Minister’s Musings Among the Mountains – Week of April 18

“Are We Having a Church Fight?”

Someone asked me that question recently. I had to pause for a moment to think about the implications of what they were asking. After all, we all *know* that church fights are bad…

I forget what I said exactly in response, but I wouldn’t call any of the conversations at Westside to be in the category of church fight.

I’d suggest instead that what’s going on is a spirited conversation. More on that below.

The image of a classic church fight is not a pretty one. One cartoon I saw years ago imagined a church fight as a pie throwing contest between the pews on either side of the aisle. No one knows quite how it started and there’s always a mess to clean up. *Real* church fights involve major disagreements about money or ministry. Church fights can come about when a minister has been asked to leave and one group believes it very unfair. In some congregations the use of traditional religious ‘God’ language can be so disruptive that a faction decides to break away and start another congregation.

Those kinds of church fights are incredibly ugly and painful for all concerned. Those are times when the denomination must step in to sort out how the church system got into such a predicament. Feelings are hurt, and people leave.

That’s not where I think Westside is right now.

Then there are the spirited conversations. I think I told the person who asked me the question that such conversations are wonderful…unnerving, perhaps, but still wonderful. Why?

The most important reason is that people feel passionate about what the congregation means to them. These are conversations about identity and how the congregation will look in the future. Examples of such passionate conversation can involve things like the color of the walls in a new or remodeled building. In my experience few things bring out strong passion like carpet colors or how the bathrooms will look.

So, what’s the spirited discussion at Westside all about? Partly, it’s about identity. The Westside of yore is moving into a new generation. We are part of the awkward national conversation about race and cultural values. The very nature of church in the Digital Age of the 21st century is changing faster than we can adapt to it. The temptation to lift the drawbridge, fill the moat, and hunker down is very much present in American communities right now.

Westside isn’t taking that approach. The Social Justice Council is working with other congregations to shape a deeper and thoughtful conversation about race and intersectionality. There will be options in the coming year to have curious but not judgmental dialogues about so-called white privilege and the history of white domination in this country.

There will be disagreements about language. I’d published a column a couple of weeks ago here about my preference for white domination rather than supremacy. The Social Justice Council wrote a column rebutting my arguments the next week.

It was great. A dialogue and a caring conversation has started.

Church disagreements and conflicts are normal and what matters is how they are channeled – will there be constructive dialogue and open-hearted, open-minded conversation on all sides? It’s seldom easy. Think about disagreements within families or marriages. Such disagreements most often are resolved when people find ways to compromise or come up with win-win solutions.

I do remember saying to the person that church disagreements are vital because they release the energy of anxiety to become engagement, and a passion for what the mission of the church means going into the future.

Westside has come through four years of radical changes that might have broken other congregations. You’ve endured, adapted, grumbled a bit, but carried on in the best spirit of Pacific Northwest Unitarian Universalist values.

What do you think?

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