So while on that bastion of free speech and political thought, Facebook, I came across a posted article that sounded wrong to me. I will link the article here. For brevity’s sake I will try to summarize it while deconstructing it. The opening salvo reveals the author’s intent clearly. The point of this article will be to vilify any who dare suggest that diversity of thought is a bad thing. For the record I am not of the Nazarene movement nor of the United Methodist Church (hereafter called the UMC) so I have no particular dog in this fight other than addressing the terrible abuse of logic that occurs in the article.
The opening Salvo:
As the United Methodist Church considers schism and other structural solutions in order to draw a firm line between progressives and traditionalists, we can look to the Church of the Nazarene for an example of what happens when diversity of thought and action is crushed.
The first half of this sentence ascribes motive to the UMC. Apparently the sole motive of an entire group of leadership is to draw a line between progressives and traditionalists. First of all, can anyone imagine a denominational convention arguing that during their meetings? “Brother John, we’ve got to draw a line between the progressives and traditionalists!” To which half the room cheers and the other half boos. Secondly, if you can already classify the two positions you have, um, drawn a line between them. The author apparently fears that a firm line will be drawn between two distinct categorically different groups. Heaven forbid.
The second half gives us the moral prerogative: It is bad to crush diversity of thought and action. Notice that no distinctions here are given as to a specific thought or action. This is not the writing of a disciplined thinker. I’ll illustrate: My son loves fire right now. He will happily run up to the fire pit (if we didn’t watch him like a hawk) and grab the nice shiny flaming stick. I am of a diverse opinion, because I know that fire is hot. I have no problem crushing diversity of thought and action in this situation. Now let’s apply this to a church denomination as a whole. Let’s say that the “conservative” group opposes gay marriage and abortion because their holy writings explicitly do the same. Let’s say there are people who want to wear the name of that denomination while holding to an opposing view on sodomy and murder. The two groups have become categorically different. So why not say so?
What is happening to our sisters and brothers in the Church of the Nazarene? One answer could never suffice, but let me point to something that I think is waning in the Church of the Nazarene: the value of diversity in thought and leadership. The UMC ought to take note of what is happening to our cousin.
So skipping down a few paragraphs and we are introduced to another author’s work, namely Ric Shewell. In this article we find an affirmation of the moral prerogative that we should value diversity in thought and leadership. Let’s consider this for a moment. I run a pizza joint and I have a delivery driver who believes that he should have time to stop and get a snack on every delivery run. In the meantime people’s pizza gets cold and I lose business. Should I value that form of diversity of thought? How much less a religious worldview that is claiming a monopoly on truth? If I say I know the only true way to salvation and the guy next to me suggests that there are different ways should I value his diversity of thought? What if I believe that he is wrong and misling people. What of the charlatans in the religion? The womanizers? The users and abusers? The cultists? This is clearly an absurd proposition.
Early Days, the Coming Together of Four Groups
The Church of the Nazarene (established in 1908) joined four holiness groups together (allow for a little generalization). From the West came holiness people who emphasized urban social ministries. From the South came holiness people who emphasized lifestyle. From the North came holiness people influenced by campmeeting experiences. And from the Great Plains came holiness people influenced by the emerging fundamentalist movement. This diversity was valued, and compromises were made because unity was an expression of holiness.
Like the UMC, the Nazarenes come together ever quadrennium to work out and amend their denominational rule of life, the Manual. The compromises and diversity of thought can be seen in its pages from this denominations inception. For example, some pushed for “inerrancy” language in their statement on Scripture. Others refused. The compromise reads “inerrant in all things pertaining to faith and salvation.”
I wanted to merely highlight the examples in order to identify the fallacy the author is about to commit. The fallacy has been called the “naturalistic” fallacy. The naturalistic fallacy occurs when someone attempts to derive a moral norm (an “ought”) from an existing state of affairs (an “is”). For example: One hundred people ate a steak and liked it, therefore everyone ought to eat it and like it. Clearly not everyone should eat steak. Babies cannot handle it physically, some people cannot have the fat from red meat, and certainly not everyone will enjoy the flavor. It is absurd to argue from the way things are to the way things ought to be. So Shewell is arguing that because the Nazarene and UMC movement allowed and compromised with some diversity (how much diversity is not clear) they should therefore continue to allow diversity. A couple thoughts on diversity:
1) It is likely that the diversity of any group bearing the same name is not as large as those bearing different ones. For instance the Church of the Nazarene was a splinter group off the main Wesleyan group. The Wesleyans were a split from the Church of England. This means that at some point, the diversity was great enough to cause a schism and accompanying name change.
2) Diversity can be used in the universal sense. By that I mean that when you say lack of diversity is bad, you have made a universal statement. You are basically saying lack of diversity is bad in every context and in every situation everywhere. Part of my argument shows that some lack of diversity is good. This defeats the universal implication.
3) Churches and religious groups are uniquely vulnerable to the charge of suppressing diversity. Most religious groups at their core claim a knowledge of divine revelation. Divine revelation implies truth. Truth cannot be “diverse.” For a proposition to be true, it cannot also be false at the same time and in the same sense (Logic 101: The law of non-contradiction). Since these religious groups desire conformity to the truth then they would be right to be suspicious and ultimately reject a diverse (or false) opinion. In this sense diversity is anathema to the church.
In the latter half of the 20th century, influenced by the Great Plains group and the emerging generic Christian marketplace (books, radio, music, art, etc), the Nazarenes began to lose some theological distinction and emphasis on urban ministry. Fundamentalism and Calvinist thought was streaming into its leadership. The value for diversity in thought began to slip away.
This paragraph is a steaming hot mess of contradiction. The author is opining the loss of “theological distinction?” What does it mean to lose theological distinction? Isn’t that what Shewell wants? If a theology stops making distinctions, it becomes more generic hence it allows for more diversity, not less. My point in bringing this up is that this author is trying to connect some dots that are thinly related if related at all. Maybe the Nazarenes just figured out that there is a limit to the amount of diversity they are willing to accept. Perhaps they have decided that some behaviors and teachings go so far as to slander the truth they hold dear.
While the leadership and (I might say majority) of the laity are now influenced by this conservative pedigree, there are still many progressive Nazarenes. My friend, Ryan Scott, a Nazarene pastor, said this, “Ultimately, the divide tends to be one of education. Those with Nazarene university and seminary educations tends to be more progressive. Those with less or less rigorous or less Nazarene education tend to be more conservative.”
Since education at a Nazarene institution is not necessarily a requirement for ordination, most pastors (80%) do not have a seminary degree. I also assume the vast majority of laity have no Nazarene education. If Ryan is right, then the progressive voice in the Church of the Nazarene is now a tiny tiny minority.
So basically anyone who disagrees with the author is poorly educated. This is an Ad Hominem argument. That means that the person, or persons in this case, are attacked rather than their arguments. If a man with zero schooling tells me one plus one is two, I can have a double doctorate and still be wrong if I disagree. Education does not necessarily equal truth, The hubris displayed here is a little disgusting. I suspect that the figure of 80 percent is not based on any real research. It is just this guy’s friend saying it. Citation please.
I guess we have to identify “progressive” here. I don’t really know what that might mean. I think Hacking Christianity has an idea about what a progressive UM is. I’m not sure what a progressive Nazarene is, but I know negative and punitive action is being taken against a biology professor for suggesting Christian faith and evolution are compatible, a chaplain suggesting the Sermon on the Mount forbids a thirst for war, and a professor suggesting God’s nature of love involuntarily limits God from coercion.
Those don’t seem like radically progressive ideas. But when the scales are so far out of balance, the circle of orthodoxy gets narrower and narrower.
If we do not have working definitions of progressives and conservatives, then how do we know the circle of orthodoxy is shrinking? Would a guy have been thrown out twenty years ago for the saying the same thing? Fifty? Ninety? I am guessing he would be more likely to have been removed then. This means that if anything, the circle of orthodoxy (as defined by the Nazarene Church) is probably getting larger, not smaller.
There have been suggestions from more conservative/traditional United Methodists to let the West go. Let the progressives go. These are suggestions to remove balance in thought and leadership. These are suggestions to forgo diversity for uniformity.
Let’s be clear, “balance of thought” is used pejoratively here. This again reflects the hubris of the author. We are meant to assume that because balance is a good word, it should be applied to the thinking instead of diversity. So now balanced becomes a synonym for diverse. In the last sentence we see that the author recognizes that the denomination is striving for unity and uniformity. He still wants us to assume, without any evidence or argumentation, that uniformity is a very bad thing.
But uniformity does not create unity. Can we be diverse in thought and yet be united in Christ? Yes. I believe so. And I will always passionately defend, debate, and fight for ideas that I believe are worthy and true, but I will never tell a brother or sister who disagrees with me to “shut up,” or “go.” Stay. Speak. Break bread
Unless you believe in uniformity, in which case you are uneducated and wrong. The above is completely disingenuous. Would you break bread with a charlatan, cult leader, womanizer, etc? No. That is because at some point, a distinction has to be made, and a line has to be drawn. Go this far but no farther. What this author cannot fathom is that people may just believe that the diversity he is espousing allows things over the line. Rather than show how the things he suggests are acceptable and should be allowed, he creates a strawman instead. He would rather argue that anyone who disagrees is guilty of the made up sin of rejecting diversity in thought and leadership. Ric Shewell’s argument is complete and utter nonsense.
Jeremy Smith then posts his own epilogue:
Great words from Ric to help us look to our Wesleyan cousins for this truth: the dark side of uniformity is not a more focused mission but an empowered witchhunt.
If the United Methodist Church schisms or creates a new structure that lessens contact between progressives and traditionalists, then I think we would see the circles of acceptability become narrower in both camps. And, I’m afraid, it would look like the Nazarenes. When one “side” has a stranglehold on the entirety of a denomination, it’s easy to see the “other side” be choked out. It may already be happening in the UMC–but I believe there’s still time and the Spirit’s urging to find ways to live together before we smash all that is holy to us.
We are better together.
There is no new information here so I’ll be brief. Beware the emotional argument, for what it spends in feeling, it lacks in integrity. I can see no real justification to accept the premise that diversity in thought and leadership are necessarily good. I do see how it can be bad and I think I have illustrated that carefully. One thing I didn’t do was get into the Biblical worldview and how it views diversity of thought in leadership. I can sum that up by quoting the Bible 1 Timothy Chapter 6:
3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.