Temper-Tantrums or Conversation? #UMC


Healthy discourse is hard to come by, especially in contemporary forms of media in which the best way to get attention is through insult, rant, and hyperbole.  We all say we hate sensationalism, but the ugly truth is we are far less likely to read something that doesn’t make a shocking or outrageous claim.  Much of the Christian blogosphere, as reliant as it is on idol-worship and idol-busting, is rife with this sort of madness.

After all, it is much easier to dismiss an interlocutor with insinuation, ad-hominem, or labeling than to actually engage ideas with which we disagree.  That is because, in our infinite capacity for self-deception, we easily keep exclusively to the self-licking ice cream cone of our own ideological outhouses.   We  too often succumb to the temptation of intellectual comfort by surrounding ourselves with those who agree with us, who confirm all our biases, and then proceed to shout down in the most dishonest and uncharitable fashion possible any criticism we receive.

Welcome to the internet.  Welcome to our polarized society and church.

But there are some different voices, and they are worth highlighting because change will only occur if we reward people for writing with sense and sensitivity, with passion and restraint.  Here are three examples, all with similar stories to tell, and all people of intellectual rigor and genuine caritas.

  • David Watson from United Theological Seminary reminds us that how we argue is as important, if not more so, than the truth for which we argue.  Ends and means both matter.
  • Stephen Rankin from Southern Methodist University tells a personal story about how his own sincere, bridge-building effort to move a difficult conversation forward was dismissed out of hand with a simple label.  A sad, all too common story.
  • Evan Rohrs-Dodge, a UM pastor and fellow curator over at Via Media Methodists, uses Aragorn to remind us how important it is to actually listen to one another.  Listening is harder, but the only way to actually get anywhere.

As Chesterton asserted, it is easier to quarrel than to argue.  A quality argument can do much to bring needed change to couples, families, churches, and whole societies.  But petty tempter-tantrums and name-calling will only dissolve our bonds and harm whatever efforts there are to produce genuine conversation.

USA and #UMC, take heed.

How not to move the conversation forward.  Courtesy freeimages.com.
How not to move the conversation forward. Courtesy freeimages.com.


6 thoughts on “Temper-Tantrums or Conversation? #UMC”

  1. Not to quibble, because I think you raise an important concern, but do you have any examples of people raising the conversation from outside your own sphere? At least two of the three seem right in your wheelhouse.

    1. JB, as they say, charity starts at home! Two others, from different ends of the spectrum, that raise the conversational bar would be Matt O’Reilly and Bishop Grant Hagiya. Matt has previously been on the WesleyCast and has his own blog, and we will soon be releasing our interview with Bishop Hagiya. Both of these folks, though they come from different places, are quite charitable.

  2. A more major quibble…

    What if– and I suppose this turns out to be the case more often than not– some measure of crying, tantrum, accusation, and other tactics of “fighting” are actually a) inevitable and b) maybe even essential in the course of reconciliation, assuming reconciliation, and not “winning” is the goal?

    And if so, what if the problem is not these behaviors per se, but the “container” in which they happen– whether it is a container designed to handle these sorts of outbreaks and yet hold all parties with each other long enough and well enough to keep them moving toward reconciliation, even redirecting the energy of the explosions from destruction to release than enables refocus?

    Facebook itself is a poor container for conversation aimed at reconciliation or even mutual understanding in real time. So are blogs. The better container may be the one Mr Wesley commended– Christian conferencing– face to face– with a pre-commitment to watch over one another in love and strong facilitation that helps the group get there, and when it goes astray (as it likely will, and even may need to) helps bring it back.

    1. Taylor, I think your (well-reasoned, tantrum-less) argument has a lot of merit. I’d be quite happy if the caucuses spent their time and energy building bridges rather than walls, but that doesn’t seem to be their M.O. It’s funny to me that they demand to be on the floor of GC but don’t seem interested in encountering their opponents in a less politically charged venue.

    2. Great commentary, Taylor! I often hold a minority position and I become tongue-tied if I engage in a discussion where I am likely to feel barraged by several at once who disagree with me. It makes me sad and very disappointed with myself that I can almost never explain myself assertively and participate instead of turning tail and running away. I’d love to sit down face-to-face with many of these folks one at a time. And it doesn’t help that they are usually men and I am a woman and at 75 I have never gotten over the conditioning of my gender-raising!

What do you think? Share your thoughts below...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s