Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
March 23rd, 2016 by Joel Watts

Unity for the Sake of Unity is a Lie

keep calmFrom Hans Küng:

Truth must not be sacrificed, but rediscovered: The Churches cannot be unified satisfactorily on the basis of indifferentist faith and half-hearted allegiances. Diplomatic settlements and compromises in dogma are not the right way. We must be mistrustful of formulas or forms of unity which conceal our differences rather than over­coming them. If unity is to be genuine, dogmatic differences must be settled theologically. They will not be solved by pretending that they are not there or that they do not matter. Unless they are genuinely overcome, they will remain a constant source of infection, the more dangerous for being hidden. We must reject “unity at any price.” A Church which abandons the truth abandons itself. (Küng, Church, 289 — HT)

There is a move afoot to declare unity the singular goal of the United Methodist Church, the General Conference, and our public voices. However, what voice is there that speaks to the truth of the matter?

There are truths, hard truths, people do not and cannot hear, namely pensions are not the reason to stay together. They cannot understand that unity for the sake of unity is not a reason, cause, or solution. Doctrinal unity. Unity of Vision (with the same dictionary). These reasons are real. These reasons do not force us to hide the truth.

My great fear for General Conference is not change one way or the other, but no change for the sake of a false unity, thereby hurting many in the process and insuring our quickly destruction.

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

9 Responses to “Unity for the Sake of Unity is a Lie”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    Truth is only one side of the coin. The other is meeting the needs of people.

    It matters little if one has some corner on an absolute truth if one is unable to use that truth to give people what they need. That is the rather obvious message in the feeding of the multitude (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:5-15). This fact of faith is bluntly stated in Titus 3:14.

    As evidenced by numerous empty church pews on Sunday, not to mention an abysmal absence of faith across the land, among the grander failures of late 20th century Christianity was chasing money and political power. In doing so, the church became savorless salt fit only to be tread underfoot.

    Even worse for Christianity, numerous alternatives have arisen to fill the void left by the church’s faithless preoccupations. Perhaps the most insidious has been the prosperity gospel.

    Until the church confesses its sins of omission, Christian faith in American life will continue its slide into irrelevance. Just like in the time of Jesus, the multitude is out there waiting to be fed. Only they often have little to offer except themselves.

    Many are homeless. Others live in cesspools of crime. Some are people of color or of a different faith. Then, there are those single mothers and children for whom promises of love turned out to be hollow.

    in the end, the real question of faith is whether the church can get off its high horse, get down in the filth and squalor of people’s lives like Jesus or the Good Samaritan. Or, like the priest and the Levite described in Luke 10:25–37, will they continue to pretend those abused and beaten by life do not exist.

  2. I’ve not heard anyone advocate that unity be the “singular goal” of the church or General Conference nor advocate for “unity for the sake of unity.” Nor do I hear anyone arguing against doctrinal unity.

    I do hear many making an appeal to unity as they argue against calls for schism (as there are 2 petitions in the ADCA calling for that directly).

    And I hear many people arguing that we have erred since 1972 in elevating one view of homosexuality to so important a place in our doctrine and polity (I only say “so important” in that roughly 20% of the petitions in the ADCA touch on it directly, indirectly or as a consequence). Some petitions attempt to double down on the current stance and related prohibitions in the Book of Discipline, and other petitions attempt to overturn/reverse it completely. And the institutional church (or at least Connectional Table and others) are offering a third way so that there would be no explicit stance and no punishments for those who hold the current stance or who hold its opposite. That “Third Way Plan” basically says the differences over homosexuality ought not to be doctrinal and ought not to be essential to our unity.

    I do hear many pleading for greater unity for the sake of mission.

    • Dave, Rev. Harper has all but said unity is the prize.

      • You are reading more into that post (https://oboedire.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/umc-schism/) and extrapolating too much from that misreading of it.

        Yes, Harper does outright reject schism on principled grounds. Yes, he does lift up unity as an important Christian virtue. But he does not say nor imply “unity for the sake of unity.” So forgive me for suggesting your post might be better titled “‘Unity for the Sake of Unity’ is a Strawman.”

        You know I appreciate you, Joel, and your views, and your consistent intellect+logical rigor. I just feel that this particular post of yours falls short of your high standards in that last department. And while I’m sure you didn’t intend it unkindly, it reminds me too much of what I’ve seen elsewhere as “piling on” a very fine man who has lost a lot of friends when he evolved from “warrior for social conservatism” to “friend to gay people in the church” (I’m paraphrasing his own self-description). He has not retreated from his evangelical Wesleyan faith, but many act like he did. I’m not accusing you of exactly that, but if I’m overreacting, it is because I’ve seen too many unfair characterizations of his positions.

        To more fully understand this fine man’s ongoing ministry and priorities, please see:
        https://oboedire.wordpress.com/about-oboedire/

        You have a fine point to make about doctrine, but it is not apt as a counterpart to what Harper is saying. And, to some extent, to insist on resolving the doctrinal big picture before addressing the homosexuality-related questions would be whistling past the graveyard. We don’t have the time right now.

        We face an urgent existential crisis where some powerful forces have submitted petitions to General Conference to initiate schism under the euphemism “amicable separation.” But that’s only half of it. We face a dilemma where over one-half of the American church supports same sex marriage, thus, church rules against it are untenable. My point isn’t that we all conform to the American majority; indeed, we have a global polity. The point would be the same if it were even 33% of Americans. It’s too big and the disconnect is just untenable. Realize also that schism would not be a neat split but a splintering that damages the witness of the whole church and severely harms our global mission.

        I understand your abhorrence of ecclesial disobedience (on which point you and I disagree). I understand your concern that the UMC’s big tent has grown too sloppy around the edges, and as as member of Minnesota’s Board of Ordained Ministry, I share that concern in substantial parts. But I think we agree that disagreement over homosexuality can be classified as a non-essential matter rather than as core doctrine.

        General Conference convenes in just 6 weeks. Deciding narrowly whether we tolerate different clergy responses to same sex marriage etc is the presenting issue which must be addressed. Working through deeper doctrinal issues will take more time. Pretending we can postpone the conversation about homosexuality until after disobedient clergy are brought to heel is a fantasy. Unity-amidst-difference must be our goal. That goal is unity for the sake of mission.

  3. “Very well, Joel.” I meant so say! Back and forth on too many threads. With too little sleep.

  4. Know More Than I Should says

    The link below offers a perfect example of church unity.

    http://babylonbee.com/news/church-votes-unanimously-to-replace-light-bulb-in-foyer/

    Go thou, and do likewise. The result will be perfect harmony and eternal bliss. Trust me. 🙂

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