You may have noticed recently that most people are taking sides in politics. Whether you are an American in the midst of a Presidential election year, with two distinctly different candidates, or whether you live in the U.K., where England has just voted to leave the E.U., people are taking sides. In most cases, extreme sides.
In anticipation of next week’s national Republican convention in Cleveland, the GOP’s platform has shaped up to follow the Right Path on immigration, family values, and LBGT issues. For example, CNN reported today that the 112-member GOP panel approved a platform “that opposes same-sex marriage rights, supports efforts to restrict bathrooms to individuals’ birth gender and protects businesses who refuse services to individuals based on religious objections to gay marriage.” (http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/13/politics/gop-platform-lgbt-social-conservatives-rift/index.html)
Despite LGBT advocates’ strong efforts to move the GOP’s position closer to the middle path, they were not able to do so. No thank you, we’ll just hug the Right Side of the Right Path here.
On the Left Path of politics, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, recently fierce primary opponents, have forged what seems to be a forced and uneasy alliance. In an unprecedented public way, Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has publicly spoken out against Donald Trump—calling him “a faker’ and “inconsistent,” that “he says whatever comes into his head at the moment.” http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/12/politics/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-donald-trump-faker/
Of course in Trump fashion, the Donald responded with a Tweet that Ginsburg “has embarrassed us all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot—resign!”
There seems to be no middle path, no middle way. Either you are extremely politically liberal or extremely politically conservative. Yet this problem is not limited to politics. Any subject that tugs at the deepest parts of us seem to be polarizing these days, sending us off the Middle Path. If you believe that black lives matter, the other side is that you are against police officers, assuming that they are automatically racist in carrying out their duties. In other words, popular thought leaves out a middle way—that you believe strongly that black lives matter, that police officers are doing the best they can with the resources they have AND that there is a middle way.
It is as if we do not want to look honestly and fairly at the deep and underlying issues of these political hot-buttons. We are a racist country. We are scared to address the centuries of exploitation of people of color by people who are white and privileged, who have held power. Those who hold power, whether that is slaveowners or prison wardens or men, do not want to lose that power. So the song and dance about “all lives matter” or “we have to keep order” or the use of subtle (or not-so-subtle) methods of thwarting strong women’s taking top leadership roles in any system (politics, business, religious institutions) just keeps being sung and played.
Why am I thinking a lot about a Middle Path? Because this week, I have been, literally, walking on one.
This week, I am at a writing conference at Kenyon Institute: “Beyond Walls: Spiritual Writing at Kenyon.” Kenyon College is a small liberal arts college on a beautiful campus in Gambier, Ohio. On the first day, it seemed as if the campus was enormous. It is spread out, so we have not only attended seminars, small groups, and spent time doing solo writing, but we have also done lots of walking!
In the middle of campus and the town, there is a path. It is called “The Middle Path.” Every time I am not sure if I am going the right direction to get to a particular building for a seminar, I tell myself, “Okay, just go to the Middle Path and you can get there.” After a couple of days, I am finding some shortcuts to get from Point A to Point B or C, but for me, this Middle Path has become a touchstone, a metaphor.
I am a Christian. I am also an Episcopal priest. So this Middle Path draws me, challenges me, and yes, amuses me. After all, the Anglican Church has struck a Middle Way for many years. The Via Media. Scripture, tradition and reason. That famous three-legged stool of 16th century theologian Richard Hooker.
Yet I like the Middle Path. It centers, orients, guides me. In my Judeo-Christian values, the Middle Path—for me—is to love God and love my neighbor. If I use these as touchstones for my life, that puts me on that path.
Yes, I do have my own personal theological and political views. I don’t understand why we judge each other by skin color or sexual orientation or age (or any other category) As educator and speaker Jane Elliott has said, “There is no gene for race. We are all one race—the human race.”(Note: Google her video on “Brown Eye, Blue Eye”–and be prepared to be deeply affected.)
I do not believe that a same-gender marriage threatens the institution of marriage. It makes that institution stronger. Nor do I think a same-gender marriage is unbiblical. I will not go down that path right now, but if you want a good, solid resource, read the late Peter Gomes’ book The Good Book. The Rev. Dr. Gomes, who was a scholar, theologian and preacher, carefully explored issues like sexuality, racism, women’s issues, interpretation of scripture, etc. through a biblical lens.
We in this nation or in any religious institution may not soon—or ever—find a Middle Path. Yet I am concerned that if that path does not attract more people to walk it together, we may well destroy ourselves with fear, hatred of “the other” and violence.
I will keep finding the Middle Path–even though in some places, it is under construction. Will you join me on it?
(c) The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton