The United Methodist Judicial Council (JC) has issued their ruling on the proposed plans going to General Conference 2019.  They have done us a big favor.  They help us to realize the fundamental rift running through the denomination.

First, a couple of admissions: (1) For the sake of full transparency, I am a traditionalist in theology and morality.  (2) It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, I am no policy wonk.  I therefore gladly take the work of Judicial Council at face value and will not second-guess their conclusions.  We owe them a debt of thanks.

To set the context for what I think needs saying, here is a quick summary of the JC decisions.  They refused to rule on the Connectional Conference Plan to avoid pre-empting legitimate legislative processes associated with that plan’s constitutional amendments.  They did rule on the One Church Plan and the Traditional Plan.  Both need some modification, but, if you’re of a mind to keep score, I’d say that the Traditional Plan fared worse, though by no means fatally.  The “enhanced accountability” parts of the Traditional Plan received particular criticism for very important reasons.  Those parts, the Council ruled, unconstitutionally single out specific practices rather than making sure that all provisions of the Book of Discipline are applied equally to all members.  We should take comfort in the stipulation that all of us be treated fairly and with due process in the face of church law, but it also raises the specter of how to carry out effective measures of accountability.

The One Church Plan also contains provisions deemed unconstitutional, but fewer than the Traditional Plan.  (Keep in mind, the One Church Plan got the lion’s share of attention in preparation, the reasons for which are themselves troubling.)  One aspect – significantly deemed constitutional – bears notice.  One petition in the plan (#10) stipulates that, to protect religious liberty, a traditionalist bishop who refuses, for conscience’s sake, to ordain openly l/g/b/t/q/i/a ordinands, would have the prerogative to ask another bishop within the College to do so, with two important conditions.  First, this action must be taken, according to the JC ruling, “with the implicit understanding that a bishop from outside the episcopal area will come and preside only if [italics in the original] the residential bishop (1) indicates his or her intention to exercise that right and (2) consents to such an arrangement.” (Emphasis added)  In short, to fulfill these two conditions, a traditionalist bishop must at least tacitly agree that sexuality is a matter of adiaphora, that is, not essential to the faith of the church.  But this is the very contested point between traditionalists and others.

From a traditionalist point of view, questions of sexuality bear directly upon the faith, because they involve basic understandings of human nature and condition (in technical language, anthropology and hamartiology) and the contours of the Christian life, or the life of salvation (soteriology).  That is to say, we ask what aspects of human experience are part of God’s good creation and what are properly deemed sinful?  What activities reflect faithful Christian life and what is not acceptable?  These questions demand answers and traditionalists answer them differently than others.  It may be appropriate to rank these doctrinal questions lower than, say, the Trinity or the atoning work of Christ (tragically and not unrelatedly, Methodists fight about these topics, too), but they are far from inconsequential.  Traditionalists thus do not think that the local church option is a morally benign answer to important questions.

It thus looks to me that, for a traditionalist bishop to accept the aforementioned stipulations, the traditionalist bishop would have to stop being traditionalist.

I am deeply troubled by how the One Church Plan is being sold.  We are told that, if this plan passes, local congregations really will have to do nothing.  UM clergy will have their consciences protected.  How?  To stay with integrity in such a United Methodist Church, traditionalists will have to stop being traditionalist.  (Yes, I do recognize that this problem is of exactly the same nature as progressive UM clergy have had for years.  Effectively, they have had to support a position they find morally reprehensible.)

The Judicial Council response reveals furthermore the irreparable damage of deploying “not of one mind” language that has gotten us to this point. Let’s imagine that General Conference 2019 narrowly passes the One Church Plan.  Let’s say the vote is 51% for and 49% against, an entirely reasonable prospect.  Has General Conference spoken?  Yes, it has.  But wait!  Are we now of one mind?  Now, is it appropriate to exercise accountability?  “Not of one mind” is a Pandora’s Box of difficulties and says much more about us than we apparently realize.

The Judicial Council’s work compellingly shows that our denomination is in schism and has been for some years and if we really want to heal this schism, then (dare I say it?) we have to back up and try our best to answer basic questions.  What is it, actually, that unites United Methodists?  The work of 1968 and 1972 and 1988 is not finished, which leaves us open and gives credibility to some bizarre views on what constitutes “church.”  Consider this one, argued this month before the Judicial Council: “For us, the church is defined not by formal structures or doctrines or lines of authority.  It’s defined by connections between people…We hold such interpersonal connections in so high a regard that we understand them as the essence of the church.” (Emphasis added)

With all due respect to the person who made this claim, it represents much that is wrong with United Methodism. Certainly connections with people are crucially important, but if doctrines and formal structures don’t count, then the connections don’t matter.  If doctrines do not define church, then we don’t know our identity or mission. If we don’t know our identity and mission, we will never be able to agree on what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate behavior and we will never be able to exercise meaningful accountability.  Which leaves us always open to fatal mission drift and loss of identity.  We spin our wheels with all kinds of activity, but at the end of the day cannot really say for sure if any of it matters to anyone, especially to God.

Thank you, Judicial Council, for pressing us to recognize these problems.  Now, may General Conference do its work.  God help us.

 

 

 

 

 

Judicial Council Proves We’re Already in Schism

31 thoughts on “Judicial Council Proves We’re Already in Schism

  • October 27, 2018 at 6:44 pm
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    Stephen,
    Thank you for taking time to share your perspective. I’m always eager to open your post!
    One additional point which I think supports your assertion that already we are — and have been for some time — in schism. The oral presentations and the briefs submitted to the JC from he traditionalist side have a substantially different understanding of Connectionalism from the understanding within JC decision. The traditionalist position presumes a doctrinal core that actually precedes any congregation, denomination, or missionary movement. In fact, alignment with this doctrinal or confessional core is part of what identifies the congregation, denomination, or missionary movement as authentically Christian. This is the Faith once delivered to the saints. It is the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,…”. It is “the main branches of Christian doctrine” in which Father John said we are “as fixed as the sun.”
    The JC wisely said it was making no decision as to the meaning, application, or effect of any of the three plans. The General Conference, since it has full authority in everything about our structure and organization, can depart partially or entirely from the faith once delivered. Certainly, from the traditionalist perspective, the One Church Plan does precisely that.
    I completely concur that the JC decision leaves us with the binary decision of whether or not homosexual practice is compatible with the Faith which the ordained have vowed to preach and teach. This is the either/or decision the UMC has been dancing around for decades. The time of accountability is upon us all.
    Yes — God help us.

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    • October 27, 2018 at 7:07 pm
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      Thank you, Scott. It’s great to hear from you. Yes, how we define connectionalism is a crucial and overlooked part of this controversy. Thank you for bringing this point to our attention.

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    • November 13, 2018 at 9:26 am
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      From all that I have read on the Traditional view, I have come to a question. Why are we arguing over sexuality and no one is mentioning divorce. Jesus taught against it but the church makes no big deal over that or money which Jesus preached about over and over. There are other issues we also choose to ignore based on where we are in our spiritual and intellectual journey. Will someone explain why we are not discussing these matter or having a special General Conference over them?

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      • November 13, 2018 at 11:18 am
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        Excellent point!

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      • November 13, 2018 at 5:10 pm
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        Rosalie Young – you raise a very valid question. Perhaps one answer to your question is that the progressives have been pushing the human sexuality issue very hard for decades and have made it THE issue, and conservatives have naturally pushed back. No one is making divorce THE issue for any of several reasons.

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        • November 14, 2018 at 4:18 pm
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          Wow! This sheds new light for me and perhaps helps me better understand conservatives’ point of view. Frankly I have always seen it the other way around, that it is conservatives who keep making it an issue. I think we need to talk! In fact I guess you could say that progressives brought up the subject in 1972 when the commission to rewrite the social principles of the former Methodist and EUB churches (united in 1968) included a statement that “Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth, who need the ministry and guidance of the Church in their struggle for human fulfillment, as well as spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship which enables reconciling relationships with God, with others and self. Further, we insist that all persons are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured.” We had never had a statement about homosexuality in Methodist documents before that, but apparently the commission felt it was important to address the issue, perhaps because of increasing discussion in the public arena and increasing acts of violence against homosexual persons. I don’t see anything in that statement to cause objection, but vigorous discussion ensued which came to an end only when someone moved to change the period at the end to a comma and add the words: “although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider the practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” And as we know, each General Conference since has experienced efforts by conservatives to tighten our rules around ordination and presiding at weddings and by progressives to remove that added clause. Pastors have always had the right to refuse to marry couples and Boards of Ministry to decide a person’s qualification for ordination.
          I am wondering if conservatives reacted to the 1972 social principles statement because they thought progressives were trying to force them to accept homosexuality as part of the normal range of human nature. I know that most of us grew up in a culture that nurtured suspicion and even horror at the thought of homosexuals. By junior high, most of us believed that to be thought gay was about the worst thing that might happen to us. With scientific reports confirming that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice but an innate human characteristic and as more and more people told their stories, many of us came to see that what we had been taught was not accurate and that homosexuals as well as heterosexuals are indeed “persons of sacred worth.” We came to see same-sex marriage as a logical and merciful solution. A faithful committed marriage, we found, was what homosexuals want, not the promiscuous and exploitive relationship we had been taught they preferred.
          So to the extent that progressive efforts have triggered reactivity, I wonder what we could have done differently. Surely Christians agree that Christ calls us to accept and minister with even “the least of these.” Even the leaders of the Exodus movement, which attempted to change a person’s sexual orientation, have apologized for the harm they have done.
          Conservatives, can you not nurture just a little bit of curiousity about the progressives’ understanding?

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  • October 27, 2018 at 7:00 pm
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    I agree with all your points except that I do mot think we owe the judicial ciuncil a debt of gratirude… The Judicial Council along with many of the bishops have not honored the vows they made before God, and God’s people. While it sounds harsh, (I have grown weary of being polite) they have outright lied to us. They have not acted in good faith.

    What seems to be clear is that there is no point in waiting for the February General Conference. It is merely a delaying tactic on the part of “leadership,”, and I use the term leadership loosely.

    If you are offended by my strong words, so be it.We find ourselves at this place because the apostate leadership knew that they could count on UMC membership to be nice, and to do our best to keep the peace. May God have mercy on our aparhetic souls!

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    • October 27, 2018 at 7:03 pm
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      Whereas I don’t agree with your belief that the Judicial Council has lied to us, I can appreciate the level of your frustration and disenchantment with leadership. I’ve been a UM all my life (a preacher’s kid and UM clergy) and it has been extremely painful to watch some of our shenanigans.

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  • October 27, 2018 at 9:10 pm
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    Scott Field is correct that the Judicial Council has been dancing around the question of whether homosexual practice is compatible with Faith. I know he lived 3 centuries ago, but whenever I think of this issue I always wonder what Wesley would think? He lived in a very immoral time. That was why he & Charles were founders of the Holy Club at Oxford, correct? Too many of their fellow students were living immoral lives, they wanted to be dedicated to Christ, not to selfish pursuits. Wesley believed faith needed to be based in Scripture. Does the Council of Bishops or the Judicial Council believe that? If they really did, Karen Oliveto, would not be a Bishop now. That she has been allowed to hold the office of Bishop is a travesty.
    My recently moved Pastor Kennedy Mukwindidza told me several times when we discussed this, that he believes the General Council will vote down the issue, of truly allowing Gay Clergy, every time it is brought for a vote. Bishops from Africa will never approve this. There are more African Bishops at each successive General Conference. Dr Rankin, thank you for talking about the doctrinal issues of hamartiology, soteriology, and anthropology, which United Methodists never hear discussed in any setting. You hear wishy-washy United Methodists say doctrine and dogma are not important. This is hogwash! Doctrine is what defines our beliefs. If we have no opinion about Hamartiology or Soteriology, or Anthropology as doctrine, we cannot articulate what we believe. That is the heart of why this schism has festered. We have too many people in our pews who do not even know who John Wesley was or what he stood for in defiance of the Anglican Church, which he loved and to which he remained steadfast until the end of his life. We have too many people in our pews who cannot articulate their own beliefs, or personal theology. We have too many people in our pews who come to the UMC because their friends come there, not because of our beliefs! This is why our denomination is dying. All of us, who are Traditionalists in belief and practice, need to show our Liberal brethren the error of their ways. Traditionalists have to fight for what is right and Scriptural.
    As a commenter above said, the Judicial Council has condoned sin, “by letting these gay clergy off the hook”, so to speak. He is right. This is wrong and sinful in itself. Any plan that gives the local church more autonomy is a plan to ruin the UMC. Giving them autonomy is tantamount to allowing their leaving the denomination, which they will in droves. How many churches in Karen Oliveto’s Episcopal Area have petitioned to leave the denomination since she was appointed their Bishop? I cannot find an answer to that question. I recently read on a Good News FB page that the new Bishop of the California-Nevada Conf is investing the legality of actions taken at Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco’s Tenderloin Area, which Karen Oliveto lead as Sr Pastor for the better part of a decade, before her appointment as Bishop. This investigation may lead to Oliveto’s being removed as a Bishop because of illegal actions Glide took under her leadership! The new Bishop, while a Liberal, is being fiscally responsible with the Conference’s property and just may help clean up some of this mess that been created and festered. I applaud her actions. We need more Bishops like this willing to do the dirty work of fixing problems, not shoving them under the rug. John Wesley, as i understand, never shoved things under the rug. What Would Wesley Do? To remain true to Methodism that is the pertinent question. Any statement about making sure people’s feelings aren’t hurt, is garbage. Wesley told the truth. if people’s feeling were hurt, that was immaterial to the truth. People’s feeling are their own choice.

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    • October 28, 2018 at 7:21 am
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      Hi Sharon,

      I don’t know the latest on Bishop Carcano’s efforts to get the Glide UMC situation under control, but like you, I applaud her efforts. As I understand the situation, many years ago a group of people within Glide formed a separate non-profit organization, the Glide Foundation, I think, or something close to that name. There are some interesting questions about who owns the church. The situation is something of a parable, I think, for the UMC.

      I may try to write a post on how diverse UM leaders understand sin. We obviously don’t agree on that, either, except in some of those most obvious ways.

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  • October 28, 2018 at 5:03 am
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    Great review and very good points on doctrine. I also look around and see that the vast majority of folks sitting in the pews have no idea on just what they belong to, even, and particularly the older folks. At times, I believe this is more of a club than a church. I associate with two college alumni groups, one for my undergraduate degree and one for the graduate degree. While I profess being an alumni of these two organizations, I do not profess membership in them. After all, the only “connection” I have with the other alumni is that I happened to go to the same school for 4 and 2 years (respectively). I see the same thing in the church. I often tell folks I am not at Salem because I am a methodist, I am a methodist because I am at Salem. Again, I have never heard any discussions on doctrine or what we believe. And my attempts at getting such discussions going have been met with lack of interest and sometimes outright anger. With 27 years as a military officer and 12 as an agent with a federal law enforcement agency, I strongly believe in doctrine. Your comment: “We spin our wheels with all kinds of activity, but at the end of the day cannot really say for sure if any of it matters to anyone, especially to God.” really hit home with me. Our church reflects that so well. Several years back, we went through a process to develop a mission statement and vision. I was foolish enough to ask why. After all, does not the Bible hold our mission statement? OK, I can go with the vision stuff. But then, we walked away from that meeting and went about doing “stuff.” I seem to ask too many times: “what does this have to do with our mission and vision?” Again, I am met with confused looks and sometimes anger that I would ask such a thing about someone’s pet project. Hey, most things we do are good things…just not a priority if we stick to mission and vision…battlefield real estate is only important if it meets the mission needs which are most often driven by doctrine. Hey, I love my local church and will miss it if the GC selects the One Church Plan. Mission, vision, doctrine are important to me. Belonging to something tells others what you believe. I’m getting tired of having to explain why I go to Salem (love the people, enjoy the fellowship, it is just down the road…but, have no idea what the people really believe even though most do not support the current trend of proclaiming that homosexuality is not a sin, etc.). I can only pray that February will bring a surprise and the delegates will take a stand to say that believe in scripture is above the current definition of connectionalism…that the basics of scripture is actually what connects us.

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    • October 28, 2018 at 7:25 am
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      Hi John,

      Thank you for sharing these perspectives. Over the years, I have taught on occasion a “What United Methodists Believe” series with a Sunday School class or small group. Every time I have done so, at least one person comes up to me after the experience as says, “I’ve been a United Methodist all my life and I’ve never heard any of this stuff.” Those of us who are called to pastoral roles generally have failed our people. We have failed at our vocation.

      I’m curious, what Salem UMC are you referencing? If you want to email me privately, you can use stephenwrankin20@gmail.com.

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      • October 28, 2018 at 1:32 pm
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        Salem UMC in Haw River NC, part of the North Carolina Conference.

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  • October 28, 2018 at 8:08 am
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    Thanx for this insightful review.

    The biggest surprise for me in the JC decision is the failure to address the part of the OCP that calls for local churches to decide for themselves. That seems to me to move the UMC from a connectional form of structure to a congregational structure. I thought they would surely find that to be unconstitutional!

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    • October 28, 2018 at 8:23 am
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      Yes, it is surprising. I think it is partly because we’ve moved into territory new to us. I read the Council to say that their job is “strictly legal” in that they are tasked with adjudicating constitutionality. In our polity, General Conference can make decisions on some subjects that allow for local variation. We are now talking about something that, for most of our history, seemed widely understood and we shared a moral vision. Now we don’t, so our polity is under a new kind of pressure.

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  • October 28, 2018 at 6:23 pm
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    Who in our Methodist churches felt this turn of events is necessary? Is it because we have a gay bishop? I’m considering leaving the church.

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    • October 28, 2018 at 6:54 pm
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      I think it has been a long time in the making. It goes back much further into our history, beyond questions about sexuality. I ask you not to leave, at least not yet. We need people willing to sit with one another in honest conversation and press on toward, not resolution, but truth, truth as it is in Jesus.

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      • November 13, 2018 at 11:20 am
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        Yes to honest conversation! And an end to scapegoating and blaming!

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  • October 28, 2018 at 9:32 pm
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    “Truth as it is in Jesus.” Thank you for that, Stephen. That is where our attention and discussion should be focused. All our UM documents are important, but they are not the root of this issue. Our issue is, what does Scripture say and what does it mean? We should be quoting Scripture, and if there is to be debate, let it be centered on understanding what God means by what he has given us as his Word. Unfortunately it seems to me the UMC has backed away from this approach to the point that it is impossible to say what the church believes.

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  • October 28, 2018 at 10:13 pm
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    I am a Methodist/United Methodist by birth with a strong Methodist heritage including a mother, uncle and grandfather who spent their lives in service to the Methodist /United Methodist Church. Despite literally “growing up in the church” the way I characterize the gospel is that it is the best kept secret of The Methodist/United Methodist Church. After 20 years as an adult member of a single local church, I reached a point with the church that I became so lost, broken and confused I finally had to wander off to discover the existence of a God worth worshiping. I had an interesting assortment of teachers who crisscrossed denominational lines and were from the communion of saints past and present. Writings by and about John Wesley were a significant part of my reading. One of my many watershed moments that I experienced along the way came as I was reading a book about Wesley’s theology and realized that Methodism really is about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. At the same time, because I was extremely curious as to why I had not received clearer teaching I started cruising the internet listening to all the voices I could find across the denomination. It did not take me long to realize that the Methodist/United Methodist Church had been seriously drifting away from its practical yet robust message and method that enabled an individual to confidently live a life centered in God for quite a while.

    As to my thoughts about this denomination that I was so sure I could trust: I am aware that there is a Wesleyan revival afoot among a younger generation of pastors–and I am grateful. But at the same time I am dismayed that the church has become so mired down in theological plurality and there are Bishops who really believe that there can be unity without uniformity of belief. I have not been impressed with the Way Forward process; it never felt like that it was a truly open discussions about our differences–but rather it was pushed towards a specific outcome. Two of the three options for the future would drive the church even farther from its Wesleyan/Methodist heritage and would not deal with the real problem: theological plurality. The Traditional Plan was a last minute addition that was not worked on with the same intensity as the other two plans. I also believe there is a serious disconnect between “ivory tower” leadership and grassroots reality at all levels of the church. So when it comes to the future of the current denomination, I’m not sure what to hope or pray for other than “Lord, have mercy on us, poor lost sinners that we are.” I understand that the first day of GC2019 is all about worship and prayer; I hope sackcloth and ashes are provided in abundance.

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  • October 29, 2018 at 1:59 pm
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    You wrote, “Let’s imagine that General Conference 2019 narrowly passes the One Church Plan. Let’s say the vote is 51% for and 49% against, an entirely reasonable prospect. Has General Conference spoken?”

    The answer to this question will be a resounding “YES!” The 2019 General Conference will be hailed as the greatest General Conference in Methodist history. After all these years of debate, the United Methodist Church will have finally spoken correctly and authoritatively on this issue. By the 2020 General Conference we will begin to hear, “General Conference has already spoken authoritatively on this issue; therefore, … ” Then we will begin to hear, “The Church has always said…”

    In other words, if the One Church Plan passes there will be no more debate on the issue. Traditionalists will be allowed to carve out a little piece of land but that too will soon evaporate. I agree with your final assessment, “God help us.”

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    • November 14, 2018 at 9:46 am
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      I would surmise from what you state that if the special session of General Conference votes for some form of a traditionalist plan you would accept that as the “authoritative and correct” position of the United Methodist Church and all future debate over this issue would cease. Hmmmm. Some how that does not ring true to the history of this issues nor the fact that one General Conference cannot dictate to any future General Conference.

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  • October 29, 2018 at 2:48 pm
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    Dear Steve,
    Thank you for your post. As I read your post, I noted your comment: “we have to back up and try our best to answer basic questions. What is it, actually, that unites United Methodists? The work of 1968 and 1972 and 1988 is not finished…” I suggest that the reason we are not united and some, like yourself, want to go back to address–AT THE CONCILIAR [General Conference] LEVEL–the basics is because this denomination has not hammered at the basics within the local church, in the seminary classroom, in the BOOM interviews, in publications like the Circuit Rider, and so forth. In fact, the basics were there all along. They’re called the 25 Articles of Religion. When I was very young (many years ago), I was in a relative’s home and picked up a little book called “The Book of Discipline.” When I opened it to the very front, the first thing that I encountered was The Articles of Religion (this was in the days after 1939 and before 1968). I was fascinated even then at the concise and complete (at least fairly complete) description of Christian doctrine. Many years later, when I picked up a Discipline (I’m not sure what year, but sometime from around 1984-1992) I was distressed to learn that I had to dig through the index to even find the Articles of Religion, buried under the palaver of “Our Theological Task.” I believe the genesis of our schism is well laid out by Heidinger (sp?) in his book “The Rise of Theological Liberalism…” Liberalism bred a disdain for doctrine and theology in general. That in turn bred a feel-good, sound-bite, tell-me-your-story kind of religion that makes disciples of Oprah but not of Jesus Christ. No, let’s not go back and drag the liberals back through the basics by legislation. Let us graciously step apart. I shall not discuss the daunting task of such an official schism (as tempted as I am), but I believe the traditionalist leadership has to deal with schism sooner or later.

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  • October 29, 2018 at 3:09 pm
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    Well written, sir! One thing that stood out to me was the portion you quoted from one of the arguments before the Judicial Council: “For us, the church is defined not by formal structures or doctrines or lines of authority. It’s defined by connections between people…We hold such interpersonal connections in so high a regard that we understand them as the essence of the church.” (Emphasis added) This line truly does shed some light not only on the plight of the UMC, but what goes on in many of the congregations which I have served. I find it pretty shaky ground on which to build anything meant to last, let alone advance in mission. I’m married and there were a whole lot of things I consciously agreed to which bound me into that interpersonal relationship. In fact, those truths, boundaries, and rules keep that relationship growing. I don’t know how you can have anything but a superficial relationship if nothing exists but a “will to commune,” not in a marriage nor in a church.

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  • November 12, 2018 at 8:32 pm
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    Yes, let’s focus on scripture as seen through the “Jesus Lens” – which I was taught to do as a youth. What does anyone find in the teachings of Jesus that leads to the condemnation and exclusion of a group of people. It seems to me that His whole ministry (and message) was based on grace and inclusion. Once science and the real experience of persons (who have told their story, including some very near to me) made clear that homosexuality is a birth difference, there was no question in my mind that God wants us to love and accept those who are different from us. When harm is done, of course, we are called to intervene in appropriate ways, but where is the harm in two gay persons building a loving and faithful relationship with each other?

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    • November 13, 2018 at 8:33 am
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      Jane, you state as self-evidently true a rather large list of topics that actually are not self-evident at all. That string of assertions you just put together includes many points that reasonable, compassionate, intelligent and well-informed people question. Are you willing to answer our questions?

      For example:

      1. Can you explain your method of biblical interpretation – your “Jesus lens?” You clearly regard it as superior to other ways of interpreting. It’s wonderful that you have that much confidence. Can you explain it to your opponents in a way that makes sense to them (even if they still disagree wit you)?
      2. Who is actually condemning people and what does that condemnation look like? (Can we agree that sometimes people say terrible things that do not represent any of the options being presented to the church?)
      3. What does science actually say about sexual orientation? Where did the term “sexual orientation” come from and does it do the work you say it does?
      4. How does loving and accepting those different from us translate into support for same-sex marriage? Can I legitimately agree with the first part (loving and accepting those different from us), which is a very general principle, without drawing the same conclusion you draw in the second part on the very specific situation?

      You may think I ask these questions just to distract from the real issues. I assure you, I do not. These are honest questions that need careful consideration.

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      • November 13, 2018 at 11:41 am
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        1. There are many statements in the Bible (supporting slavery, calling for stoning of women caught in adultery) that we certainly question but are easily answered by asking what Jesus taught by what he said and did.
        2. It is oppression to deny persons the possibility of a life-long covenant relationship and the joys of family love because their sexual orientation is different from ours. As a special educator, I was taught to make accommodations for those with birth-differences. To deny homosexuals the right to marry is to condemn them to loneliness and drives some to the promiscuous behaviors we mistakenly think are more typical of homosexuals than heterosexuals.
        3. Of course there are many different scientific statements, but some related to brain scans and hormonal differences. I prefer to offer the testimony of an elderly friend who after he had his appendix removed was told he had a womb. That finally explained some things for him! Not sure where the term sexual orientation came from but it clearly refers to the gender(s) of persons to whom one is attracted. I know of tragic outcomes when persons deny their sexual orientation and enter a heterosexual marriage in the hope of being “cured.” Yes, some homosexual orientation may be caused /triggered by sexual abuse, etc. so it is important to consider case by case.
        4. Back to my statement about “making accommodations” in answer #2. Accepting and supporting same-sex marriages can at least be considered an act of justice and mercy, which is clearly supported by the teachings and actions of Jesus, not to mention many Old Testament teachings. “What does the Lord require of us but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” Even if you disagree, I would not try to force you to support same-sex marriage and do not see how you justify trying to force me to NOT support same-sex marriage.

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        • November 14, 2018 at 6:05 pm
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          1. You have not explained how you are justified to interpret the texts you reference in the way that you have. Again, you state them as if they obviously support how you see things. It is not obvious. This same point goes to your #4. Quoting Micah 6:8 is not an explanation. Please understand that I’m not trying to be argumentative here. You are simply stating what seems obviously true to you, but you are not helping someone who doesn’t see it that way understand how you arrived at your conclusion.

          At the risk of further annoying you, in using scripture as you have done, you are begging the question. You assume the contested point. Begging the question tempts the question begger to the conclusion that the other person is just being obstinate or “just doesn’t get it.” When two people disagree about something, they first have to clarify what they’re arguing about (this is not as easy at it seems). Then, each has to accept that they must give reasons for their viewpoints.

          2. Who is denying anyone the possibility of a lifelong covenant relationship? Same sex marriage is legal and there are many options for people to have church-sanctioned weddings. Against UM polity, many UM pastors and churches are doing same sex weddings with no adverse consequence. This point goes back to #1. You think that the traditionalist refusal to do same-sex weddings shows that we are guilty of lack of compassion, even hatred. But traditionalists think that compassion runs a different direction. It is therefore not a matter of one group being compassionate and the other not. It is a matter of understanding how compassion should best be exhibited.

          You further say that the traditionalist refusal to let progressives do same sex weddings makes us guilty of oppression. Please grasp the nettle of our polity. Once a matter is settled, all members are expected to abide by that vote. If the shoe were on the other foot, traditionalists would be faced with exactly the same dilemma that progressives now feel. This point takes us back to my original blog. We are already in schism. And traditionalist leaders have been quite willing to separate, so that progressives can have their own ecclesial body and run things the way they believe is best. Those same leaders have been hammered for “fomenting schism.” Progressives can’t have it both ways, demanding one course of action that traditionalists truly believe goes against God’s will and at the same time castigating them for suggesting that the denomination should divide.

          3. Here is a definition of sexual orientation from the American Psychological Association. “Sexual orientation refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted. Categories of sexual orientation typically have included attraction to members of one’s own sex (gay men or lesbians), attraction to members of the other sex (heterosexuals), and attraction to members of both sexes (bisexuals). While these categories continue to be widely used, research has suggested that sexual orientation does not always appear in such definable categories and instead occurs on a continuum (e.g., Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953; Klein, 1993; Klein, Sepekoff, & Wolff, 1985; Shiveley & DeCecco, 1977) In addition, some research indicates that sexual orientation is fluid for some people; this may be especially true for women (e.g., Diamond, 2007; Golden, 1987; Peplau & Garnets, 2000).” Notice this last line. Sexual orientation is not as fixed or durable as is often asserted. Can we at least recognize the challenge this definition presents for how the church develops a consistent and compassionate ethic of sexuality?

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  • November 12, 2018 at 8:48 pm
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    Thank you Stephen for a well write article however looking at the challenges we face now as UMC i think your problem in the western world is you believe to much in writing down laws. That is why you created this problem and now you can’t deal with it. That is if you are genuine that you are going for schism because of homosexuality. Americans as i know them in the past years they have a tendency of indicating left whilst they want to turn right.
    Many people in The United Methodist Church in the continent of Africa have never set their eyes on the book of discipline and we are doing so fine with the bible and whatever our pastors says that is the teaching of The United Methodist as long as it agrees with the bible it is fine with us. by the way i am an ordained elder, ordained in 1995.
    If it does not agree with the bible i always pre-fixed it with this is what they do in The United States of America but here we do not do that and end of discussion and if they do it in the USA that is them even though we are in the same Church but well God will never judge us by the church we belonged to but by the way we lived our faith.
    It is this point that makes us suspicious that the cause of schism is homosexuality the cause of schism from my reading is because some traditionalist are not ready to be in a denomination where Africans are in the majority. The United States people are not used to be a minority at a decision making making table they will never accept that politically and why should we expect you to accept it in The United Methodist Church. United States is there to tell everyone what to do and how to do it never there to listen i have seen this in the political world as well as in The United Methodist Church.
    The church in Africa is growing and the Church in the USA is declining given the few general conferences to come Africa will be in the majority and that makes many conservatives afraid for obvious reasons. But because people are not brave to point at the elephant in the room they chose homosexuality as an excuse. Because in terms of votes Conservatives have been wining at every general conference on this issue so why would one abandon a winning team unless some team members are looking at a different pair of goal posts.
    In 1968 when the central Jurisdiction was abandoned South America was sweet talked to leave the new denomination and racism was used to push them out of the denomination because they were the growing part of the denomination and by that time the USA churches were declining already this was way before homosexuality was on the table because it came in 1972. Now we do not have UMC in South America because they were told to leave the connection and given promises that were never fulfilled. The real fear then was South America would have become the majority of General Conference delegates some time ago and that had to be stopped for obvious reasons.
    Homosexuality is a phenomenon i do not understand because i was never raised within that debate around me and until i started to hear about General Conference when i was in Theological school in 1992 that is when i head it is a subject even discussed in our church but all we were told is Homosexuals come to General conference to demonstrate and shout obscenities at Africa delegates. Some years later when i started to be involved in church business at general church level i realized that Conservatives don’t like Africans they think we are inferior and have to be taught civilization to a conservative an African is good only as an object of sympathy that must make conservative Christians feel good by doing works of charity towards Africans who have no capacity of making decisions of their own. Africans have to be told everything including what is good for them we do not even know what is good for ourselves, very neo-colonial in approach that is what i have learned from the majority conservatives. On the other hand the progressives thinks Africans are centuries backward we are never progressive enough good for nothing in the church as we are considered primitive and have always voted against homosexuality and this position may held out for a long time though we think unity is not uniformity as people who come from a very diverse continent where uniformity is taboo. In terms of our religious understanding every group have its own set of religious beliefs and ways of doing things ethical moral codes are never universal when when it comes to a choice between unity and schism we choose unity because to us Africans family is more important than anything else and we take church as family where members of the family have different characteristics some unacceptable but we find ways of working together for the good of the family. so we do not believe in dissolving a family because there is a problem we deal with the problem together.
    That is why divorce is not so common in our cultures it is not easy to divorce than it is in the United States of America culture.
    so coming to the issue here i realized that both sides of the UMC divide are not comfortable with the growth in Africa and this is the center of why schism has become attractive. but both sides need that 30 percent of the votes for anything to pass and therefore in search of that vote others are doing it with respect and others manipulatively and The United Methodist Church has become Africa’s burden as we stand now.

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  • November 13, 2018 at 1:12 am
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    Eventually all traditionalists and those who can come to a point of objectivity will conclude that the system is and has been corrupt through and through. It is just very difficult to finally reach that decision and then to acknowledge it personally to oneself. We don’t want to believe that it’s possible that our Shepherds and Bishops could be thoroughly corrupt. Not that they are without some bit of goodness but everything was sacrificed for self and Power. I slowly began to arrive at that decision 25 years ago as a United Methodist ordained Elder but the last 15 of a 40 plus your ministry settled it. We are decades late in coming to the conclusion of the United Methodist Church. Something Beautiful and for a while unblemished will arise out of its ashes and ruin. To God be the glory.

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  • November 13, 2018 at 8:19 am
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    You are so wrong on so many fronts that I won’t attempt to refute each one. First I am a traditionalist. The church is always has been and God help us always will be people making connections with each other. You and most other traditionalists have elevated the book of discipline to the level of the Bible. Surprise if it disappeared it wouldn’t change Christianity one tit of tid dle. Connectonalism is a way of bringing people together not regulate them. Sorry, but I don’t want any part of it. I want to be part of the Christian church no more no less because Christ is enough.

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