How do Christians decide who not to listen to? Which heresies, mistakes or habits take a person beyond the pale?
I received a mailing from UM Action a few days ago complaining about homosexuals being put in charge of worship planning for General Conference. To the UM Action folks it looks like part of the agenda to change the church. I know that such an agenda exists – and don’t support this particular change – but I wonder how different worship planned by a homosexual would be from that planned by a heterosexual. Do we worry about this because this is the favored sin of the month – while we don’t worry about practitioners of other sins?
It’s fairly easy to pick on UM Action at this point. They offend against the practices we currently deem most evil – acts of exclusion. Exclusion is bad, inclusion is good. Our new doctrinal statement, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” is a prime illustration of the position of inclusion in our church. Our old doctrinal statement, including (can we still use that word for such a reactionary document?) such doctrines as the Trinity, Incarnation and Resurrection was implicitly exclusive. Though we did not see ourselves as a “creedal church,” pastors are asked at ordination if they agree with our doctrines and will preach them. Traditional Christianity, with its tinge of the miraculous, seems far-fetched to many. “What do you mean, ‘Jesus is God incarnate?’ That’s just a myth, a metaphor. ‘Raised from the dead?’ We all know dead people stay dead. All that means is that ‘Easter faith’ rose in the hearts of the disciples. ‘The Bible is the Word of God?’ That old sexist book?” It’s much easier to affirm “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” In spite of the apparent openness, however, not all is to be included. Exclusion is out. So if we hear people saying something we take as exclusive, we know that we ought not listen to that person. “Cover your ears!”
I’m a father to three children. I believe in sheltering my children from the evil and bad things of the world. I think it is a good thing for them not to hear what some people have to say. But only to a point. If made a life-long practice, covering their ears will work to their detriment. My strategy instead is to gradually expand what they listen to – while I am with them. If they are going to believe and stand for Jesus and the teachings of the Christian faith (which is not a foregone conclusion for children of believers), they need to learn not only how to articulate the faith for themselves, but how to discern and argue with those who are or appear to be on the outside. It may be that upon engagement, the position presented is to be rejected. But then again, maybe we have something to learn, maybe we need correction. We won’t know until we learn to argue it out.
Argument is hard work. Much harder than just covering our ears or universal inclusion (an irrational position). But it’s worth while, I think. Especially if we’re willing to take the time (years or generations sometimes) that it takes.