The problem of “Other-ism.”

download Each day as I wake up; it seems I hear of another conflict somewhere. Religious factions in the middle east. Racial upheaval and violence in Ferguson, Missouri. Domestic violence involving members of pro sports teams. Conflict between Russia and Ukraine. And even in the Church, no  especially within the Church there is a constant stream of discord and vilification between those who believe one way on certain issues and those who view the situation in a different light. Most notably this conflict within the Church in the United States centers around two key issues: abortion and sexual orientation. I want to particularly address the tensions present in the United Methodist Church in regards to full-inclusion of all persons in the life of the church including members of the LGBTQ community. Let me say at the outset I dislike having to label people in this group, but it is difficult to discuss the issue without some identifying descriptors. I would prefer to simply say full inclusion of all persons in the life of the church; but fear that would dilute the discussion. The UMC is one of the last main-line denominations to still struggle with the issue of sinfulness as regards homosexuality . Others have moved on to acceptance, ordination, and marriage equality. Yet even among those who have made historic inclusive decisions, division and conflict have only escalated.

I believe that what we are experiencing on a global scale not only in the area of human sexuality but in the vast majority of the conflicts occurring anywhere in the world is an over-abundance of “other-ism”. I define other-ism as our natural tendency to divide into groups composed of  “them” and “us”. As we experience persons who look, think, talk or live differently than we do; we tend to define ourselves and them by our differences and similarities. Skin color, language, occupation place of residence, whether we like one sports team or another, political leanings, religious beliefs gender and sexual orientation can all serve as a means of deciding who is “one of us” and who is an “other.”  It is comforting to know those who are part of us. It is not so comforting to know who is an “other.” Especially around issues of sexuality and sexual orientation there is an aura of sinfulness which can be much more disconcerting  than other differences that we experience with others. “Other-ism” helps us to identify those with which we have the most in common. But it also sets up artificial barriers between us and those whom we perceive to be different in any way. Someone who is an “other” and thus not one of “us” is feared or misunderstood or both! We analyze why we believe, talk, live as we do and ascribe reasons for those behaviors. If someone is an “other”; we often falsely ascribe reasons for their not agreeing with us. Within the Church this means that we label folks as “non-biblical” or “unspiritual” because we do not comprehend the Bible  not are we guided by the Spirit  in the same way as the “other.” We will not be able to stay in fellowship with those who disagree with us on the issues of sexuality or any other important issue as long as we surrender to the problem of “other-ism”. Only as we get to know that others are still capable of being faithful Christians, only as we can trust God to work within such different and diverse persons will we find the means of “maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”