Courtesy of Jim Parsons
We have forgotten James 1:19 – "Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to grow angry." (CEB)
The stance of the United Methodist Church on homosexuality has been a hot topic for a very long time ... OK, that is probably a huge understatement. As discussion of General Conference in 2016 start to ramp up and all the talk about schism, I have noticed, for a long time now, how horrible the internet has gotten. We, as Christians, as United Methodists, as human beings, have forgotten how to listen to one another.
As a member of some Facebook United Methodist Groups, as I read posts, my heart aches because of the inability of my brothers and sisters in Christ to actually listen, to "be quick to listen." I find comment treads get derailed so easily that no real discussion happens. It is only yelling with the hope that the opinion being shouted out sticks.
I completely understand how touchy and heated this discussion over homosexuality and the church's stance is. As I have wrestled with this issue and explored the scriptural basis on each side, I have realized there is really no discussion happening anymore. There is no conversation, online at least. Have we arrived at the place that we have moved beyond that now? Are we at the place that now where people are only digging in their heels and trying to shout over each other? Have we moved beyond discussion and holy conversation?
Proverbs 21:23 says, "Those who guard their mouths and their tongues guard themselves from trouble." Listening is learning to actually keep your mouth closed in order to let the other person talk. Instead, many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ have forgotten this and rely on being internet trolls instead.
If each side of the table has it all figured out ... there is no conversation anymore. If we have all the answers then who needs to listen to the other side. There is no dialogue when we yell at how 'unbiblical' a person is for their interpretation of scripture. There is no conversation when people are called ignorant, simple, closed minded, or heretics.
The joy I find in the United Methodist Church is that we don't subscribe to one train of thought. We have permission to disagree on things and still call each other United Methodist. We can lean conservative or liberal (whatever the hell those unBiblical terms mean) and still join together to bring about the Kingdom of God. Our connection is not based on agreement of social issues but instead is based on the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Maybe that is it. In our haste to loosen our mouths and let our tongues flap without worry, we have convinced ourselves that we have all the answers. We yell, "See it my way!" and will attempt to scream until every person follows suit. We have forgotten the power of listening, hearing the other side, and understanding one another.
We have forgotten that we are to be like Nicodemus. Even though he was trying to wrap his head around what Jesus was saying but couldn't comprehend it, he eventually just shut up and listened to Jesus. He stopped wondering "how" it was all to be and instead attempted to soak it all in. My hope is that we will learn to be better listeners. Through listening we will convey love and grace to our fellow brothers and sisters. Through listening to Jesus we will gain understanding in what love and grace truly looks like.
The Rev. Jim Parsons is pastor of Indian Trail United Methodist Church in Indian Trail, NC. He blogs at Adventures in Revland.