The Middle

We live in a polarized world, and perhaps it has always been so. Both my church and my country have divided into angry camps of right and left. But wait, many will say, what about the great number of people in the middle? Most people are not fond of the extremes, either right or left. Most people don’t want to think of themselves as extremists!

Personally, I am no more fond of “middle” as an identity than I am of “right” or “left”. The middle is defined by the extremes. You can only have a middle if you have end-points from which to measure. Left, right and middle all exist along the same axis.

left-right-middleI am reminded of this quote from Timothy Ware in The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity.

Christians in the west, both Roman and Reformed, generally start by asking the same questions, although they may disagree about the answers. In Orthodoxy, however, it is not merely the answers that are different – the questions themselves are not the same as in the west.

Similarly, left, right and middle are asking the same questions, but offering different answers. They begin with the similar world-views and similar points of reference as to what’s important and how the world works. Sometimes, we need to challenge not just the answers but the questions and the presuppositions behind them.

The left-right-middle construct (or right-left-middle, if you prefer) is a sociological version of the so-called “Hegelian Dialectic” in philosophy: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. (Yes, I know it’s not really Hegelian). One end of the spectrum cries “A!”. The other shouts “Not A!” And the great mass in the middle tries to keep the peace by synthesizing an answer somewhere between the extremes.

I’m not afraid of making decisions about the issues that confront my church and my nation, wherever those answers might fall on the political spectrum. Sometimes, the answer does lie in the middle. And at other times, the choices are binary; there is no real middle ground.

Politically, I have to realize that the world will not always do what I believe is right. That’s the world, for you. In Christ’s body, there are some differences that, as a practical matter, require parts of the church to organize separately from other parts. There are many instances in which one institutional unit of the church cannot simultaneously do “A” and “not A”.

I don’t want to make decisions, however, based on some sort of tribal identity. “This is how people like us should think.” And that’s true, whether “people like us” are those on the right, left or middle.