Polarization.  In my opinion, this is becoming the cultural and political problem in our country and the national church. That's a pretty sweeping statement, but it's intended to spark some thought and dialog on faith and life.

So, what do I mean by polarization?  No, I'm not talking about making them colder - well, actually, maybe I am, but not that way.  I would define polarization as the driving of people to concentrate into two opposing positions (polar opposite) on important issues.  It is the loss of the middle ground, the loss of an ability to compromise in order to accomplish shared goals and objectives.  It is the abandonment of shared core values, justified by "the times we're in."  Polarization is further increased by those leaders who would manipulate the masses by pandering to their fears (rather than using their leadership positions to lift us up above our fears).

That middle ground is so important, because it is exactly in that middle place where we find those issues vital to our existence and mission, those things which make our endeavors worthy of our efforts of value to the world and the
Kingdom of God.  When we are forced to live on the sidelines, we find ourselves afraid and unable to care for anyone but ourselves.  The principles our nation was founded on, like those principles on which we can build that fabled "city upon a hill" (from John Winthrop's 1630 "A Model of Christian Charity" essay/sermon, quoted by nearly every president and candidate since then, including Adams, Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, both Presidents Bush, Dean, Clark and Kerry), are all but lost.  These call us to promote justice, mercy, humility, self-sacrifice and peace for the sake of all of humanity because, "The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause us to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world."

Sadly, much of our political discourse degenerates to name calling, partisan bickering and, well, just plain silliness.  The church's version of that adds to this list a brand of legalism and a judgmental spirit, hiding under the guise of political correctness and/or self-righteous indignation that stifles the spirit and muddies the mind.

"Compromise" used to be a good word, but in this polarized world, it becomes synonymous with capitulation or failure.  That is often because we have vacated the middle ground and have lost our basic values, sacrificing them to the god of whatever the issue of the moment is.  "If only our side could win, all would be well," some think, so people find themselves doing things they shouldn't to accomplish those goals (even in the church!).  Because they are afraid of losing, any movement toward the middle becomes to them the beginning of failure. Even embracing formerly shared convictions becomes suspect. Eventually one side will lose or go too far, and the pendulum will swing the other way and the process starts anew A win-at-all-costs attitude, mean-spiritedness, vindictiveness, a sense of disenfranchisement and a rush to the bottom for the lowest common denominator (usually money), all characterize the consequences of such polarization, both within the church and in our society.

As we enter into the political season in earnest, watch for this polarization and be aware of its seductive pull.  As our denomination enters into its latest conflict over openly practicing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered clergy (in committed relationships, of course), be aware of the call of God and what the Word says about such things.  And let us THERE find the middle ground where we can live as God's people and be free to serve him together, focusing on his call, the work of the church.  Is this possible in the church?

Blessings and peace,

Pastor Larry