Shining Light on the #UMC Shadow

photo courtesy of Google.
photo courtesy of Google.

On Tuesday, my home state of Maine reelected the gubernatorial incumbent, Paul LePage, to a second term. I haven’t followed the Republican politician all that much, except to notice a few of his public statements have featured some ill-chosen words and that his brash governing style bears a resemblance to my state’s governor, Chris Christie.

Yesterday morning, I read a Facebook post from a Maine business, one local to my hometown, regarding LePage’s reelection. The anti-LePage business owners have apparently decided to leave Maine for greener grass in Vermont, citing Maine’s LePage-voting residents as “IQ deficient” and “neanderthals.” I was immediately struck by the hypocrisy of it all: here were two liberal business owners engaging in the exact same sort of name-calling they had previously taken umbrage to under LePage’s administration.

This past Sunday’s Gospel lection from Matthew 23 is instructive to our post-election country, and it offers a word to The United Methodist Church. Jesus upbraids the Pharisees and other teachers of the law when he says, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them (Matthew 23:4, NRSV).” In other words, these religious authorities lived by a double standard: they expected a certain level of conduct from others, but were unwilling to adhere to the same.

It is human nature to point out faults in others, while failing to address the same in ourselves. Carl Jung called this the “shadow”: that unconscious side of the personality — almost always a trait one dislikes — which the conscious ego does not identify in itself, yet reacts against in the other. This “shadow” side seems to be a ubiquitous human experience.

This all seems to be par for the course in the political realm; but those of us tasked with manifesting the Kingdom of God are called to something more. In The United Methodist Church, so much of our discussion over controversial issues — namely, human sexuality (which I believe is really symptomatic of larger ecclesial and theological issues) — is riddled with “shadow” behavior. Just glance at the comment section of a variety of United Methodist bloggers or at posts in United Methodist Facebook groups, and the behavioral double standard will surely appear. We are called to so much more.

In 1857, after the Genesee (NY) Conference church trial of B.T. Roberts (who later founded the Free Methodist Church) a layperson wrote: “I agreed to support the Methodist Episcopal Church [forerunner to the UMC] as a church of the living God, not as the mere adjunct of a secular or political clique.” I fear that we have become defined by political cliques, especially at the denominational level, and by special interest groups demanding adherence to a particular agenda or disrupting meetings in an attempt to exert influence. The one holy catholic and apostolic Church isn’t found in political maneuvering or lobbying. I hear a warning in Jesus’ words  “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:12 NRSV).”

Our attitudes in the political realm, in the church — indeed, in our whole lives — reveal a shadow, one that we ignore at our peril. Certainly, taking this shadow side of our shared life together seriously is a humbling process. Perhaps, though, that is precisely what we need: to be humbled.

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