Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
October 27th, 2014 by Joel Watts

What about new labels (without the secular undertones)? #UMC

English:

English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am tired of using secular terminology to describe viewpoints in the Church. Yes, all terms are really open and have a fair use, but given the highly charged atmosphere in the United States, perhaps would could use terms not associated with the two political parties.

Progressive really isn’t. Progressive usually means moving forward but with the Progressives I’ve dealt with, they are moving left, into the secular realm, even into deism and agnosticism. Conservative means to conserve and yet many conservatives want to move us to congregationalism and away from traditional Wesleyan values. We aren’t really called to be either (although, to be honest, I’m sure I could make a better argument for traditional progressive Christianity than I could for conservative). Then you have all sorts of other labels people just don’t get. Liberal. Confessing. Evangelical/evangelical.

Our binary language of good/bad; conservative/liberal; etc… is not helpful when discussing something so vital. It doesn’t allow for those who may stand somewhere in middle. Of course, can draw the binary of flesh/spirit or freedom/matter, but the former is biblical and the latter is shown to not encompass all that there is given the former. So, forgive me if I am forced to, in this instance, use a binary to state my case.

I would like to propose some new terms. This terms will help in discerning our view on church government and orthodoxy, not on inclusion and exclusion. I do not like binaries, because the world is not binary. Yet, in observing the UMC as of late, there is developing a binary of sorts — based not on homosexuality and inclusion, but on the role and limit of church governance.

1.) Free Church — those who want to divorce themselves from a traditional view of orthodoxy, residing on something of a congregational or confederation basis with a “Jesus-only” attempt at Christian spirituality (either passively or aggressively). This has happened before:

By the mid-nineteenth century, Methodism was clearly evolving from a movement within the Church of England to a separate church. By the end of the century, partly under Hugh Price Hughes’s leadership, Methodism as a whole had become identified with the Free Churches. Official Methodist statements, such as The Nature of the Christian Church (1937), resisted any suggestion that the Methodist societies had broken away from the Church of England: they were never properly part of the Established Church. The Methodist Church was guilty of no schism, for it was ‘compelled’ to become a distinct religious community (pp. 25f.).1

Further, they view “love” as “inclusion” and righteousness as “justice.” This alone is the bound of Christian orthodoxy. Activism is their mission.

2.) Creedal — essentially, those who want to maintain the connexion with each other through the Book of Discipline as something unbreakable (not unchangeable) as well as believe the connection to the tradition of the Church is not something to be lost. “Love” is defined through a traditional understanding of the atoning work of Christ, redeeming people from sin. Love, then, is not necessarily exclusion but redemption.

In the end, this is really what it comes down to: our view of church governance and orthodoxy. This is why you have many who argue for inclusion but likewise argue for the BoD and orthodoxy.

Thoughts?

  1. Paul Avis, Anglicanism and the Christian Church: Theological Resources in Historical Perspective (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2002), 161.
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

5 Responses to “What about new labels (without the secular undertones)? #UMC”
  1. “Thoughts?”
    Since you asked,
    “church governance”?
    “I am tired of using secular terminology”?
    What is “governance”?
    What is the church governing over? Or is the church being governed? I smell both binary and secular in “church governance”.
    My point, I really don’t have a point. Just don’t feel religion in church governance. Just see top heavy bureaucracy.
    You asked for thoughts. Maybe better not to ask for thoughts.

  2. Robert Chapman says

    Thank you for the wonderful suggestions.
    I often find myself less in the middle between liberal and conservative than embracing disparate elements from each side.
    I find during careful discussion that many of my interloctors do as well..
    The creedal vs. Free church designations will probably find most of us picking and choosing doctrines we like and perhaps discard some others.
    Perhaps it is less important which side we take than that the new designations open up opportunities for coalescent conversations.

  3. Know More Than I Should says

    Christianity did it to itself. It’s preoccupation with who was going to heaven or hell was the perfect foundation on which to build the rest of the current crop of binaryspeak. One could argue that the church became so preoccupied with who was going to hell that the whole church has gone to hell. Even worse, much the same thing is true for the whole country!

    Labels are seldom self-assigned. Most of the time, labels aren’t that different from name calling on an elementary school playground. Only in church politics – as in the real thing – there’s seldom anyone around with sufficient power to stop it. As a result, the labels become part of theology and a turnoff for many people.

  4. Ford1968 says

    I am a Christian man married to a man. I reconciled my faith and sexuality years ago. It took decades and hard work and a ton of pain and anxiety. I understand why this greater discussion is so difficult.

    This is one of the most nuanced articles I’ve seen on the discussion under weigh. Thank you for your refreshing take.

    I think there may be more of a tri-chotomy (is that a word?) going on. There are three competing ethical frameworks on this discussion.

    Deontological – holding the traditional interpretation of scripture and the BoD as invariably authoritative. Viewing acts of disobedience as not only unorthodox, but entirely unfaithful.
    Consequentialist – first do no harm. There is demonstrable harm that has flowed from the traditionalist perspective. There is a question of whether the traditional view can be held without causing harm. [It’s my belief that the traditional view is inherently harmful, but can be held with a legitimization or accommodation view that mitigates that harm and is acceptable in a consequentialist framework.]
    Virtue ethicist – there is objective, demonstrable virtue in the covenantal partnerships of same sex couples. Marriage is a vow of lifelong, mutual self-sacrifice, care-taking and fidelity in the service of community. The sanctity of gay coupling is not contingent on the moral permissability of gay sex. Instead, the moral permissability of gay sex is grounded in the cruciform nature of covenantal partnership. [this is my personal view and I believe Jesus taught a virtue ethic]

    I personally believe that the Church is losing moral authority not because we call for sexual restraint. I know very few people who have not experienced the consequence of ostensibly consequence-free sex. I believe that we lose moral authority when we point our finger at objectively virtuous, flourishing families and denounce them a sexual sinners.

    Regarding the current discussions on human sexuality in the UMC, there seems to be a certain disregard amongst traditionalists for the third and fourth points of the Weslyan Quadrelateral. To me, they appear to have a Calvinistic revulsion to the experience of flesh-and-blood humans whose lived reality belies both tradition and the traditional interpretation of scripture. Admitting that gay coupling leads to flourishing at least for some gay couples seems beyond the pale – a deception and a heresy.

    The way forward for the Church universal lies in honoring all three ethical approaches, affirming the faith and faithfulness of those who subscribe to them, and being focused on those things that unite us rather than divide us. I’m not quite sure when the historic creeds became insufficient for Christian unity, but certainly we have moved away from confessional Christianity in my lifetime.

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