Plateau Perspective: Why the Middle Ground is a Position of Privilege
Last week, I discussed the problem of how moving toward moderation hamstrings political causes because it handles the symptoms and not the causes (like rape culture). Today, I’d like to explore that a little more in discussing the problem of the middle ground, particularly in relationship to issues that face queer people in the church.
If you had asked me my position on LGBT issues while I was in college, I likely would have told you that I think they’re in sin, but that they are deserving of God’s love, too. A “love the sinner, hate the sin” stance. I would have called myself “middle ground.” Indeed, in graduate school, I spent a good part of those two years exploring a Third Way form of theology – a middle ground in between the extremes, never wanting to define myself by the extreme conservatism I’d come from but also disinclined to go full bore into liberalism.
There are a lot of people in the middle ground, and I respect that for some people’s life journeys, landing at the middle ground is the only reasonable place they can be. I get that, and I respect it.
However, I’ve seen an interesting movement in the public forum of Christianity wherein the middle ground is praised as somehow better, more objective. Being a moderate, sitting in the middle, becomes not just a way station on the way to delving further into one’s own views on life, but instead a destination in of itself. Being in the middle – defined either by not having an opinion on an issue, by recognizing legitimacy in all perspectives, or simply by rejecting certitude – has become a position deemed morally superior, the “better way to be Christian.”
Though, of course, no moderate will actively identify it as such – they will simply align themselves with the silent majority, talk about how they are in a better position to reach those who are questioning, and explain how much courage it takes to say “I don’t know.”
Unfortunately, being able to be undecided, to say, “I don’t know” is, itself, privilege. It is a political position that paints itself as a non-position, a grasp at neutrality in a world where neutrality means siding with the oppressors by default.
It takes time to work through issues, to arrive at a place where we are comfortable with what we think. But that’s not what the middle ground is or does, at least not in its current iteration. Instead, the middle ground has become a position in of itself – a non-answer becoming the answer.
Augustine referred to the Christian journey as faith seeking understanding – an implication that we’re never done learning and never done mulling over the issues. Those content to park themselves on the middle ground, to say that they love people and “let God figure the rest out” may find themselves more approachable, more able to persuade people because they aren’t scary and off-putting like the “extremists.”
But the question must be asked: what are they persuading others to? What good is it to catch flies with honey if you don’t know what you’re catching them for? Is bringing more people into the middle – a middle where my humanity as a queer woman is still in question – really the answer here? What good does it do to affirm for people that the question of whether or not someone is loved by God as they are is really one they can say “I don’t know” to?
Have faith, but don’t forget to seek understanding. This doesn’t mean you must have all the answers or engage in all the apologetic studies (I’m not a fan of apologetics anyway). But don’t use not having all the answers as an excuse to ignore the privilege that allows you to be “in the middle” on issues that don’t affect your life. And don’t pretend like saying “I don’t know” is some greater privilege or perspective. There’s a certain privilege that allows you to pretend toward objectivity and neutrality on issues that don’t affect you, and that must be acknowledged during discussions of “middle ground.”
Complacency is dangerous. Be in the middle. But don’t let the middle define you.