By Andy Adams
I’m not a General Conference rookie. After my first go-round in Tampa in 2012, I have been fully prepared to experience frustration, stress and yes, even anger here in Portland. As part of my daily heart preparation, I’ve been centering myself on admonitions in God’s Word to love and be a peacemaker and to do good to others. My verse this morning was James 1:19: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. I shared it on Facebook and received encouraging words of prayer from far away friends. Boy, I needed them today!
In two of my pre-conference posts (#UMCGC May we not be of one heart? Part 1 and Part 2), I held up a vision for civil dialog and respectful disagreement on some of the controversial human sexuality issues facing our United Methodist denomination. I held up this vision with the clear understanding that they can only happen when a mutual covenant of trust and grace is established. My colleague, Sara Isbell, and I were able to enter loving, respectful dialog despite our disagreements because of such a covenant. But what do you do when such a covenant doesn’t exist or worse, is broken? How, as a peace-making follower of Jesus (is there any other type?), should you respond when someone says they want dialog, but only uses it as an opportunity to attack you while your guard is down? Typically when that happens to me, my blood starts to boil.
I was faced with this situation in Friday’s General Conference. Someone who knew better made judgments about me and used trite, overly simplistic, irrational and totally unfair generalizations about me. I was misrepresented with no invitation to express myself, explain my thoughts, or even to ask clarifying questions to this person who has regularly spoken about the need for “across the aisle” conversation. I was so thankful I had been praying all morning to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry!
When this kind of thing happens, instead of building bridges of trust and respect, it creates easy opportunities for entrenchment. It takes people who might be able to find some mutual ground and polarizes them so much they can’t see any good in the other – they can’t have compassion for the other – they can’t see the other as a human being created in the image of God. And it happens all the time.
This afternoon I had a conversation with a fella I’ll call Larry. I only met Larry today, but he opened up to share how he had been so hurt over the way his concerns for the Church he’s served for 3 decades have been dismissed. He’s felt attacked by those who he disagrees with about human sexuality. And he essentially asked me, how do you deal with it? What do you do when your blood start’s boiling?
I shared with him some of my convictions. That by God’s grace, I choose to see those I disagree with not as my enemies, but people who love God and are trying to do the right thing. I choose to see those who are angry and bitter as those who have been hurt. Hurt people hurt people, right? I try to remain in touch with my own brokenness whenever I come too closely to judging someone else’s brokenness. And I try to live with compassion for those I disagree with. Well, after sharing a couple of examples, I looked at Larry and his head was hunched over and I noticed he was weeping. This man I just met confessed to me that he become a pharisee. Larry’s heart had reached a boiling point so often and he became so deeply entrenched over the years that he unknowingly turned into a legalistic and hard hearted pharisee. And for whatever reason, God chose that moment to break him.
By the grace of God, I pray that I will never become a pharisee – that my heart will not grow hard and that I will not build walls when attacked unfairly. When my blood starts boiling , by God’s grace, I pray that I will be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. By God’s grace, I pray that I will continue to have genuine compassion for those I disagree with even if they do not exhibit the same toward me. If you find your blood boiling, or you find your heart growing hard toward those on the other side of the aisle, confess to God your Pharisaical nature and ask for his forgiveness. Pray for a softer heart. Don’t settle for entrenchment. Follow Jesus and choose the way of the cross. And please pray for me to do the same!