Recently, Abilene Christian University's Dr. Richard Beck spoke at the church where I serve as co-senior pastor and he said something about disgust and anger that is relevant to the current situation within the UMC.
First, when we experience disgust our reaction is to pull away. We see this in our daily lives to be sure, but we also see this in the stories of Jesus. When there was a person considered disgusting, such as a leaper or a bleeding woman, the crowd stepped or pushed away the one thought of as disgusting. This is natural and helpful as disgust is a safeguard toward contracting sickness. We tend to stay away from sick people and even disgusting places (hospitals, garbage, sewers, etc.)
Second, when we experience anger our reaction is to move toward. When we are angered by someone driving on the road we will often drive quickly pass them or even tailgate them. Angry people are more likely to strike another person or at least yell at them so that our voice even moves toward the other person. Anger drives us to protest and act in ways that can be healthy, such as the theological notion of righteous anger.
Within the UMC there are two different postures toward the issues of LGBTQ inclusion and I propose if it is helpful to think not in terms of conservative/liberal but the animating emotions of disgust/anger.
There is a direct and an indirect expression of disgust happening in the UMC. The direct expression are those who personally want to pull away or leave the denomination. This position cannot abide in a denomination that they are disgusted by. The indirect expression of disgust is when we make a way for others to leave. We are not the ones who are leaving, but when we make a direct way for people to leave then we still have our disgust action met – there is a separation.
The other animating action is that of anger. These are the ones who are fighting and protesting for their position. These individuals are on the left and right but the action is the same – to drive toward the other in an attempt to subdue, convince, and/or conquer the other. There is also a direct and indirect form of the anger expression. Those who are directly protesting and those who are using the rules of the system to ensure their position is safeguarded and even bolstered. Either way, there is a direct and active engagement with the Church that is driven by anger.
The reality is those experiencing disgust or anger within the UMC have much to teach us and still much to learn.
Disgust teaches us that boundaries are important and that violations of those boundaries for many people trigger disgust. This means that when boundaries are violated or moved then there are many who have a core reaction similar to drinking their own spit. While the spit is in their mouths it is easy to swallow, however when asked to spit into a cup then drink it, disgust sets in. The boundary of where spit resides was moved and thus becomes disgusting – even if the spit is only seconds out of the mouth. Boundaries help keep people safe and disgust alerts us to a boundary violation and asks us to pay attention to this violation, because it may be harmful.
Anger teaches us that it is important to engage with rather than back down from those injustices in the world. And like disgust, anger is triggered when there is a violation. Anger alerts us to these violations and asks us to pay attention to the violation because there may be harm happening.
For as much as those disgusted or angry have to teach us, they also have much to learn. Specifically the limits of disgust and anger. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus shows us where those limits are and also shows us that if disgust and anger move us beyond these limits then we need to abandon disgust and anger all together.
When Jesus is confronted with people considered disgusting of his time, Jesus understands. Perhaps Jesus even experienced a bit of disgust when he encountered a woman whom he would not move toward, but in fact insinuated she was a dog. When the woman responded that even dogs eat from the scraps of the master’s table, Jesus realized that his disgust too him too far – he called a woman a dog! At that point he abandoned his sense of disgust and boundary keeping and healed the woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28).
When Jesus experiences anger he is quick to realize the damage anger can cause. For instance, as soon as Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” the very next line reads, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:22-24). Notice the twist here, Jesus does not banish Peter but invites him to get behind, one might say follow, him. In this moment of anger, even Jesus invited the Satan to follow him. Meaning that even when angry, Jesus invites the one he is angry with to stay in the relationship. If you are choosing to remain in relationship with someone then anger has to give way to love.
The United Methodist Church has a conversation on her hands about how to include ministry with LGBTQ persons. Some are disgusted and others are angry at this discussion. Both disgust and anger are helpful – until they are not. We have reached a point where disgust and anger are no longer helpful.
Any plan that is brought forth that does not hold us together in unified relationship reflects not the unity of the body of Christ but the emotional needs to resolve our own disgust and/or anger.
As Jesus said, you will be known by your love for one another. Or perhaps when Paul said that we are one in the Body of Christ. Or perhaps Revelation’s image of the peaceable kingdom where the lion and lamb are together. The Biblical witness is continually calling humanity to set anger and disgust aside for the sake of being in loving relationship. May my beloved UMC confront the disgust and anger in our lives, repent of the temptation of the pseudo-righteousness on full display that is only there to mask addiction we have to disgust and anger. Come Lord Jesus!