Roman Mars' story on Devil's Rope is one of the great episodes in his already great podcast. The story of Devil's Rope (AKA barbed wire) is an abridged history of the fencing in the United States. Those of you who have read this blog for a while now, may recall a post about Devil's Wire and perhaps even a sermon on the matter. And if you have seen those, then you may have already seen how the plan dealing with human sexuality proposed by the Bishops of the UMC, called "The Way Forward" is Devil's Rope.
When some people see Devil's Rope they will find it scary and dangerous. It is thorny and can make you bleed if you are not careful. So, for reasons of self preservation and safety it make sense that when we see an issue that is just as prickly that we would think twice before touching it. For many of us, the issue of human sexuality in the UMC is a thorny and potentially bloody issue to handle. And so, many see human sexuality and turn the other way.
Others might see Devil's Rope and get angry that such a material exists to divide and chop up the land. As Mars' points out, there were the famous "Fence Cutting Wars" beginning in 1881. There are those who see human sexuality and do not understand why this is an issue that divides us as a denomination. These people have clear beliefs thoughts on the presence of Devil's Rope. In human sexuality, one camp sees the presence of Devil's Rope to be a good thing as it keeps the boundaries of what is orthodox/Christian/True while others see the presence of Devil's Rope to be an affront of what it means to be orthodox/Christian/True. So we have within the UMC a group of people maintaining the integrity of the fence while others are cutting it. And just like the fence cutting wars that were ended with the intervention of the larger body in 1885, so too the UMC has appealed to a larger body in the Bishops to put an end to these wars.
The Way Forward is the attempt of the Bishops to put an end to the wars. It is not perfect and we can talk about overreach or kicking the can or whatever, but the fact of the matter is in doing so we overlook the brilliance of the Way Forward. It is the similar to the same brilliance that was embodied in the early inventors of the telephone. I yield to the concise words of Roman Mars on this point:
"Right around the same time that barbed wire was invented, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. At first, telephone companies were laying telephone wire in cities, but they weren’t interested in the rural market. Still, farmers also needed phones, which meant that they needed a network of wires to connect the farms. Barbed wire fences could serve this purpose. The barbed wire couldn’t transmit a signal quite as clearly as a nice insulated copper wire, but for many years, they did the trick. A dozen or so farms might be connected on one system and for about 25 dollars, farmers could buy a kit to rig themselves into the network. In 1907 there were 18,000 independent telephone cooperative serving nearly a million and half people. Because of this, farmers were some of the earliest adopters of telephone technology."
Rather than steering clear or cutting we see an alternate response to encountering Devil's Rope: building connection. This is what the Way Forward is and this is also it's brilliance: using one of the more thorny issues of our time, the same issue that some avoid, or build up or cut down, the Bishops saw the Devil's Rope as a potential tool to connect the denomination.
It is my prayer that we the people of the UMC will be willing to have the same creativity and courage of our Bishops, to see even the most difficult things as the very conduit of the Holy Spirit to build up the Body of Christ in the Kingdom of God.
May it be so. Amen.