Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 23rd, 2014 by Joel Watts

is it about positions or priorities? #UMC #UMCschism

CELIBATE

Never be sorry to celebrate

You should read Matt’s post. At the end, he asks several questions. I wanted to see if I can provide some answers from my perspective.

If two people with irreconcilable views can both be said to occupy the middle, it’s not clear to me that language of “a middle way” really gets us very far. It may help us have a conversation without it devolving into fisticuffs, and for that it is commendable, but it’s not clear to me that this is sufficient to bring about unified United Methodist Church, which seems to be a goal of those who see themselves in the middle.

For me, the via media focuses on Christ. As a subset of this, it focuses on orthodox doctrines of the Church. For most of us, the issue of homosexuality is not a doctrinal matter (i.e., Trinity, baptism, episcopal authority) but is a matter (in Wesleyan terms) of holiness. That is why I can focus on episcopal authority even while arguing for inclusion. I can focus on orthodoxy, hold to prima scripture, and attempt to be a part of the Great Tradition while arguing for inclusion.

If the via media is a way of thinking about an issue and not an actual position on a particular issue, how does it actually move us forward? Who can help me? What is the via media? How do I know it when I see it? What am I missing?

I would say it is not a way of thinking about an issue but about priorities. I have argued consistently for a return to a theological grounding. I believe if we focus on affirming the proper role of Scripture, on what it means to be human, and how to stand as a Protestant in the Great Tradition, we can slowly began to answer the questions posed by all of the fields related to the issue of inclusion. In my opinion, via media is the theological finger trap keeping inclusionists from going liberal protestant and conservatives from going fundamentalists, or worse — Southern Baptist.

For me, via media is not the middle between left/progressive and right/conservative — because those two sides are usually defined, or start with, the issue of LGBT. Rather, the via media is about placing orthodoxy before other issues. Thus, we argue for orthodoxy and attempt to build up from there.

Rather, it is not about sex, but about the Virgin-born.

via Incarnatio: Scripture & Culture in Wesleyan Perspective: Defining the Methodist middle: Is there a via media for the #UMC?.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

11 Responses to “is it about positions or priorities? #UMC #UMCschism”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    There’s your middle ground. There’s my middle ground. Now, if I never engage you in a serious discussion, I have no idea what you consider to be a middle ground. As a result, I only know what I consider to be my middle ground.

    To further complicate matters, if my views are too firmly entrenched, then negotiation and compromise – and, thereby, reaching a mutually satisfactory middle ground – is severely limited. This becomes an extreme case of “two people with irreconcilable views.” Yet, from Jerusalem to Washington, it is a story common around the world.

  2. Joel, are you saying there is not an orthodox doctrine of marriage? I believe that the Church has always defined marriage as between one man and one woman, no? And what about all the commands in the NT about avoiding sexual immorality and adultery? Are they not doctrinal in nature? I can’t imagine any of the great historical theologians of the church being considered orthodox while holding a definition of marriage and sexuality in line with the current progressive “doctrine.”

    You uphold episcopal authority as a matter of orthodox doctrine. Yet it is not mentioned in either the Articles of Religion or the Confession of Faith, nor is it in any of the ecumenical creeds. So how can it be a matter of orthodox doctrine?

    So I guess I’m arguing that if you can include episcopal authority as a doctrine, so can marriage and sexuality be included as doctrines of the church.

    • Tom,

      If there is an “orthodox doctrine of marriage” it is most likely the Catholic view that includes natural law almost to the level of doctrine. I do not believe marriage is a doctrine – unlike, say, the Trinity, baptism, and episcopal authority. Further, we know marriage has changed in the West during the past two thousand years.

      I believe we should avoid sexual immorality and adultery. This is not doctrine in nature, but in the realm of holiness. Holiness as a whole should be a doctrine and is at least a Wesleyan precept. I would contend that Wesley understand perfection as the doctrine and holiness as the means to attain it.

      The great theologians believed a few different things about items we may object to. Surely you aren’t appealing to authority to defend a position they cannot answer.

      Given the newness of -sexuality as a concept, it is doubtful at best the great theologians would have grappled with what we are grappling with today. Further, given the current critical studies of Scripture, they may not have had the same facts to base such pronouncements on. Yes, knowledge changes and we are given more knowledge. I would assume this is in line with some of the great theologians you mention, such as Augustine and Calvin who allowed science may give us a better understanding of Scripture. I believe as well a catechism dear to the UM’s heart holds that both science and Scripture reveal to us God.

      In regards to episcopal authority, I would submit this: Ephesians. Acts. Ignatius of Antioch. Cyprian of Carthage. Augustine. The Church Council as progenitor of the Creeds and Canon. I give to you Wesley’s demand for ordained clergy to administer the sacraments and his desire to never schism from the Anglican Church which he considered under episcopal authority. Without Episcopal authority as a prevenient doctrine we are left without much of what we consider Christianity. I mean, the Articles of Religion are themselves a form of authority, albeit ecclesiastical.

      As to your line of questions… since nothing in the Articles of Religion, Creeds, or the Confession of Faith strictly forbid “gay marriage” I guess you should okay with it then, or at least understand it not to be a (Wesleyan) orthodox doctrine? I mean, nothing in the Creeds, Articles of Religion, or Confessions of Faith proclaim marriage between one man and one woman as doctrine either.

      And honestly, Tom… a the “progressive ‘doctrine'”? Like progressives even know what that word means… 😉

  3. Know More Than I Should says

    After noting that the statement, “…avoid sexual immorality and adultery,” caught my attention, let me say I advocate neither hedonism nor promiscuity. Nor, having been with my first wife since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, do I advise adultery. Nevertheless, having been a parent, I wish to address an issue often overlooked by advocates of Bronze Age Biblical morality.

    At the time the Old Testament was written, life expectancy wasn’t what it is these days in developed countries. Given infant mortality and shorter lifespans at a time when agriculture was still in its infancy, women had to begin producing children at an early age. As more modern records, most dating from third world countries the 19th century, suggest some Bronze Age mothers may have even been in their tweens (late preteen to early teenage years) and grandmother by their late teens or early 20s.

    Life for women in post-modern industrial societies is vastly different from that of her Bronze Age counterparts. Since the late 1950s, American women have been encouraged to acquire a college education and work experience. As a result, for example, median age for female first marriages has risen from the early 20s during the first half of the 20th century to the mid to late 20s in the early 21st century.

    Meanwhile, puberty in females still begins in the late preteens and is reaches fruition by the mid teens. At the same time, teens begin having sex in the mid teens. Despite $1.5 billion spent on abstinence only sex education since the days when Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky famously “fooled around” in the White House, over 2/3 of teens report being sexually experienced before age 20.

    Almost 9/10 college undergraduates report having had sex! Seventeen out of 20 college coeds, or about the same percentage reporting being sexually active, are on birth control pills. The typical college student has 3 or 4 sexual partners during their undergraduate years. One third report going “Double Dutch” – meaning the coed is on the pill and the male uses a condom.

    Even if it ever existed in the United States, long gone are the days when virgins married. Nonetheless, the church clings to an obviously out of touch Bronze Age morality formulated at a time when the onset of puberty and marriage were more closely aligned. Then, it wonders why today’s youth don’t take the faith seriously!

  4. This fits the campaign button in the title of the post. Just follow the advice in the Acts of Thomas. 🙂

    11 And the king desired the groomsmen to depart out of the bride-chamber; and when all were gone out and the doors were shut, the bridegrroom lifted up the curtain of the bride-chamber to fetch the bride unto him. And he saw the Lord Jesus bearing the likeness of Judas Thomas and speaking with the bride; even of him that but now had blessed them and gone out from them, the apostle; and he saith unto him: Wentest thou not out in the sight of all? how then art thou found here? But the Lord said to him: I am not Judas which is also called Thomas but I am his brother. And the Lord sat down upon the bed and bade them also sit upon chairs, and began to say unto them:

    12 Remember, my children, what my brother spake unto you and what he delivered before you: and know this, that if ye abstain from this foul intercourse, ye become holy temples, pure, being quit of impulses and pains, seen and unseen, and ye will acquire no cares of life or of children, whose end is destruction: and if indeed ye get many children, for their sakes ye become grasping and covetous, stripping orphans and overreaching widows, and by so doing subject yourselves to grievous punishments. For the more part of children become useless oppressed of devils, some openly and some invisibly, for they become either lunatic or half withered or blind or deaf or dumb or paralytic or foolish; and if they be sound, again they will be vain, doing useless or abominable acts, for they will be caught either in adultery or murder or theft or fornication, and by all these vvill ye be afflicted.

    But if ye be persuaded and keep your souls chaste before God, there will come unto you living children whom these blemishes touch not, and ye shall be without care, leading a tranquil life without grief or anxiety, looking to receive that incorruptible and true marriage, and ye shall be therein groomsmen entering into that bride-chamber which is full of immortality and light.

    13 And when the young people heard these things, they believed the Lord and gave themselves up unto him, and abstained from foul desire and continued so, passing the night in that place. And the Lord departed from before them, saying thus: The grace of the Lord shall be with you.

  5. Joel asked me to leave this comment here, addressing it to Tom Lambrecht:
    “I find the idea that there is even a “Catholic” doctrine of marriage funny, especially as I’m reading a large historical monograph – Sin & Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture, 13th-18th Centuries – in which myriad examples of Catholic preachers’s sermons from the 16th-18th centuries are reproduced in which marriage is described as a sinful state. From the Renaissance on, the ascetic life was considered preferable, because it provided no occasion for sin. While marriage remained a sacrament, most of the preachers Delumeau cites and quotes quickly move to the dangers marriage presents for deadly sins never considered as such, whether it’s lusting after one’s wife, or enjoying sex too much for either partner. Of course, much of this preaching was precisely because people were enjoying sex in marriage, were lusting after their partners, and even enjoying conjugal relations before marriage and encouraged by their parents (not always wealthy; some of the preachers cited were working in rural areas with large numbers of relatively poor congregants) to do so. I would agree that doctrine is important; when any discussion of doctrine happens absent (a) actual human life; and (b) historical reflection rooted in the life of the worshiping church, it becomes a word game. In this case, I think the United Methodist Church would benefit from doing both more and better than they have been.”

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