Double Victory in an Age of Winners and Losers

You may have read the following lines from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s' sermon delivered to the Detroit Council of Churches in 1961:

"I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: ”We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."
 The double victory of the Portland Convention Center symbolized in the architecture.

The double victory of the Portland Convention Center symbolized in the architecture.

While MLK was speaking to the cause of racial integration, his instructions of the power of non-violence resistance transcend any one issue. His desire for a double victory is noting less than transformation of the head and heart. It is a transformation of all parties involved and it is the path toward the Kingdom of God.

At the General Conference of the UMC in Portland, I saw the transformative power of the double victory give way to the idolatry of the single victory.

To help me I turn to former President Bill Clinton. 

In 2003, Bill Clinton said, “You know the difference in Democrats and Republicans? In every presidential election, Democrats want to fall in love. Republicans just fall in line.”

This now conventional wisdom is short hand for the phenomenon in American presidential politics that Republicans tend to choose candidates that are "next in line" and Democrats choose candidates that move their heart.* This dichotomy that President Clinton points out is a bit helpful to see that even in American presidential politics the double victory is difficult to come by and so it is abandoned for the sake of a single victory. We are in an age of winners and losers and the time it takes for a double victory leaves one side vulnerable to loosing.

At the General Conference of the UMC in Portland, the abandoning the double victory was on full display. One side was busy organizing protests in order to move hearts, while the other side was busy organizing hands to move votes. And we, as a denomination, are weaker all the more for it.

It is imperative that we as the church work for the double victory, otherwise decisions made will be only feeding the narrative that there are winners and losers. The body of Christ is animated when the heart and hands work together. To echo a great mystic of our tradition, the heart cannot say to the hand, "I have no need for you" and the hand cannot say to the heart, "You are of no use to me." 

The reason the General Conference is broken is not because of the bureaucratic nature of the system. It is rooted in the values of UMC members. We do not value the transformative power of the double victory as much as we value the shallow single victory. 

The single victory is dangerous because it means I get what I want while not having to consider the other side. The single victory leads to a decline of compassion. This is why I hope that we as a denomination do not split: if we split the double victory would be lost.


*I understand that the 2016 Presidential election cycle challenges this wisdom in that Republicans are choosing someone they are falling in love with (Trump) while the Democrats are choosing the next in line (Hillary Clinton).