The congregation had a conversation yesterday... strictly speaking, not a "meeting," since, in our way of thinking, that involves a vote. Yesterday was about process (how does this all work?), and processing (how do we feel about all this?). People spoke from the heart. Overwhelmingly, they affirmed my ministry there. It was quite moving.
I tried very hard to lift up the voices of those who are not happy, who feel that my manner of living is a scandal to the church (my words, based on their words) and a violation of scripture. Only two were willing to speak, though others were present. One spoke haltingly, clearly uncomfortable and in some level of distress. I thanked him, recognizing how difficult it can be to speak out if one feels one is swimming against the tide. The other... crossed a line.
I recounted the whole thing to Beloved later, and we were remembering this column from the New York Times about a week and a half ago. In it Nicholas Kristof talks about the differences, not just of thinking, but of feeling, between those we call liberal and conservative. The latest research would seem to show that the overwhelming feeling-motivators for liberals are a sense of fairness and the desire to avoid subjecting others to injury. For conservatives, on the other hand, the feeling-motivators are respect for authority and the avoidance of that which causes disgust.
The person who crossed the line betrayed disgust. It was audible in word and inflection, it was visible in body language.
Ironically, the disgust demonstrated keyed into this liberal's desire to avoid causing injury. I assured the congregation that if it is their will that I go, I will do everything in my power to leave them healthy and whole. And if it is their will that I should stay, I will do everything I can to continue to reach out to those who feel distressed.
The line-crosser has gone back and forth as to whether they would like to meet with me one-on-one. Now, I feel that I have new information. A meeting may be pointless, if at least one person spends the entire time feeling so icked-out that they can't focus on what is being said.
But I'll keep offering. I am proud of this congregation... of all of us, really. The conversation yesterday was heartfelt and kind. People who want me to stay also don't want to lose those who are on the fence (or even half-way out the door). There was a great deal of love in that room. That's always a good place to start.