When I first read the United Methodist Centrist Movement (http://umcm.today) blog, “No Room at the Table for Centrists,” I got an ear worm. Does anyone remember Twisted Sister? Irritated that “centrists” were left out of a conversation of five UM caucus groups with the Commission on General Conference, they have made their feelings known.
I should have felt like applauding. This group is made up of people to whom, by nature, inclination and sentiment, I should feel the closest. Instead, I was bothered. And I still am. Why?
Look at what happens when you follow their logic in “No Room at the Table.” By positioning themselves in the “center” between the groups they put on the “left” and the “right,” they give the impression of avoiding polarization. After all, there are two ends of the spectrum – both by definition “extreme” and they in the “middle,” by definition, not extreme. But here it gets tricky. The blog then puts all those caucus groups who talked to the Commission into one category – “absolutist.” One category. Very disparate groups in terms of thinking about specific issues all wrapped up under one word. That’s the word – “absolutist” – used repeatedly in the blog.
In reality, then, the centrists contribute to the polarization they decry. There are the “absolutists” and there are the “centrists.”
The rest of us are then supposed to sort ourselves according to this spectrum. Or worse, someone else does the sorting and puts us somewhere. That’s what happens most often. And I hate it. Almost everyone I know – left, right or center – thinks of herself or himself as moderate. These labels obliterate the serious and careful thinking people are trying to do about any given issue. Once you draw a conclusion, your opponent puts you in some “camp” and you become identified with whatever the stereotype is for that camp. Just because we now have a large and growing group of centrists does nothing to solve this problem.
By using this spectrum, we are doing nothing more than aping the American political culture in our church fights. This penchant for placing ourselves in the “center” between “extremes” is peculiarly Methodist. That’s what bothers me. That’s the problem. The problem is the paradigm.
When I look at the four points of the UMCM platform, I’m puzzled further. Here they are:
(1) Fiscal responsibility
Who can argue with that, but what does it mean and what makes it centrist? Doesn’t everyone want fiscal responsibility? It’s where we try to exercise “fiscal responsibility” that matters.
(2) Connectional realignment
Here they refer to regional conferences, which looks like some version of the failed at GC 2008 proposal.
(3) Itinerancy reform
This one calls for the end of “closed itinerancy,” described as a process more open to lay and clergy involvement at the local level. Is this a call system? The first sentence of the platform statement tells us that the local church is the hope of the world. This is not our polity. Moving ever closer to a congregational polity dramatically alters how United Methodists have thought of their connection.
(4) Mutual respect
This one refers to our major church fight over sexuality. The centrists call for a moratorium on clergy trials related to homosexuality until 2020.
It fascinates me that someone can call this platform centrist.
Give me honest, substantive, thoughtful arguments, left, right, center, up, down, blue, red, purple. I don’t care a fig for the labels or where someone can place them on the political spectrum.