The World is a Complex Place

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the state of our world and the divisions we face, both in this country and in the broader world. Yesterday I was reading Howard Thurman’s book, Deep is the Hunger, written in the 1950s when I came upon this quote that seems even more true today:

We are rapidly becoming a nation of panic-ridden people. The present tendency is to make of everyone a scapegoat for our collective fears. This means that we are losing our sense of destiny as a people are relaxing our faith in the ideals which gave birth to our nation and for whose high fulfillment we have in the past marshaled the resources of our common life. We cannot fight an idea with threats, investigations, and scares. We can only fight an idea with a greater idea, to which, in all phases of our life, we are dedicated with high purpose and deep resolve. This is the answer to our present loss of nerve.
Deep is the Hunger — A Sense of History, Essay #3

Certainly, during my time on earth I have seen this play out again and again and people look for simple answers to address the changes we see in the world. In our own United Methodist Communion, I have watched as folks uncomfortable with change attempt to fight ideas with legislation, only to discover that trying to legislate something out of existence rarely works. We look for simplistic answers to address new ideas, but unfortunately these new ideas reflect complicated realities that can never be fully cast aside without considering the complexity of the issue.

We’ve started to see some of this in light of the recent Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court to overturn a previous ruling (Roe v Wade) and the rush by state legislatures to ban abortion in their states.

Now before you write this off as some sort of liberal screed that is railing against the recent Supreme Court decision, I consider my own position as pro-life. I agree with our United Methodist statement which says that “The beginning and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence.” Our church states that our belief in the sanctity of life make us reluctant to approve abortion. However, at the same time our Discipline states: ‘ …we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of life and well-being of [both} the mother and the unborn child.” As a person who believes in the sanctity of life, I believe that all issues around the loss of life (abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, war, etc.) require a willingness to address deep and complicated questions with prayer and reflection on the meaning of life as people of sacred worth.

While it’s easy to be dualistic in our thinking on issues such as abortion (right or wrong, black or what, light or dark) more often than not there are complexities that cannot be avoided. Should the 10 year old girl rape victim whose body is not prepared be expected to carry a child to full-term? Do the procedures for carrying out an abortion be banned outright even though those same procedures are used to treat ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages? Does contraception count as an abortive procedure, and how then are we proposing to support those who find themself pregnant with few options? Should abortion be banned outright, or should there be exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother?

While abortion is one example, we see again and again similar attempts to use dualistic thinking on a variety of issues, from the rise of inflation today, to immigration policy, to the rise and fall of the church in American. The pundits on TV are quick to create scapegoats for the various problems we face, failing to acknowledge the complexity of the world we live in and the variety of questions that arise. Our willingness to listen to these voices as if they speak the truth leads us to become “…nation of panic-ridden people,” with the “…tendency to make of everyone a scapegoat for our collective fears.”

Our United Methodist tradition tries (sometimes poorly) to address the fact that we live in a complex world. After 6 paragraphs on our ethic of abortion, we as a church end up saying:

Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, family, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.

We as a church recognize that there are no easy answers. We have seen through our history how dualistic thinking more often leads to division and a lack of love than some sort of orthodox purity. Complex ideas and concepts rarely have simplistic answers.

Our task, as people of faith, is to be willing to engage, research, talk, pray, and listen as we navigate our way through a complex world. The call to love requires us to invest our time and energy into understanding all the complexities of life, for we worship a God who made a wonderfully complex world with all its glory.

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