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May 05, 2006


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Dana Ames

Oh boy.
This sounds so familiar it's scary.

Michael Kruse

One of my favorite quotes (no one is certain who originated it)

"History doesn't repeat itself...but it rhymes."

Denis Hancock

One aspect of this competition concerns me -- Are the two competing sides completely honest in how they present themselves?

In recent years I have seen fairly disparate groups within the PC(USA) try to paint themselves as "representing the center", yet they seem to occupy the fringes.

And it's should be no suprise that this same sort of chameleon-like behavior is typical of our political system.

More to the point of this chapter, I recall a posting by Beau on The Gruntled Center that described entrists as being willing to characterize things as being "Good, Bad, or Good Enough."

Some may find that wishy-washy, but if we spend all our time saying "Here I stand, I can do no other" on issues that do not rise to the level of essentials, then we paralyze ourselves and the groups to which we belong.

Michael Kruse

I had a friend who used define terms in this way:

Liberal = Someone with both feet firmly planted in the air.
Conservative = Someone who wants to keep things just the way the never were.
Moderate = Someone who will accommodate any action the doesn’t significantly affect them.

Did I mention my friend tended toward the cynical? *grin*

Denis, you and I have visited the polarity management topic. I see it as central to this discussion. I don’t really like continuum view of political persuasions with Left—Moderate—Right. I want to nuance this differently. I have been thinking about this a lot with this book.

Every human organization has to have boundaries. People often look at boundaries as a negative and they can be. But boundaries offer tremendous freedom. They allow the individual participants to know what they can expect to have in common with other participants and thereby be able to jointly engage with them in activity. If we had to sit down with each individual every time we decided we wanted to do something and go through a whole discussion to learn if we were committed to them same things, life would be unmanageable. Boundaries are essential.

But boundaries, though necessary, exclude. This brings the great human dilemma. What about those outside the boundaries? I believe that even without human sinfulness we would still have human boundaries. The problem is that sinful humanity is out of relationship with God and therefore cut off from the only true source of meaning for our lives. As communities, we create idolatries as a surrogate source of meaning. We turn these idolatries, along with their necessary boundaries, into ultimate arbitrators of good and evil rather than finding our moral compass in God. Consequently, boundaries, which are absolutely essential to human cooperative action, become twisted into ultimate weapons of human idolatry.

The liberals have the noble ambition of dissolving false boundaries (“breaking down the dividing wall”) what separates one group from another. This is unquestionably a mission of the church. Of course this begs a very important question: Which boundaries are false or what is an inappropriate use of boundaries? Liberals tend to be overly dismissive of boundaries and is so doing damage the community be destroying healthy boundaries.

Conservatives recognize the importance of having healthy boundaries and the need to “conserve” them. There are boundaries to being a Christian and Christian behavior. They are essential. Yet conservatives in their love for boundaries are ever inclined to establish needless boundaries and to inappropriately use boundaries out of fear that the group losing its bounded nature and therefore its purpose.

Thus, liberals and conservatives rightly uphold the needs for freedom and boundaries while rightly fearing the violation of their own cherished values by the other.

Meanwhile, there is the common conception of the moderate as the one who wants to find a “middle ground” between the two. They look for a compromise. This can be a noble effort to find the right balance between freedom and boundaries and sometimes is. However, it also has the potential to be very self-serving. Rather than looking for the right balance the aim is often to go with whatever action will bring the least disruption and rancor to the moderate’s contented world with little regard for right balance between freedom and boundaries. This brings to mind the observation that the only thing in the middle of the road is road kill.

The “polarity management” perspective says that we must hold relentlessly to both poles of freedom and boundaries. Furthermore, while institutions, programs and traditions may be effective in promoting balance in one age they may not in the next. As Christians, we must be willing to surrender cherished programs, institutions, and patterns of behavior if the preservation of freedom and boundaries requires it. Liberal, moderate, conservative all have virtues and vices.


At a churchwide conference on diversity and conflict in Atlanta a few years ago, James Logan preached a wonderful sermon on how the church needs both the center and the circumference, but the circumference must honor the center of the church. I like this metaphor better than a spectrum.

Denis Hancock

Another, similar metaphor got me thinking several years ago. If you know where the center is, and you know the radius, then you know every point that is encompassed by the circle that is so defined.

I delved back into my student years and remembered that if you swing a rock on a string you describe a circle. There are two forces acting in opposition: (1) centrifugal force that makes the rock tend to go as far as it can from the center; and (2) centripetal force that draws the rock in toward the center. The story of David and Goliath gives a good example of how this works in a physical sense.

All of us, at one time or another, have allowed centrifugal forces to move us farther from the center ("pushing the envelope", to use another metaphor), and we all, at one time or another have allowed ourselves to be drawn in toward the center.

Without the center, our circle becomes amorphous, and I think a healthy Church will know where its center is. My hope is that the "loyal center" will always be aligned with the true center.

I think it has done a pretty good job so far....

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