Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Principles and Guidelines

A few weeks back, I wrote a little about the moralism with which my generation of Nazarenes grew up. It was a very specific way of life that focused largely on rules. We had a right and wrong for just about everything - and while there may have been grey areas, we tended to just avoid them as bad so as not to fool around with where the line might be.

It's been reflected in the way we view our constitutional document: the Manual. In fact, for a long time, the various sections of the Manual were labeled "rules." What we now know as the Covenant of Christian Conduct was the "Special Rules," specifically because it was a list of dos and don'ts. We got to be very good about our Manual legalism. As Wesleyans, we might've been a little less legalistic about the Bible, but the Manual was another story. I hear tales, these days, about families where the rules weren't followed to the letter - but you never heard about those families at the time (if they really existed), because rules were awfully important.

This past month, at General Assembly, was really the first time I saw any public acknowledgement that life is a little messy. Our delegates were willing to admit, from the floor, pastors even, that accepting into membership, even leadership, people who occasionally drink alcohol, is a pretty common practice. That's light years ahead of anything I would've expected, but it was truly refreshing.

I'm not saying that the most recent US Presidential election had anything to do with this (because I'm loathe to equate anything positive with that shit show), but I wonder if, give the realities of that last post I mentioned, we might now be a little more comfortable looking around the curtain of moralism at the pompous wizard running the show?

This new generation (mine, but really the one immediately behind me) seems unwilling entirely to play the old games. We're much more comfortable with both ambiguity and grace. We see the Manual as more of a guidebook than a rule book and it's throwing a bit of a wrench into things. This General Assembly had us asking, "Why not set strong standards and then hold to them with grace, rather than legalism?" Which might've been a slap in the face to old Phineas Bresee.

We'll get into an argument about that, too, because it seems to me each generation sees themselves in the old man - he possessed enough legalism, grace, social justice fire, and prohibitionist dominionism for everyone to have a piece. That's become our go-to perspective on the Church of the Nazarene as well; each generation makes the denomination into the entity most appropriate for itself. One generation, those spry, pesky Baby Boomers, held onto the reins of power for an awful long time, but that time does appear to be ending and what comes next is totally up in the air.

There's a generation in between that's going to have an unfairly small window out of which to operate - and they might want to have their say, but times are most definitely changing. Things will certainly get more complicated, but probably a little bit healthier, too. Of course, health in one area often leads to the exposure of dysfunction in another - some area our kids will grind against and reject when their time comes.

Regardless, the moment of change may have arrived. It came quickly and almost without warning, but the movement from rules and structure to guidelines and grace is inevitable, especially given the way my generation looks at and interacts with the world. Because of my experience, I have a real hard time calling the next phase "good" or "better," but it's certainly refreshing. The age of moralism might finally be dead in the Church of the Nazarene.

And that is undoubtedly a good thing, no matter how it came about, or what might be yet to come.

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