Today convenes the inaugural online meeting of the CAA. As founder and President, I am happy that you have all chosen to attend. As a nod to both brevity and my own crazy number obsession, we shall dispense with the planned recitation of our 7-step program for recovery, and get right to business. Welcome to Conflict Avoiders Anonymous.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been averse to conflict. My older brother and I never fought, even when he beaned me with a baseball in our back yard. When kids mocked me with their time-tested “I’d rather be dead than red on the head” comments, I told them my mom dyed it for me to keep me in the witness protection program. When the guys would break out the boxing gloves for a neighborhood Battle Royale, I would use them as puppets. When I found myself accidentally enrolled in Speech and Debate my senior year in high school, I immediately signed up for the humorous duet competition. My partner and I made it to the regional finals where we proudly earned second place.
Out of two teams.
But no debate. Debate = Conflict, and I wanted none of that.
Fast-forward to Tuesday, May 10th. I sat in my hotel room, musing about what to post as my Facebook status. Tell folks what I ate for dinner? Pithy comment about my kids? Proclaim my loyalty to the Oklahoma City Thunder?
For some reason, I skipped over all of those, and chose instead to share something totally innocuous. You know. Like announcing my support for the Presbyterian Church’s decision to permit the ordination of gays, lesbians, and transgender people.
For a brief moment, all sense fell out of my head and rolled under the bed. I later found it curled up next to that list of stuff that conflict avoiders like me should never post on Facebook, including:
- Gun Control
- Disparaging comments about one’s mother or Justin Beiber
And I had blended the top two. Sheesh.
If you’re a regular reader to the blog, you’re probably thinking “but you talk about religion all the time?”
Sure. But my God talk is akin to the job applicant who, when asked, “What’s your greatest weakness?” answers,
“I tend to expect too much of people. I also have a hard time saying ‘no’. Oh… and I almost forgot, sometimes I work too hard and get a bit too passionate about my job.”
Not too risky.
I usually talk about how God wants us to be more and do more and give more to help the little guy. The folks on the margins of society. Who can argue with that?
But here I was, sticking up for folks on the margins, and taking it a step further. I was advocating for the rights of homosexuals to become pastors. Not a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Openly gay folks. Needless to say, my little post, accompanied with a link to the article outlining the church’s decision, garnered a bit of attention.
The first comment was from an atheist friend of mine giving a giant thumbs up. The very next comment was from a Christian friend quoting scripture, which, if taken literally (and some argue ‘how else can you take it?”) explicitly calls homosexuality a sin. Giant thumbs down. It’s like I just put two cats in a paper sack. Closed it. And shook it.
* Don't you dare put anyone else in here.
The comments started rolling in. Friends of mine who had never met each other were sounding off in one direction or another. Expressing opinions. Challenging each other. But it wasn’t just them. Some questions and comments were directed at me, and I was expected to respond. To share my faith out in the open and explain the rationale for what I believe. The musings of my soul. My reason for living.
I should have posted about breakfast.
The debate eventually got to the heart of the matter. Ultimately, it wasn’t about homophobia or left-wing liberals. The debate was over a deep chasm of difference. Allow me to over-simplify.
On one hand, there are those that read the Bible literally. It is the Word of God. Written by God. The heart of God. It is inerrant and infallible. You may not like what it says, but if you believe in God, you must believe the book. The Bible is where you go to find the right answers. Then you pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide your life.
On the other hand, there are those that read the Bible as a book to be interpreted. Written by Divinely inspired men. But fallible men with a sinful nature. A book that tells us as much about the time in which it was written as it tell us about God. It is nuanced and confusing and contradictory at times. The Bible is where you go to find the right questions to ask. Then you pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide your life.
As you might imagine, these two views of the Bible produce very different interpretations about what is a sin, who should be able to get married, who should be able to lead a church, and how we should lead our lives. And these interpretations tend to take root in our souls and become part of us. So here was a debate, raging on Facebook, where, in some small way, people’s very sense of self was being challenged. But settling this debate is not the point of my blog post today.
Comments continued to roll in, and opinions strengthened. I got scared. I closed my eyes and tried to go to my happy place. But when I closed my eyes, I saw a little movie playing on the backs of my eyelids.
It was a screen, continuously populated with comments. The venom increasing with every semi-anonymous post. Clicks of “Like” and “Dislike” popping like gunfire. Facebook then created a “Love” and “Hate” button. But that wasn’t enough. Soon appeared a “ Did your mom drop you on your head when you were a baby?” button. Then lots of four-letter-word buttons. Some posted that I should be the next Presbyterian Pope, if there was such a thing. Others said that I was going straight to Hell. In ALL CAPS. With lots of exclamation points!!!! Then I replied that I’m OK with that, since, while hot, at least I could expect Hell to be tastefully decorated, with exceptional theater and a fantastic women’s softball league. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!!!!!!
But that was only in my head.
What appeared on screen was something much more civil. It would have been easy for those commenting to launch into biting comments and personal attacks. Instead the debate was about ideas. No doubt the people behind many of the comments were fighting the urge to judge, because that is surely how I felt. Reading someone’s position which was different from mine felt threatening. But something kept me grounded. Kept all of us grounded.
And that was the beauty of the comments that day. A measured debate. Honest, yet reflective. Refusing to cross that line between weighing ideas and verbal warfare. Each person leaving a tiny door open to the reality that none of us truly knows the answer.
Do I believe that anyone’s position was changed? No. But that wasn’t the point.
The point is that people, God’s people, shared their hearts openly. Willing to risk themselves without harming others. Willing to defend the God they love, or the one they don’t believe exists. Proving that in today’s hyper-sensitive, polarizing culture, there still exists a safe place for conflict avoiders like me.
Shelter under God’s umbrella if we choose love above all else.