It seems human thought on any major issue subscribes to a binary worldview. You’re either “this” or you are “that.” And “this” is defined by the ways it is not “that.” The original Star Trek series even did an episode depicting the ludicrous places such “this or that” takes us. Captain Kirk and The Enterprise crew encounter a planet that is at war.
The people of this planet are completely black and white. One half of their bodies is pure white. The other half is pure black. Captain Kirk looks at them, perplexed, and asks why they are killing each other. Bele[i] is confused by Kirk’s question. “Why do hate I them?” He asks Captain Kirk. “Just look at them!”
Kirk doesn’t understand. He says, “But, they look just like you!”
Enraged, Bele responds, “They are black on the left side! We are white on the left side, black on the right side! It’s entirely different.”
Later in the show, Bele is locked in mortal combat with his antagonist. His foe yells at him, “I’ll kill you, you half-white.” Bele shouts back “You miserable half-black.”
Any reasonable person can see how idiotic this is. Most people have the ability to be reasonable. Yet last week, a crowd cheered our president as he mocked a sexual assault victim. No one in the crowd had any evidence that showed Christine Blasey Ford fabricated her claims against Brett Kavanaugh. The reason they supported the president is the people in that crowd decided it is in their best interest to be on the president’s side.
Never mind that sexual assault has been a scourge on justice and on women and on vulnerable people in our country for all of our history. Only now are women raising their voices in a way that says this evil must stop. Many in that crowd who laughed at President Trump’s derision of Ms. Ford have themselves been victims of violent sexual assault. Yet, they laughed because their side was laughing.
On the other side, those who oppose President Trump have not effectively proven that Kavanaugh assaulted Dr. Ford. As I thought about it, I thought about the immature ways I used to goof off with my female friends in college. We would should pies in one another’s’ faces, give piggy back rides, and sometimes wrestle around. And we hugged. Considering how sexually active college students are now (and were when I was in college), my own experiences sound childishly naïve. But I don’t know if in the midst of innocent shenanigans I have touched a woman in a way that she did not like but was afraid to say. I was not sexually active, but did I inadvertently hurt someone? Democrats and feminists have not proven Kavanaugh did anything or intended to.
It’s OK to say, I believe Judge Kavanaugh. That doesn’t mean one needs to mock Dr. Ford. It’s OK to believe Dr. Ford. That doesn’t mean one has to damn Judge Kavanaugh.
But the loudest voices in our society do. The voices of those who sit in the center and consider all perspectives are drowned out so that all that is heard are the extremes. This bipolarity is claiming rule in churches.
In this first quarter of the 21st century, the issue ripping American churches apart is the status of LGBTQ persons. Can they be full participants, including ordained ministers? Will the church perform same-sex marriages? These would be welcoming and affirming churches. Or, if the church defines Homosexuality as sinful based on Biblical norms for marriage and human sexuality, must the church then segregate LGBTQ persons as “them.” Doing this, then must that church restrict the participation of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church?
Is it possible to be a church that includes people who think the Bible says homosexuality is sinful and people who are in same-sex marriages? Can people from both groups exists as brothers and sisters in Christ in a church? Or must the church decide for one group and against the other?
I sit in the middle on most issues. I can see the reasons people on each side feel the way they do. Being in the middle doesn’t mean I don’t have a position. I almost always do. And I feel as strongly about my position as do those at the opposing poles. But, I don’t feel that just because you and I differ in opinion we have to be on opposite sides.
· I’m pro-life, to the extreme. You’re pro-choice, no compromise! You and I can sit together in church and sing songs of praise and worship side-by-side. I know God hears your praise and loves you as much God loves me.
· I’m a believer in affirmative action. You oppose it. Maybe we’ll have heated conversations about it, but in the end, we can be united in Christ. We can be a part of the same church family, brothers to each other.
· I believe the Bible clearly says homosexuality is sinful. You’re a woman married to another woman. You and I can say the Lord’s Prayer together. Though we differ on the issue, we are united in Christ.
· I know “white privilege” is one of the great of evils of systemic racism that renders our country broken and threatens to make true justice for all people impossible. You reject the notion of systemic racism and you insist you have never benefited from any type of privilege. We strongly disagree. We can still serve each other communion, the body and bread of Christ. Even with our differences, we have this in common. We desperately need the life Jesus gives and the only way we get there is through Him. It’s true for us both.
The Center is becoming a dreadfully lonely place. I know am I not the only one occupying space in the center. But there are fewer people here than at the poles. Newer Christian writers and evangelical bloggers desire to share Christ evangelically and to work for social justice and compassion. They insist on Biblical Christianity and they love all people including LGBTQ persons. These new evangelicals don’t fit the Left-Right bipolar paradigm. In their books and blogs, they often search for a “third way.” That’s probably a futile effort. Most human beings are more likely to revert to the base simplicity of the poles than to live in the dangerous tension of the uncertain middle. In the middle, all views are respectfully, thoughtfully considered. I don’t think there is such a thing as a “third way.”
What I am coming to understand is that the middle is difficult. It requires that faith and wisdom (reason) wed. The middle demands that those who live there think things through, wrestle with beliefs, and give love – the love of Christ – fully to all. People in the middle are there because they choose to be there. They find blessing in the other middle-dwellers they meet. And they come to learn (I have come to learn) that the only true seekers are the people willing to venture from the simplistic safety of the poles to the treacherous tempest in the middle.
So why do it? Why live in the middle? I can only give one reason. The God who reaches to people in the middle is infinitely bigger than the small god of the poles. The God in the middle exhibits deeper love, more extensive grace, and more transforming compassion. I want to know that God. There are days that I absolutely hate the middle. That I am writing this probably tips you off that today is one of those days. But I won’t flee to a pole just because I am feeling sad right now. The God who can truly lift me out of this funk and make me become a better me is here. The God who will show me how to love as He loves me is here. Yes, the middle is hard. And it is where I belong.
[i] Bele was played by Frank Gorshin, the actor who depicted the Riddler on the 1960’s Batman tv series; https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0331319/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t13