Commentary: Diametrically Composed


By Dan Dick*

At what point do differences become irreconcilable?  Visualize a normal bell-curve.  At each extreme, there are polarized, immovable positions.  Three to five percent are so committed to being right and having their own way, that they no longer engage in any interaction that might influence their opinion.  These opponents are intractable and irrational.  Each end of the curve has its reasons, its arguments, its definition of truth, and its limited worldview.  Each believes they are wise, insightful, fair-minded, clear and right.  There is absolutely nothing to be gained by listening to those either too ignorant or unenlightened to be reasoned with.  It is a waste of time to debate what any intelligent person accepts as fact.  So, six to ten percent are composed to fight, argue, resist, reject, refute, and  dispute.  This who they are, and there is almost no likelihood that they will change.  It is disastrous when opposing fringe elements define the conversation for the whole.

And isn’t this where we are in our U.S. church culture?  The tail is wagging the dog.  The minority hold the majority hostage.  Calls for unity and reconciliation fall on deaf ears because of the din coming from the wings.  And the center lacks leadership.  I have been functioning as the proverbial fly-on-the-wall to a few conversations concerning the Commission our bishops have been charged to form following General Conference.  I applaud their decision not to rush into setting the membership, but I do question if it is a way to enable a more thoughtful and strategic approach or simply evidence that they don’t have a clue what should happen.  Meanwhile, the polar sides are plotting and planning.

One conversation is discussing a “Miracle on 34th Street” maneuver.  They want to inundate the commission with LGBTQ weddings, leaders, supporters, legislation from a variety of states in an overwhelming avalanche of evidence that the time has come for the church to enter the real world.  Another conversation sees an  unquestionable opportunity to establish the authority of scripture to set for all time church law that will settle the matter for all time and drive LGBTQ and friends out of the church.  A third conversation is all about how to sabotage and undermine the process so that it makes the commission look foolish and impotent.  All very healthy, uplifting, kind and generous approaches.  Getting our act together to destroy our opponents.  So Sermon on the Mount.

Why is winning so important?  Because we are viewing everything through the lenses of people who think truth is simple and that there are limits and boundaries to God’s love, grace, kindness, mercy, and justice.  The fringes are afraid, and fear is always a sucky motivator.  One side is afraid they will be invalidated as beloved children of God.  When a member of the LGBTQ community is told they are unacceptable as a child of God and that only by renouncing who God made them to be will they ever be welcome, anger rooted in fear of ostracism and rejection is a normal response.  When a member of the conservative, traditional, rules-based church hears that scripture is open to interpretation and that context, meaning, and application change across the ages, they fear that all they believe in is but a house of cards, easily destroyed by changing the rules.  One sides truth is the other side’s heresy.

There are two concepts that I have learned from Jewish brothers over the years that I think could be helpful.  The first is a proverb a rabbi in New Jersey shared with me when I was in seminary: “when faced with two options, choose the third.”  The second was a simple planning process tool.  Any time a group got stuck in “either/or — win/lose” thinking, he would draw a star of David and place the two opposing options on two points of the star.  Then, discussion proceeded to put yet another choice on each of the remaining four points.  It is amazing how quickly people become creative and unstuck when challenged to discern six possible outcomes.

There are three things that must occur for us to come to any kind of harmonious solution to our current hostilities.

  1. The United Methodist Church in the United States must own up to the fact that we cannot call the shots for the entire planet.  What we are encountering in the church in the U.S. is contextually unique, and involves a complex and specific chemistry.  Africa cannot determine our outcome.  Europe cannot determine our outcome.  Emerging Pacific Rim and Eurasian  populations cannot determine our outcome.  We must own a decision that addresses only The UMC in the USA.
  2. The majority middle must take control of the conversation, and limit the influence and rhetoric of the extremes.  We know the sides.  It is fairly straightforward.  One side is ready to accept LGBTQ fully and completely (for a wide variety of reasons) and one side is not (for a wide variety of reasons).
  3. We must allow those who absolutely cannot abide the decision of the majority to leave and find a faith communion more to their liking.  At last count, there is somewhere over 1,100 different denominations, para-church affiliations, religious Christian organizations, etc.  There is something out there for everyone, but to date, no one church has been able to please everyone.  It will be hard to say goodbye to brothers and sisters who choose to leave, but it must be the choice and right of each individual.

Year’s ago, I met with a group of Christians to discuss creation and evolution and to come to a consensus as to where we felt the church should stand.  We had ardent creationists and biblical fundamentalists proclaiming young earth and intelligent design.  We had scientists giving absolute credence to science and skeptical acquiescence to religion.  But the time we spent together was amazing.  We used an Open Space process (see Harrison Owen).  Everyone in attendance was invited three months in advance to develop a white paper of their choosing to defend their thinking and position.  They needed to be documented, thoroughly annotated, and they would have floor time at the gathering to present a summary.  We developed a set of criteria by which to judge the logic, value, veracity, and persuasiveness of each paper.  Each paper and presentation was then vetted and judged by a jury of five people randomly selected, who applied the criteria.  They heard the presentation, conferred, and shared their opinion.  Then the room had the opportunity to discuss each decision in small groups.  By the end of three days, 125 United Methodists from across the full theological spectrum arrived at four conclusions.

  1. There is inadequate and unpersuasive evidence and argument for creationism at its most literal.  The earth could not be thousands of years old, intelligent design arguments are flawed and insufficient, showing bias, and the Bible does not contain a complete explanation for all that science reveals.
  2. Evidence for evolution is indisputable.  While Darwinian evolution through natural selection is incomplete and has unexplained gaps, it is an elegant explanation for the development and variety of species and does not directly conflict with God as creator.  Evolution could be the natural process God uses.
  3. Science is a gift from God that was not clearly or fully understood in the premodern context of the ancient Middle East.  As human reasoning and intelligence developed so has our capacity to understand and make sense of the natural world.  The Bible does not speak of things too sophisticated or complex for the audience of its time.
  4. Teaching biblical creation stories as metaphor does not imply they are false but highlight the ways people of faith understood the mysteries of God.  There were things unrevealed to ancient men and women that they conjectured based on the best thinking and wisdom of the time.  The metaphoric explanation of biblical creation is an indication of God’s work in and through the creativity of humankind.  All things — science and religion — work together for good, though those who believe in God.

A number of participants commented after the event that they would never have believed so many concessions could be made, and so many hard-held beliefs could be softened to bring us to a place of consensus.  What I learned from the event is that nothing good can come by avoiding difficult subjects.  The only way to resolve differences is to meet them head-on in a respectful, intelligent, and intentional way.


dan-dick-2*Dan Dick is an ordained minister of The United Methodist Church serving in Extension Ministry as the Assistant to the Bishop for the Wisconsin Annual Conference.  A nationally known speaker, teacher, and author of fourteen books on spirituality, stewardship, congregational development, research, and spiritual gifts discovery, and an advocate for a more loving, inclusive church for the 21st century and beyond, Dan worked for the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tennessee for fourteen years in stewardship, congregational and conference planning, leadership development, and research.

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11 Comments on "Commentary: Diametrically Composed"

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Paul W.
Deeply flawed rhetoric. First, Mr. Dick presents a nasty caricature of the two sides, ascribing fear as a primary motivation, calling them irrational, and purposely severely underestimates the percentages on each side. Second, he lauds the supposed centrists without even a nod to the fact that many, if not most, centrists are the “go along to get along” pew-sitters of the denomination who typically have little interest in doctrinal matters and mostly value “not rocking the boat” — those that “don’t care” after 44 years of discussion on this issue are hardly a group that can or has any desire… Read more »

Don’t let the Africans have a vote over American Methodists. The American branch embraces full inclusion. Those who are unhappy with that simply find another church. Problem solved. Win win win all around. That is what he is describing.


A more realistic solution is for the minority in the UMC who are unhappy with following scripture to find another church or start their own instead of tearing down the one remaining mainline Protestant church that — so far — has not embraced the current culture of sexual permissiveness.


Agree but that is not what Dan wants. Once you separate the African voters the American branch embraces full inclusion. It will be the traditionalists who will be unhappy then.

I think your argument for the ” why winning is so important” is grossly oversimplified for both sides. Conservatives have been and are ready to leave with the GC of 2012 and 2016 results giving them hope for the future of the current denomination. The progressives refuse to give up even in the face of their agenda needing a total overhaul of the GC to pass. Neither of these responses to adversity, even at its root, reflect “fear”. I find it interesting that some churches discuss the GC with their congregations and others don’t because they don’t want the politics… Read more »
When I read articles such as this, I simply shake my head. There is no right or wrong, apparently — just a happy squishy middle that we should all be embracing. I disagree with that premise. I remain a United Methodist, but I have no qualms with leaving the UMC in the dust if it refuses to follow scripture. The issue of Christian orthodoxy is not one for a vote, or a committee, or a “third option.” Finally – a word on the author’s thinking that we must own a decision that only addresses the UMC in the US. I… Read more »
Richard F Hicks

No. The dog gladly shook off the tail and is now happy with just the stump. This issue was decided when the Southeastern and Central Jurisdictions brought in the Africans into the voting pool of General Conference. Like the Japanese soldiers in the late 1940s some just haven’t gotten the message that the battle is over. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

eric pone
Both extremists seem to feel that there is no middle way out of this. Both have forgotten that our God creates and is still creating even in our brokeness. There is a middle way and there will be folks at the extremist ends that will leave and we just need to accept this. Frankly I would rather we get out of the marriage business altogether and let folks work with Officiants and we just bless the union as a congregation and take this task from the pastor. (without declaring judgement one way or the other). I think our current discernment… Read more »
Wes Andrews

As a person who is ordained, I have been given a responsibility to lead, and point to God’s truth in God inspired Scripture. It is not my option to let people go on their merry, misinformed/mislead way when it comes to following Jesus. Scripture is very clear about so many things and that includes the definition and boundaries of sexuality.

Wes Andrews

eric pone

Well said. But your congregation is probably chock full of gray heads and you are blaming culture for why young people don’t show up anymore. You have your work cut out for you. Start knocking on doors.

Kathleen Stolz

Dan offers some possible approaches to reconciliation. It’s time for us to seek new ways of reaching new solutions. And just maybe we should listen to the rabbinic teacher Dan mentions who offers this: “Any time a group got stuck in “either/or — win/lose” thinking, he would draw a star of David and place the two opposing options on two points of the star. Then, discussion proceeded to put yet another choice on each of the remaining four points. It is amazing how quickly people become creative and unstuck when challenged to discern six possible outcomes.”

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