idle threat noun deficient threat, empty threat, harmless threat, ineffectual threat, meaningless threat, menacing, mere notice, mere talking, mere warning, only words, subtle intimidation, testing, trial balloon, veiled threat
With the recent news of two “large” United Methodist churches in Mississippi leaving the denomination, there is a fear of uncertainty since the commission as been announced to look at human sexuality for our denomination. We are hearing from clergy and lay members alike, that “how we need to stand our ground”, “We must change or die” and “If we don’t change it will split the United Methodist Church.” Others are using that great church history word, “Schism.” (Schism is a word I will define at the end of article, so hang on.) This week alone, I’ve read from a bishop that is upset with the “big steeple preachers” using their influence to make a statement, and she doesn’t realize that she is doing the same by the use of her office. I’m tired of the, what I call, idle threats.
When I fist started in ministry I became familiar with the idle threat. “You play that hymn again in this church and I won’t be back.” “Professional musicians do not need to be miked. If you do this, I’ll take my talents elsewhere.” Even the threats of dead guys rolling over in graves a hundred years old is seen as a threat that doesn’t have the backing. Threats are made because we want our way.
All this debate is about something that most of us can’t control. If you really think about it, only a few can make the changes. So we have to vote for delegates that can play well with others. And just like our elected government officials, the ones that can play well with others, are usually not the ones running for office.
The problem is not even a United Methodist problem, its a world problem. There are several things have have happened in the last decade that has cause the polarization of people, leading to the thought that an individual opinion matters, and that people put their hope in things and then they try to control it—and when they find out they can’t, threats happen.
The polarization of people is really a problem of the shrinking of the middle (probably an idea for another article) —middle ground politically, the middle class economically, middle generationally (boomer and millennial generations growing so large they are shrinking Generation X thought) and the middle or mainline church religiously. The creation of the twenty-four hour news and sporting news agencies have created this polarization. I have a person in the church where I serve that watches FoxNews and MSNBC because he always “wants to play the devil’s advocate.” There is no need for the devil’s advocate anymore because we now have polarization. News has become the expression of opinion not reporting the news. Remember when the news could be reported two times a night for thirty minutes each?
We no longer have a collection of opinions to implement change. All it takes now is for someone to express their opinion and Christmas trees get removed from airports, people lose there businesses, and people have to apologize to the world for what they said to a family member. Individual opinions should not matter (my opinion). Collective opinion, others with similar opinion, matter. Collective opinions get owners removed from basketball franchises. Public opinion used to matter until the shrinking of the middle. Now we have two public opinions that can’t make a decision to save a nation.
So why is the church facing a split/schism? For most of us in Missouri (and in most of the country), its a governmental issue. I will not perform a same sex union because we can’t in Missouri. In fact, if you really want to get down to it, heterosexual marriages are regulated by the government. God was taken out of how ones can get married when the court houses started to issue marriage licenses. Homosexuals want the same rights as heterosexuals. I’m ok with that, but its a government thing, not a child of God thing. We are all sinners. Unions and Marriages in this country have to deal with estates, taxes, and censuses. So the Church is facing division/split/schism over a governmental issue.
As an aside, and promised, throughout history the definition of schism has changed. It has always meant to divide or separate, but the words of the “hope of reunification” have been dropped over time. The ancient church schism of East and West had a hope of reunification. This is the definition that I still hold onto today.
All I’m saying is work within our system if you want a change, don’t threaten it. Everyone that left the Council of Nicaea in 325 BCE not in favor of what the majority decided, was not a heretic. The schism of the East and West churches still has the hope of reunification, because they still are working through communicating. Threats don’t work. We must communicate to avoid a split, not to threaten a split. So if you see me sitting at Annual Conference quietly, it is me supporting the shrinking middle.
P.s. I don’t deal well with threats. We just might sing that hymn again.
Let me know your opinion by tweeting at me @lakepastor