I spent the last few days at a synod leadership conference/retreat, which was, shall I say...well, I don't even have a good word to describe it.
On the one hand, it was really nice. I got to meet lots of new people, other pastors in my area, spend some quality time with my supervisor and other interns that I know from school, etc...
But the content of the conference had been billed ahead of time as being about how to connect with people and be a more effective leader in your congregation. Awesome. Or, not. It turned out to be CPE 2.0. Right down to the words and charts and graphs and the "understanding your feelings" and "developing an awareness of how you impact the system." It was so fake and so froo-froo that I found it difficult to even listen respectfully. I just got done with 11 weeks of this, I took the few bits of useful information from it, and I literally just signed off on the final evaluation this afternoon and I freaking want to be done with it. I spent lots of time texting my CPE colleagues, my pastor at home, and my mom. I made mental to-do lists. I drank coffee. I worked hard at not fidgeting, not biting my nails, not rolling my eyes, etc...
The other reason I struggled was that this was ostensibly a gathering of religious leaders, and the man presenting the material (four 75-90 minute sessions) claimed to be a Lutheran pastor. And yet, I saw very little indication that he had any more sincere, identifiably orthodox Christian theology than my CPE Supervisor. (At one point he talked about he and his wife leading pilgrimages to India and Nepal. I'm unaware of any major Christian sites in India and Nepal that would make them good locations for a pilgrimage. Maybe I'm missing something, though.)
Anyhow, one of the sessions this morning was focused on understanding the trajectory of group development and cohesion, and how we go from "pseudo-community," where basically everyone pretends to get along and suppresses their true feelings, to "chaos," where there is lots of conflict because everyone is starting to feel free to express how they really feel, to um...something where people start to decide how to get along despite their differences, to "community," where people actually do get along. One of the pastors in the room mentioned that his congregation seems to be in the "chaos" stage right now, and that part of the problem is that there are people who no longer believe that they can get along. He has people who have fundamental philosophical/doctrinal differences with the group, and are questioning whether those can - or even should - be overcome for the sake of community building. This man's question to the presenter was whether it is possible or even desirable that all groups eventually move out of the chaos phase, even if they have to sacrifice doctrine to do so. The presenter's response was, "Well, it's very sad that they are choosing not to be a part of the community and work through the chaos. No one should ever have to give up their personal doctrinal commitments, we just have to learn how to live together despite our differences." The pastor was very frustrated because this didn't answer his question, although, given that the presenter comes heavily endorsed by the ELCA and is headed out to colleges and seminaries in the coming months to ply this information to the unsuspecting young'uns, it should have given him all he needed to know. (Maybe it did, I don't know, I didn't talk with him after.)
I feel sad (see, I'm learning to be in touch with my emotions) that we didn't really dig into this question, because I think in a lot of ways, this is the (or one of the) fundamental issues at stake in the ELCA, and maybe the whole of the church post-Reformation. At what point should one actively promote schism with appeals to conscience, revealed truth, etc? Ever? At what point does one submit to what one believes to be false teaching for the sake of unity/community? Ever? (One of the things I don't like about the ELCA is that it doesn't ask me to submit to anything.) "Pilate asked, 'What is truth?'" Does truth matter anymore? (Incidentally, I'm reading another book right now where the author is arguing for "truth" over "reality," and "authenticity" over "being real," claiming that truth comes from a place of hope and reality comes from a place of resignation and despair.)
Back to the topic at hand - at this point in the Q&A, another pastor (I think) stood up and noted that the lectionary gospel from last week (Luke 15 - the lost sheep and the lost coin) were very relevant here, because we need to be concerned that the community include everyone, and that's why we go searching for the lost sheep and lost coin. (Which, to a certain extent, I agree with. Although, I think I agree with it because it's poorly and vaguely articulated, and that if the two of us tried to get down to brass tacks, we'd be talking about two completely different things.) But now I was starting to feel upset, because the focus was so much on preserving the community, and that there is never really any reason to break community. I'm a child of the Reformation, so I know all about times and places where its required that we stand up for the truth, and where schism appears (at first glance, anyway) to be necessary. And I also see the road that this desire to just up and leave because "they're doing it wrong" has led us down, and it's not pretty. But what I really, really wanted to say at this moment, right after lost-sheep-guy, was "Yes, and the lectionary gospel from the week before was on hating one's own mother and father in order to follow Jesus. If there is such a thing as absolute truth, and if that truth is most fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, then the gospels are pretty clear that hippie-dippie-lovey-dovey community is not necessarily (always? ever?) compatible with clinging to that truth."
Up next - how does one's role or status in a group/community influence how and when she should stand up for the truth? Should it?