There are two defining virtues for a Christian: honesty and humility.
Honesty: Christians have the courage to try and see themselves as they are, as objectively as possible. We search for blind spots, masked prejudices, self-justifications, and so forth. (Wasn’t that the point of Wesley’s small groups?)
Humility: We admit we are hopelessly and unconsciously biased in many ways. We admit we are not God and thus need others to help us see a more complete picture.
These are foundational in Jesus’ teachings and Paul’s writings. Without humility and honesty, there is no repentance, reconciliation, gifts of the Holy Spirit, and Christian fellowship.
However, the two inner dispositions are slippery. We may know we ought to be honest and humble, but do we really live like we’re intentional about them? This is why the Corinthians drove Paul crazy. They knew the requirements of a Christian life but squabbled and divided into factions.
That’s why honesty and humility aren’t enough. There have to be markers that show we’re serious.
Be respectful. Paul wrote, “with humility think of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3b). So, can I value those different from me as beautiful, unique, wise, equally loved children of God? Can I admire them? See the good in them? Want to be like them in some ways?
Be curious. What can such folks, so different from myself, teach me? How did they come to believe what they believe? What does life look like through their eyes? What questions should I ask?
In short, it’s impossible to be honest and humble without being respectful and curious. Otherwise, we’re hypocrites, the white-washed tombs Jesus warned about.
This is why the talk of schism in the United Methodist Church, regarding human sexuality, unmasks us. I’m afraid we may be more like the Corinthians than we care to admit. If we really respect one another, then why do we want to break away from each other? If we’re really curious about those who believe differently, then why do we preach first and ask questions later? Why do we say “This is what I believe” instead of, “From my perspective, this is how I see things”?
Our problem lies deeper than the presenting issues. It’s not just about scriptural authority for the traditionalists or about justice for the progressives. It’s also about our tendency to caricature the other side and distance ourselves from them. When we do that, the Christian character we claim takes a hit.
Maybe this is why the One Church Plan, rejected in the 2019 General Conference, isn’t talked about much anymore. To remove restrictive language in the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality and allow pastors, conferences, and congregations to decide for themselves would have allowed for ongoing dialogue. It would have shown the world we’re not doing what Republicans and Democrats are doing to each other.
In talking about schisming, though, we’re following the world instead of helping transform it.
In Christianity, one size doesn’t fit all, but one love embraces all. If we reflect that love in how we treat each other, then we’ll present a fresh, needed witness to the Good News of Jesus.
It will take more than just talking about honesty and humility, though.