 years, and it’s hard to give that up. 

I started to think that maybe there’s something wrong with me, that what I’m called is so wrapped up with the core of my identity.  Shouldn’t my identity come from somewhere else—from everywhere else?  From my baptism?  From my relationships?  From my accomplishments?  From my vocation?   I’m a pastor, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a writer, a world traveler, a vegetarian, a runner, a cookie baker and milkshake lover, a child of God.  Those things haven’t changed. 

But then again maybe I shouldn’t have ever thought that changing my name wouldn’t be a big deal.  I should have remembered that I preach on stories where changing your name is a really big deal.  Jacob becomes Israel, the one who wrestles with God.  Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus will build the church.  Saul becomes Paul, a Hebrew name to a Roman one, symbolizing a complete about-face in his life and ministry.  For all these people, their names carry a deep sense of identity. 

Names were powerful back then.  You weren’t even allowed to say the divine name, because that’s how powerful it was.  Changing your name when you get married isn’t that powerful, but it is powerful.  Still. 

And I should have remembered, too, how in fifth grade I decided to go by Allie instead of Alison, and I spent a year fighting for my teacher to agree to call me that.  It was important—if only because it was me deciding on a name for myself.

I should have remembered how when I started college I thought maybe I’d go for a new start and go by Alison again, so at an admitted students weekend I just let people call me Alison and didn’t correct them.  It felt weird in a way that made me sure, inside, that I was still Allie.

It’s not that I regret my decision.  Sometimes I really like introducing myself by my new name, even in scenarios where it sounds overly fancy to go by three names.  I like the reminder that I’m married to Jon.  I like the symbol of a new identity in that way.  I’m gaining something in that, but I’m losing something too, and that is hard. 

One of the hardest parts is in this kind of name-change limbo period.  I didn’t know where to look for my name tag at the district clergy meeting a few weeks ago, under B or R.  When I ordered a sandwich at the Cheese Shop the other day, they asked for my first name and last initial.  It didn’t matter whether I said R or B as long as I retrieved my sandwich when I was called.  But I felt like I really didn’t know.  I have a flight booked for Monday, as Alison Rosner, and I honestly don’t know what my ID is going to say by then, so I can’t even call the airline and change it until I do.   One group I’m part of didn’t get the memo and still listed me in the directory as Rosner, I noticed today; I also played around with some online database for our District Committee on Ministry trying to make it display all three of my names, but when I got an email from the committee chair, there I was on the roster as Bass, Alison.

When I’m called Bass, it’s this strange sensation of being called a name that is very familiar to you, because it belongs to someone you love, but that in any case still isn’t quite yours.  But when I’m called Rosner, that feels wrong too.  In this limbo period, there are times when I’m not sure I know what my name is at all.  Depends who’s asking.  It’s a pretty unsettling feeling to not know what your own name is. 

I know the limbo period will be over soon enough.  I know it’s likely that eventually I’ll stop trying to make sure everyone keeps Rosner in the mix and just go by Allie Bass, because it’s easier.  Right now I do not like that thought.  Because that’s not who I am

But maybe I’ll see that I am still all those things I was, that I am still the same person I was, no matter what it says on my driver’s license.  And it won’t seem like such a big deal anymore.  For now it is.

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare wrote.  A lot, as it turns out. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Meeting with Mormons

Back in late November, I met some LDS missionaries on my way home from church one evening.  It was already dark, so I didn’t recognize them immediately.  They handed me a card advertising some event, and I tried to hurry away before they could get me to sign up for something, like sponsoring a child in Africa.  But they introduced themselves too quickly, and as I realized who they were, my face lit up.

This is a reaction that not everyone might understand, but the truth is, I had always wanted to meet some Mormon missionaries!  Or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or really whoever was going door to door.  I wanted to learn more about them and what they were doing and talk some theology, even if we disagreed.  This is actually not uncommon among seminary-educated people, I’ve discovered.  I do know a few Mormons, but we’d never really gotten into the specifics of what we respectively believed, and this seemed like a great opportunity.  We arranged to meet in a nearby park the next day around lunch.  I was excited.

That night my mom told me about her own one experience with LDS missionaries: they had come to church once with another member of the congregation who had been meeting with them.  If he went to their church, they would go to his, and they did.  The way Mom described it, they sent their ringers, the most car-salesman-y guys in the ward, who shook everyone’s hands after worship and tried to convert them over coffee cake.

But that’s not who I met.  Instead I met two young, friendly guys who confessed to being nervous at talking to a pastor.  (Actually, three now, because one got replaced by another along the line.)  They were nice.  They offered to help fix the water fountain at church the day it broke and flooded the hallway.  They clearly believe in their mission, enough to spend whole days outside in 12 degree weather.  And yes, they tried to convert me.

We’ve met four times total since November.  There are four sessions, if you will, and they give you a pamphlet and describe an aspect of their theology in each one.  Last week was “The Plan of Salvation,” for example.  Today was “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  These meetings have been an opportunity to learn about the LDS faith, but also to reflect on evangelism—their version of which is almost completely foreign to me.

One thing I admire about Elders G and F is that they know their tradition.  They can tell you what they believe.  How many mainline Christians can do that?  Sometimes people talk about your “elevator pitch.”  If someone asked you about your faith on an elevator, what would you say in that fifteen seconds or so?  I don’t have an elevator pitch.  Even with an M. Div., even as someone whose job it is to talk about this stuff, I’m not really sure how I would lay it all out for someone who needed the info quick.  But they know their content, and I like that.

I also don’t like it at the same time.  Earlier this week I was doing my homework, reading the Gospel of Jesus Christ pamphlet they had given me in advance.  I was doing this a little out of guilt, because at our first meeting they gave me a Book of Mormon, and then at each meeting after that they brightly asked if I had been reading it and praying to receive the truth, and I said no.  But I figured a pamphlet I could handle.  It had a picture of Very White Jesus on the front and referred to God as Heavenly Father a lot, which I take it is standard LDS nomenclature.  But even besides those things, the pamphlet rubbed me the wrong way.

It wasn’t about content, really.  In fact, with some small tweaks, it could have been written by any evangelical Christian tradition.  That was one of my main questions in our discussion today—what, really, is the difference between the Gospel as you understand it and the Gospel as I already understand it?  What does following Jesus mean in your tradition that it doesn’t mean in mine?  (Besides the obvious things, like not drinking coffee.)  As far as I could tell, the answer was not that much.

My objection was more about form.  As I was reading I realized this: I am inherently suspicious of any faith that can be summarized in a pamphlet. 

That goes for other forms of Christianity, too.  Show me a pamphlet with three steps to salvation, the last one of course consisting of some drawing of a cross forming a bridge over hell, and I’m pretty much out.  To me, faith is so much more than that.  It’s wrestling with God and struggling with tradition and trying to make sense of experience in community.  It’s learning and praying and doubting and coming to new understandings.  It’s trying out what it means to love Jesus and finding there’s something you’re drawn to about that and then trying to figure out from there how all the puzzle pieces fall into place, if they even do.

That’s the kind of faith we even see in the Bible, with people who follow and fight and question and lament and fall away and fall back, and with authors who disagree with each other, each trying to figure out who God is and what it means to be God’s people.  The whole thing is a struggle and a conversation.  The day I realized that is the day I fell in love with the Bible.

And here was that faith I vaguely recognized reduced to some bold points across six pages with a vocab section in the back.

I got a little preachy about this at our meeting today.  I testified a little.

I mean, I get it, you know?  You can’t lead with the complicated and messy stuff.  You can’t ring someone’s doorbell and say, “Hey, there are a lot of different ways of understanding the Atonement, and I’m not really sure which one I think is right; here’s where I’m at today.”  You have to give people something to go on.  The conversation can develop from there.

I figured there had to be more than this.  These missionaries had to present their case, they had to give the “right” answers to my questions, even if they sometimes seemed parroted.  That was their job.  But surely underneath it all was a living, dynamic faith that I could recognize and appreciate, even if it was not the same as my own.

So I asked: “Tell me something you struggle with in your faith.”

They looked at me like they did not get that question a lot.  After a minute one of them said, “There isn’t anything, for me.”  To be fair, he grew up in an orphanage in Eastern Europe until being adopted by a Mormon family from Utah just a few years ago.  I got the impression that being adopted into that family was when life stopped being hard, and he was ready to accept it all because it had given him that.  Still, he looked like he didn’t even really appreciate the question.

The other one seemed more sympathetic to the question.  “I’m sure there are people who do doubt sometimes,” he said, “but I can’t think of anything.”

But if it were me, I could think of so many things.  And I’m not ashamed of that.

I walked away kind of disappointed.  I had really wanted there to be more than that.

I’m not trying to make sweeping generalizations about Mormonism here.  They are two guys, young, trained to know the answers.  I’m sure there are Mormons out there with a more nuanced faith (in fact, I’d love to hear from them.)  I’m sure a conversation with many evangelical Christians would have gone similarly.  I’m sure when I was 22 my faith was a little less nuanced too—in fact, my elevator pitch has probably deteriorated steadily since then.  Not that I was brave enough to go around and share it with random strangers, even then.

So I’m not trying to generalize.  I’m just trying to say I’m reminded how important it is to me that faith never be wrapped in too neat a package.

But how do you evangelize that?



Thursday, December 5, 2013

Advent and Nelson Mandela

I was a freshman in college when I was introduced to South Africa, through a Desmond Tutu book we read in my Human Rights class first semester.  You might say there was no excuse for the fact that it took that long, especially since I was in Model UN in high school.   In fact, I'd represented South Africa at a conference once, but it was kind of awkward, because I'd gotten an old book out of the library for my research and basically ended up representing the former apartheid government.  (My partner and I won that conference, my first and only gavel, and I'm not sure what that says about anyone involved.)

But it was the Tutu book freshman year that hooked me on South Africa, its history and contemporary struggles.  And soon I was writing every paper I could about South Africa: the ethics of its Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Its level of economic development.  The liberation theology that arose from its struggles.  And I went there, too: just for a week at the end of a summer in Lesotho, but I went to the Apartheid Museum and ate lunch in Soweto and stayed in a big house on a shady street on the other side of Joburg that was surrounded by high walls and barbed wire.

I read Long Walk to Freedom between freshman and sophomore year of college.  I already loved Tutu--it was time to get to know Mandela.  It was slow at the start, which I didn't think boded well for the next 600 pages or so.  But the more I read, the faster I turned the pages; I got to accompany Mandela and his contemporaries as they organized peaceful protests, orchestrated sabotage from exile, risked their lives, and found reasons to survive and hope during decades in prison. 

It's been a long time since I've read that book and since I wrote my last research paper, and I don't remember many of the names or dates or details, anymore.  What I remember about Long Walk to Freedom is that it made me want to be part of it all.  It made me wish I had lived in that time and place, risking my life and safety for justice, being part of the struggle with those other people who believed so strongly in the same things.  It's the same way I felt reading Harry Potter, only this was real.

The truth is I'm not sure I would have been part of the anti-apartheid struggle, if I had lived at that time and in that place.  I would have supported it, of course.  Maybe I would have attended a few protests, made my opinion clear to those who would listen, given some volunteer hours.  Planning sabotage from exile?  In real life, I'm not that radical.  Maybe I'm better at studying these things from a place of privilege half a world away.

And yet I wish, sometimes, for something that would make me radical, to be drawn into that struggle between clear right and clear wrong and be willing to risk everything in it.  But Jesus said that whoever is faithful in small things will be faithful in big things, and maybe someday my big thing will make itself clear. 

Here's what I know: reading Mandela's story in his own words made me believe that a new kind of world was possible.  After years of struggle and violence and setbacks, it was possible.  That's why he was so beloved, I think; he made us all believe that.  And he made me (us?) believe that it was worth the risk and sacrifice.

South Africa still needs that hope, and the world still needs that hope, and I still need that hope.  That's why Advent seems like an appropriate time to be thinking about these things, because that's an Advent kind of hope.  God comes and brings redemption to a broken world, and we wait for the day when God's kingdom is fulfilled, and if we do things right, we wait actively by anticipating that future in how we live today.  And I'm thankful today, for those who have struggled for justice much harder than I ever have, and who have helped me believe that this world is being made new, and who have made me want to be a part of that.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Obama's Religion, and Why We Go to Church

I’ve seen some comments on Facebook today speculating on the sincerity of President Obama’s faith.  I’ve heard such speculation in the past, though not completely sure where it comes from.  Do they have to do with his personal narrative?  Or do the questions arise from his social policies, which some Christians don’t agree with and some do?

First of all, to state what I hope is the obvious, it’s pretty unhelpful to try to judge the sincerity of someone else’s faith, or to determine whether they get to call themselves the same thing that I call myself.  I’d say the same if it were Mitt Romney being inaugurated today and people were debating whether Mormons are really Christians.  Why is that up to me?  If someone calls him- or herself a Christian, I’ll give them the respect of assuming it’s true.  We might disagree on matters of theology, and we might disagree about what it means to faithfully follow Jesus, but for goodness sake let’s not quibble over the labels.

At the same time, helpful or unhelpful, I admit I have also wondered what really prompted Obama to join a church and to start calling himself a Christian.

I read Obama’s memoir Dreams From My Father a long time ago, and though I don’t remember all the specifics now, I believe he wrote about meeting Christians and working with churches through his job as a community organizer, and how at some point, it started to feel like something he needed, too.  I’m paraphrasing a lot there.  Maybe that’s how it happened: a conversion, a turning point, a change wrought by people who witnessed to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Or Obama’s story is the story of an aspiring politician who realized how useful it would be to have not only a label, but the connections of a faith community.

Or maybe it is a combination of both.

Or maybe it is a combination of both with a lot of other factors added in too.

The truth is, there are a million reasons that anyone who is part of a faith community is part of a faith community.  Maybe it’s because I grew up going to church every Sunday, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s what you do.  Maybe it’s because I was lonely in a new town and looked for a way to meet some people.  Maybe it’s because I’m looking to be part of something bigger than myself, even if I’m not entirely sure yet what that is.  Maybe my parents make me.  Maybe my spouse makes me.  Maybe I want attention, and can get it reading Scripture and chairing a committee.  Maybe I’m looking for people who can help me—who will give me money, give me rides, visit me in the hospital, or even who will vote for me.

Good reasons?  Bad reasons?  Should we make a list and divide them up?

I grew up in the church, and my experience in my own home church and in my college campus ministry led me to want to not only participate in a faith community, but to pastor them.  I go to church because I want to follow Jesus and I think we do that best when we figure it all out together.  I go to church because I believe God called me into ministry.

But I also go to church for a lot of other reasons.  I go to church because it’s what I learned to do as a kid.  I go to church because throughout my life, I have met good people there.  I go to church because I like the hymns.  I go to church because it looks pretty at Christmas.  I go to church because sometimes there are tasty potlucks.  Some Sundays, when it is early and dark and raining, I go to church simply because I don’t want to get fired.

I know people, furthermore, who came back to church after a long hiatus because they wanted their kids to have some sort of spiritual grounding, or because it was important to their significant other, who are now leaders in our congregation and, as far as I can tell, people of deep faith.

At any church, people are there for a million different reasons, “good” reasons and “bad” reasons that are inextricable from each other, reasons that change over time.  And as far as I’m concerned, Jesus doesn’t have a tally sheet marking off each person’s reasons for coming that day and determining whether they are valid or invalid.  Jesus says, “Come on over.”  Just like he did to the people who found themselves hanging around him in first century Palestine—people who needed healing, people who needed food, people who needed a refill on the wine, people who wanted to watch a miracle, people who needed affirmation, people looking for adventure, people who were curious, people who were suspicious.

Is Obama a sincere Christian?  Who knows?  Am I?  If I had to guess, I’d guess Obama calls himself a Christian for a mix of reasons that are personal, spiritual, social, and political.  And if that mix of reasons isn’t valid, then whose mix of reasons is?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mom's Retirement Speech

The speech my mom gave to her office today:

This is a great time for me to retire.  I’m 66 years old and I’ve had a great career.

I have a couple of memories of my employment history that I wanted to share. 

I graduated from college with a degree in Spanish and started looking for a job.  At that time the Employment section of the newspaper had the job adds segregated by sex.  The men’s jobs were on one side, and the women’s jobs were on the other.  I remember my mother saying, “Look on the men’s side;  that’s where all the good jobs are.”     That was the year that the National Organization for Women (NOW) was organized, and the following year NOW began petitioning the EEOC to end sex-segregated ads.

I did find a trainee programming job at Metropolitan Life insurance Co.  They gave a logic test every day to those who walked in off the street, and trained those who passed the test.    Since an Employment agency had sent me, I owed the agency 10% of my first year’s salary (salary $100/week, $5,200/year).

Later, when I was married, and moved to Ohio I had to look for another job. 

I went to National Cash Register (NCR).  On the wall near the employment office were the usual signs about employment rights that have to be posted.  As I was looking at them, a couple of guys came along, and I explained I was looking for a programming job.  One of them said, “We couldn’t hire you, because women aren’t allowed to work overtime, and we need people who can work overtime.”

Then I went to an employment agency in Ohio.  Employers were hesitant to hire a young women who would just turn around and get pregnant, so the employment agency woman who interviewed me asked, “Are you “on The Pill?”.    (It was just two years prior to this that birth control pills were made available by prescription to married women).  I said, “yes,”  and the woman wrote,  P I L L S  all across the top of the application.  [Birth control pills could not be prescribed for unmarried women until 5 years later.]

I did find a job in Ohio from an ad in the paper. (I don’t remember if it was a sex-segregated ad.)   Again I had to take the logic test.   I was the only woman in the programming shop for 2 years. 

My first two weeks on the job at Arlington I was sent to IBM Assembly Language School.  I had to study ahead of time, and pass a test before the class started.  I came in to Arlington the previous week to pick up the books to study.  I always remembered how they had given me the books and sent me to school before I had even one day on the job. 

These incidents seem like a long time ago, but, believe me, it was really just like the blink of an eye.

So, things have changed during my career.   Programming was the perfect job for me.  And I appreciate the opportunity I had to find a niche on the PRISM  team as the mainframe systems were phased out.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Poor People Aren't Lazy.

Given the likely smattering of people who will read this, I realize I am preaching to the choir.

But I found myself frustrated by certain opinions expressed on Facebook this evening that implied that, and I thought I might sleep better if I wrote down my thoughts instead of having an eloquent yet angry conversation in my head.  Here's the gist of that conversation in my head: people think poor people are lazy.  They could get a job, but they don't, because it's easier to just ask people (and the government) for free stuff.  I disagree with this premise.

 Now, I could go into detail about all the poor people I've met or heard of who work two jobs at minimum wage and it's not enough, or the people who have to find a new job every time tourist season ends, or the people who were semi-holding it together until a medical emergency sent them into a tailspin.  But for the sake of argument, I don't want to talk about those people.  For the sake of argument, let's assume we're talking about a stereotypical welfare recipient who could ostensibly work but instead asks people and the government for free stuff.  Even that stereotypical poor person is probably not lazy.

One of the most important things I learned in seminary, in a contextual education class that went along with an internship at a homeless shelter, is that it takes skills to be poor.  I never thought of that before!  I had always kind of assumed that it takes skills to be rich, and you were poor if you didn't have or use those skills.  And it does take skills to be rich.  It also takes skills to be poor, and they are very different skill sets.

Twice a month I have office hours in which I meet with people requesting financial aid.  Some of them certainly fall into this category of people who could ostensibly work but instead prefer to ask me and the government for free money.  To get that free money, this person has probably called every church, charity, and assistance program in the phone book.  They probably met with someone at United Way and were turned down and told to try the Methodists.  They probably had to find a ride, since if they have a car, it's been out of gas for a while.  They probably showed up at my church at 8 to make sure they get on the list for when I start seeing people at 10.  If I help them, it will probably be for a week of rent at the cheap motel they're currently staying at, or a quarter of the monthly rent for their apartment.  So from my church they will probably continue on this extended scavenger hunt that is their daily life, trying to piece together the next $200 donation toward whatever it is that they need.  Oh, and let's work a few job interviews in there too.  Not that they are actually planning to go to work (because, remember, for the sake of argument, that's not the kind of person I'm talking about) but just to meet the qualifications to keep receiving aid.

Being poor is hard work.  I would suck at being poor.  I don't have the skills for it.  Being poor, even the stereotypical kind of poor that gets branded "lazy," takes hoop-jumping, and networking, and perseverance, and no small amount of chutzpah.

Would those skills better serve society if they were channeled into an honest-to-goodness, wage-paying, W2-filing job?  Sure.  Are they the same skills needed in most low-level honest-to-goodness, wage-paying, W2-filing jobs?  Maybe some, not all.  There are many reasons why people don't get or don't keep jobs, and most of them have to do with the skills they've learned and how they've learned to apply them.  Mom never taught you how to be on time for a job?  Well, maybe she taught you how to go on a scavenger hunt to get this month's electric bill paid.

Do I know how to change any of this?  Heck no.  But even if you don't consider something "honest" work, that doesn't mean it's not hard work.  Whatever else you may call the poor life, don't call it lazy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

But There is No Unity!

In fourth grade social studies, we had to memorize the last part of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech.  The words come back to me sometimes in that weird way you remember things from a long time ago.  “Gentlemen may cry ‘Peace, peace’,” it began, “but there is no peace.”  It was years later that I realized he was quoting Jeremiah. 

I’ve been thinking about that line again since last week, when General Conference voted to change nothing about the church’s stance on homosexuality, not even to officially admit we disagree.  The arguments and politics behind such votes are complex.  But one rule of discourse is simple: no matter your stance, it would behoove you to claim a basic commitment to church unity.

Here’s how Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter put it, in their defeated “agree to disagree” amendment: “It is likely that this issue will continue to be a source of conflict within the church.  We have a choice: We can divide, or we can commit to disagree with compassion, grace, and love, while continuing to understand the concerns of the other.  Given these options, schism or respectful co-existence, we choose the latter.”

If I had been a General Conference delegate, I would have voted in favor of the amendment.  It would have been, at least, a small step in the right direction.

But I wouldn’t have been completely happy about it.  The way they put it, the choice seems so obvious: schism or respect?  Division or grace? 

And that makes me sound pretty bad when I say that I’m not sure “respectful co-existence” is my choice.  But what I mean is that I don’t find our current “co-existence” so respectful at all—certainly not to our LGBT brothers and sisters. 

I’m not saying division is necessarily the best answer.  But maybe it does deserve a real place in our conversation.  Maybe we do need to give up this idea we’ve held onto so tightly, that our task as a denomination is to preserve our sense of unity at all costs.

Yes, I know—it is Jesus’ prayer that his followers might be one (John  17:21).  That’s why I don’t say the above lightly.  Believe me, I love the United Methodist Church.  It has been, since my early childhood, the place that taught me about God, Jesus, discipleship, love, compassion, justice, forgiveness, and faith.  If we divided, I would grieve. 

And to further complicate things, I do actually believe that we can only truly be the body of Christ together.  All of us, from D.C. to Yamoussoukro, from incense-wielding Catholics to slain in the Spirit Pentecostals.  The United Methodist Church only represents part of this diversity of the body of Christ, but it does represent a lot of diversity, nationally and globally.  And that’s good.  I value that.  I value being in community with people who are different from me, and even with people with whom I disagree.  I know I have things to learn from them.  So yes—I value unity.

It’s just that when I look at the church, even now, unity isn’t what I see.

That’s why I’ve had this edited version of Patrick Henry and Jeremiah running through my head this week: “Gentlemen [and women] may cry ‘Unity, unity’,” I hear them say, “but there is no unity!”

The way I see it, there is no unity when loyal, lifetime United Methodists are already being told (directly or indirectly) that their families are unwelcome in church, because their families are “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

There is no unity when homosexual young adults are already being told they have to choose between answering a call to ministry and being in a fulfilling, committed relationship.

There is no unity when pastors are already required to draw a line between couples they can marry, and couples they can’t.

And most importantly, there is no unity when people have already left the church because they can’t support injustice and inhospitality, or when people have never bothered to enter a church because they associate Christianity with bigotry and homophobia.

There is no unity because, if “committing to disagree with compassion, grace, and love” means maintaining the status quo, we have already tacitly chosen schism.  No, it’s not the dramatic, knock-down-drag-out schism we fear.  It’s not the kind of schism where you have to sue each other for church property.  Instead, it’s a quiet, invisible schism between those who are fully welcome inside the walls of the church, and those who are not.

The choice Hamilton and Slaughter give us between schism and “respectful co-existence” may sound like a clear choice, but it is a false one.  We’re not choosing between schism and unity here.  We’re choosing between schism and schism.

So, then, the question becomes: schism along what lines?  Do we choose the schism that comes from standing up for justice, or the schism that comes from crying “Unity, unity!”?

After the vote last week, I heard and read several different responses from LGBT friends.  “I refuse to leave,” said one, “because I believe that love will win.”  I admire that, because it’s a response that refuses to be run off, that refuses to believe that the way things are is the way that have to be, that refuses to stop fighting for justice from the inside.

“I will always be Methodist,” said another, “but it’s finally time for me to look for a non-UMC church.”  I admire that too, because it’s a response that refuses to stay in a church that tells him God didn’t make him for the same kind of love as everyone else.

Stay and fight, or divide with grace?  I don’t know the answer, but I am interested in a real conversation.  There’s a part of me that thinks we’d be better off to go our separate ways, those of us who are in favor of full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church, and those who are not.  We don’t have to hate each other.  We don’t have to stop talking to each other.  We don’t have to stop praying for each other.  Maybe, idealistically, we could still handle the whole thing with “compassion, grace, and love,” still “understand the concerns of the other.”  But why not do it with separate polities, each group aligning its common life with the Gospel according to its best understanding?

But even if separate polities aren’t the best answer, let’s at least stop paying so much lip service to unity.  No matter how many times we say the word, the truth is that there is no unity.  Stay and fight or divide with grace, let’s tell it like it is: we’re guilty of schism either way.