It was 25 years ago last week that they signed the agreement. And while no one expected the two sides to immediately settle all of their disputes, there was at least a hopeful spirit that the prospects for a peaceful resolution to a seemingly intractable problem might just be at hand.
To give some time to settle into it, however, imbedded in each element of the fabled Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine was the idea of “constructive ambiguity.” But ironically enough–at least as suggested by one former Israeli Knesset member, Einat Wilf, in The Atlantic–the very feature designed to ensure the success of the plan was the same one that eventually sank it. For instead of building trust, that intentional ambiguity allowed each side to simply persist in the very behaviors which destroyed trust on the other side.
Israel, for instance, not only kept building settlements in the West Bank, but increased the population of those settlements almost four-fold. And Palestinian leaders continued to push a “Right of Return” demanding Jews vacate everything east of the pre-1967 borders, while still often refusing to concede the right of Israel to even exist. A quarter century later, thus, the problem has now only worsened as that “constructive ambiguity” has become destructive instead.
And it strikes me that there may just be a lesson for The United Methodist Church in all of this, as well. For in trying to resolve our seemingly intractable sexuality questions, the One Church Plan would appear to employ the same strategy of creating “constructive ambiguity” over what we as a denomination actually teach and believe. It allows regions of the church to determine moral qualifications for ministry, for example, as well as individuals to define the church’s understanding of marriage. In the end, however, that makes as much sense as G.K. Chesterton’s observation that “You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays.” Or in one state or country, but not in another one.
What’s more, the One Church Plan is plainly meant to be a transitional one. For even those who find our current position morally wrong have acknowledged that though it does not go far enough, the OCP is a necessary “first step” towards the eventual goal of “full inclusion.” To put it as one bishop has, it doesn’t change everything for everyone everywhere…yet… but it does set our whole denomination on a trajectory that is different than the one we have long followed. Only as John Richard Neuhas has warned, “where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed,” or prohibited.
The words of that Knesset member Einat Wilf may therefore be worth noting by United Methodists in the days ahead. For as he has written, “If we have learnt anything over the past twenty-five years, it is that being ambiguous… does no one any favors…the sooner both sides hear and internalize these simple, cold, hard truths, the sooner we will be able to speak of hope again.”
So could it be that therein lies the hope for the people called Methodists—in all of our varied expressions–as well? To speak the truth…in love…no matter where it leads us?