When faced with a complex moral and geo-political situation like what’s going on in Syria, I am tempted to shut down entirely. As a religious professional, I feel the pressure to have something useful to say, and that pressure makes me want to run screaming from the room.
I can certainly point to those who do have something useful to say, like my friend and colleague at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hartford, Connecticut: the Rev. Dr. Frank Kirkpatrick. He’s a scholar, an ethicist, and a priest, and I always find his insights helpful on moral questions. In this article, his explication and critique of just war theory is particularly useful. He uses the phrase “moral complexity,” and he doesn’t shy away from those complexities in his writing.
Last week in this feature, LutheranJulia offered a complex and nuanced answer to the situation based on the parable of the dishonest steward. She took a difficult parable and applied it to a complicated situation.
I am so grateful for voices like these.
I am weary of the screaming, the polemical, and the strident. I am tired of hearing one-sided rants on the television “news,” and I’m tired of reading them on social media and around the interwebs.
That’s not to say that I don’t get new and important insights from my anarchist friends who see the US government as “traitorous tyrants,” or from my more hawkish friends who can’t understand why we don’t just back up our words with military might. I appreciate those insights, but they don’t offer solutions.
Until we are willing to admit that all the problems in the world are more complex than a simple “us and them” analysis will allow, we cannot move forward together. This goes for problems as big as Syria and as small as the internecine conflicts over money and power in my own denomination.
Until we can stop ascribing the most nefarious of motives to those who think differently from us, until we can really hear the struggles, the fears, the legitimate concerns of people we disagree with, we will be stuck in our own screaming echo chamber, hearing only those who agree with us.
Quite frankly, there are times when I want to be that passionate voice that gets lots of attention from those who agree with me. But the truth is, I am not that writer or preacher. I do not launch fiery bombs into cyberspace or into the congregation.
It turns out that my chosen faith tradition, Episcopal Anglicanism, works for someone like me. My prophetic voice seeks to draw people in, generally with a story, sometimes with reason. I am the living, breathing incarnation of the “via media” that Anglicanism seeks to be. I look for commonalities, much like the Book of Common Prayer serves to unite Anglicans in the WAY we pray, rather than through our beliefs.
That’s not to say I don’t draw my own lines in the sand. I do. I am unilaterally opposed to military action in Syria. But I cannot demonize those who disagree with me. I cannot paint them as terrorist or tyrants, as I have seen others do. Because I hear the voices of my father-in-law and many others who think military strikes are warranted. Listening to them, I hear the commonalities: we abhor the violence, especially against children, and we pray for peace in all of the Middle East. We do not agree about what will bring this about. But I am happy to stand in the middle, holding the tension from both sides. I am happy to walk the “via media.”