Reflections on the "Split" Blog

Photo Credit: Garry Knight

Photo Credit: Garry Knight

Last week, I posted this: “Will the Church of the Nazarene Split?”  And then things got a little crazy.  Here are a few reflections on the crazy.

It Hit a Nerve

   That post has 27,000 views and counting.  Between various Facebook threads and the actual blog post, there are several hundred comments. So far, at least five separate people have posted official response blogs.  (See links below.)  
   Obviously, this is a highly emotional topic.  Obviously, lots and lots of people feel that this is an important topic and feel the need to participate in the conversation in one way or another.

5 Types of Comments

The comments were pretty evenly divide in the following categories.  My responses are in italics.  
I am living this tension.  Thanks for sharing your stories folks.  Save yourself the pain of reading nearly 200 comments - much less the Facebook hoopla.  Here's a summary.

  1. No one is actually talking about this.  Um … See the statistics above.  Lots of people are talking about it.  They may not be in your circles, or they may not feel that you are a safe person to hear their frustrations.  But they are talking about it.
  2. What? We’re splitting?  Well, probably not.  (Read the whole post, not just the title.) And if so, not any time soon.  But I’m glad you’re at least talking about this now.
  3. Liberals are destroying the Church.  Well, thanks for participating in the conversation at least.  But please suspend judgment for a bit so that we can actually talk about the key issues.  Also, please don’t jump straight to the debate about homosexuality.  That’s not actually the main issue at hand.  The most important issues are really diversity and Biblical interpretation. (See below.)
  4. Raising this question is divisive and irresponsible. Some people feel that talking about division is likely to cause more division, but I believe the first step to healing is diagnosis of the problem.  Hearing you have a major illness is really disruptive, but the only alternative is getting sicker.  I’m trying to diagnose a problem and to start a discussion about healing.  (By the way, I didn’t anticipate how attractive and/or divisive the title of the blog would be.  As I explained in the intro, I was simply trying to give a reasoned response to a question I’ve been getting lately.)
  5. Thank you for talking about this.  Many, many people explained that they have been feeling this pain acutely.  There is a sense that our institutions and leaders have kept a closed lid on all discussion of serious frustration.  My goal is to blow the lid off so that we can talk about what is really happening and work on solutions together.  I think the lid is effectively off.

Most Helpful Criticisms

  1. These labels are flawed.  Not all theological conservatives are methodologically conservative.  Not all conservatives are old, and not all progressives are young.  Many people find themselves a mixture of both.  Also, the labels can be a bit polarizing by framing the discussion parallel to the US political map.  All of these criticisms are legitimate, but I feel that the labels of conservative and progressive are still helpful as a form of shorthand to help us see the broad outlines of the dialog.
  2. This is progressive hubris.  Well, I can see where you’re coming from here.  I’m definitely more in the progressive camp, and I can see how some of my comments could be offensive to conservatives - especially the bit about how conservatives are pushing out “our best and brightest.”  As much as I try to stay in the middle to facilitate conversation, sometimes I still get out the flame-thrower.  Sorry about that.  Nonetheless, I still stand by the fundamental picture that Scenario 1 is both real and bad for everyone concerned.
  3. What about the articles of faith?  Some referenced my previous blog - Holiness and Dirty Data - in which I said that many Millennials have only two non-negotiables: Jesus and mission.  Actually, most Millennial Nazarenes would agree with all sixteen articles (or at least with the basic thrust of all of them).  It’s just that they wouldn’t consider all sixteen as essentials for unity.  They’re more pragmatically focused and open to nuance and diversity.  Still, how we deal with these is very important for our larger discussion about the future of the Church of the Nazarene.
  4. Conservatives must not be pushed out either. I agree.  We need both conservatives and progressives.  Conservatives help keep us rooted, and progressives help keep us moving.  Both are important.  The problem comes when one group is unwilling to make space for the other, and conservatives are much more likely to believe that their understanding is the only possible righteous viewpoint. 

Most Unhelpful Comments

  1. You don’t believe the Bible.  See the first interpretation below.
  2. You don’t believe in truth.  Let’s get one thing clear.  I believe in absolute truth.  Truth is whatever is real, and there is only one reality.  Our perspectives can’t change what it really is.  However, I also believe that every perspective on absolute truth is necessarily relative.  We all see through a glass darkly.  For each of us, our understanding of truth is necessarily skewed by our own biases, histories, and cultural frameworks.  Therefore, we need to be humble in our dialogs with others.  We’re all mistaken about something; we just don’t know where our mistakes are.
  3. You obviously think X.  Actually, I’m just trying to help us have meaningful conversation.  When I talk about what Millennials or progressives think, I’m trying to do this with one foot inside that camp and one foot outside.  Although I am nearly Millennial (3 years too old) and progressive leaning, I don’t personally subscribe to everything I’ve attributed to Millennials or progressives.  I’m trying to outline the issues in the conversation, not to offer my personal views.  
  4. Demonizing the other side.  People on both sides of this discussion said something like: “Those people are destroying the church.”  While I certainly understand righteous indignation, I’m also learning (ever so slowly) that this type of comments makes more enemies than friends.  We need to learn how to talk in ways that draw each other into deeper conversation rather than pushing each other back into defensive positions.  


Most Helpful Interpretations

  1. Really about dealing with diversity and Biblical interpretation.  Several commenters - both progressive and conservative - have pointed out that the crux of this debate is really Biblical interpretation.  Do we believe in biblical inerrancy and literalism, or do we believe in dynamic translations and trajectory-based interpretations?  That’s a whole other ball of yarn I don’t have time to unravel, but I think that’s a key point we’ll have to work out together.  Until then, the hard part will be making space for people who have differing views on HOW they believe the Bible without doubting WHETHER they believe the Bible.  
  2. We’re actually living in Scenario 1 right now. Several people noted trends among the comments section.  Those reacting with the most passionate resistance to my post tend to be older, and those reacting with the most appreciation for the changes and the pain of feeling pushed out are mostly younger and more educated. There are exceptions both ways, but the trend illustrates that we are currently living into Scenario 1.  We are aging as a church, and we are pushing away many of our most educated young thinkers.  This is a massive problem.
  3. Envisioning the future.  Many expressed appreciation for starting this conversation - no matter how painful it is - and also began the process of envisioning a future for the Church of the Nazarene in which we deal with these tensions in healthy, God-honoring ways.  The clearest explorations of our future are found in the response blogs:
  •     Jason Rowinski (pastor in Kansas) proposed Nazarene orders as a means of unity amid diversity, and offered a follow-up blog clarifying and inviting discussions of other options.
  •     Greg Crawford (Africa Region Educational Coordinator) challenged the wisdom of raising this question in such a public way and called for more emphasis on our unity.
  •     Rob Prince (pastor in Michigan) talked about how his local church can stay unified by focusing on their mission (which is also how we can stay unified as a denomination).
  •     Greg Arthur (pastor in Indiana) summarized much of the discussion and gave a few predictions for how this will all play out for the Church of the Nazarene.
  •     Shawna Songer Gains (pastor in Tennessee) put all of this into a theological framework, inviting us to focus our attention on Jesus.

Thanks to everyone who has engaged, whether you disagree or not.  We need more conversation, more open conversation, and better conversation. 

As we continue onward, please keep the conversation flowing and keep in mind a few reminders.

  1. You are not as right as you think you are.  (Neither am I.)

  2. We need those who disagree with us to help us figure all of this out together.

  3. Jesus is the foundation of his church, not us, and he will finish what he started.

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This post is part of my Nazarene Future series.  You may also want to read the previous posts:  
    Holiness and Dirty Data
    Will the Church of the Nazarene Split?
    (Coming soon: Why we need both conservatives and progressives in the CotN)

I don’t have a subscription mechanism set up, but friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @JoshBroward to keep up with posts in this series.