Since this will be about conversation, I find it helpful to define the term so that we are all on the same page. Here we go then (from Merriam-Webster) “an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people : the act of talking in an informal way: something that is similar to a spoken conversation”.
I am not Joel Watts. I wanted to say that off the bat so that there is no confusion. I do however blog here with him and am privileged to call him my brother, not only in faith, but also in affection. Joel and I, contrary to popular belief, have many differing thoughts on theology, on more than one issue. We have figured out how to have conversations about those differences. If someone is curious about how that works, here it is…you are respectful of one another and the differences about theological points, you work to support those points, you affirm your shared faith in the creeds and what the church has taught since it’s founding, and ultimately you respect the process of the church and also the authority of the church. Doesn’t get a lot easier than that. I believe is a personal statement of faith, and is vitally important to the Christian life, but we to often in our pride and arrogance neglect that we believe, the statement of faith of the church, is what we have been baptized into and is a much more potent and powerful statement. We can have any conversation because we recognize that. If we are focused on “I believe” there is division, if we instead focus on “we believe,” there is unity. Joel and I can have any conversation not because of “I believe”, but because of “we believe”.
It was suggested in UMInsight, a publication not officially affiliated with the UMC much like this blog is not officially affiliated with the UMC, that certain conservatives have now made the habit of disengaging from “the conversation”. (I am not exactly certain which conversation we, as while not mentioned personally, I do blog here with Joel, have disengaged from.) I feel confident in speaking for Joel in regards to being conservative. I have my conservative evangelical membership card, but just barely as the club regularly threatens to take it away. I promise, Joel is not conservative. He might properly be described as moderate, perhaps even liberal, but not conservative. He could quite rightly be described as orthodox (which is to say adhering to the creeds), and some days I think that he may be ready to convert to Catholicism, but conservative? Nope. I am not a person who finds labels, as a general rule, damaging. They are quite useful in identifying groups of people with similar beliefs. The only way that Joel could properly be described as conservative is if the word has come to mean simply “not progressive”. Here is the first problem with whatever conversation it is claimed we have disengaged from. Rampant speculation of what the perspective of someone else is. Of the others mentioned by UMInsight, I do not know them well enough to make any statements about them other than to say that I am convinced they are dedicated to the God and Christ through the UMC.
[tweetthis] Joel is not conservative.[/tweetthis]
UMInsight, it the op-ed offered, admitted to “advocacy journalism”, which I understand to mean that it is not objective and transparently adopts a non-objective viewpoint. There is nothing at all wrong with that, I merely wanted to point out that they are not objective. Neither are we at this blog to be honest. I do not know what UMInsight officially advocates for to be perfectly honest. The statement made on their website is as follows:
United Methodist Insight seeks to provide a broad range of information and perspectives for concerned United Methodists and decision-makers that will affect the future of The United Methodist Church.
What I do know is that some of the regular contributors to UMInsight have made a habit of inflammatory statements toward many conservative UMC bloggers (please note that I do not believe all they identify as ‘conservative’ to be so). That is not conversation, it is accusation. It is assuming the motives of people you do not know, then assigning rather unflattering language to them. If you read with regularity any blogs, you have read all about inquisitors, excommunications, etc. Funny thing is that none of it is actually true. Of course others will claim it to be. I do not know what UMInsight advocates for, but I do know what this blog, and the others named by UMInsight advocate for, and that is unity in the UMC through our shared doctrinal standards and the rules as well as the process for changing those things that can be changed.
A quick aside for just a moment, in the twitter exchange that was posted by UMInsight between Joel and UMInsight, I found it rather simple really. Joel asked for something to be removed. Considering that he wrote it, I do not find that odd at all. When it came to a head, he provided reasons for wishing it removed. Those reasons were “unWesleyan doctrine and slanderous personal attacks on the site”. Those seem like valid reasons, and having read some of the material published by UMInsight, I can only concur. Funny thing about slander is that it really can not be corrected. It is an accusation once made that stays. It is ugly and mean spirited. It should have no place. It damages the reputations of those it is leveled against. It goes far beyond the ever popular ad hominem, and delves straight to character assignation. One attacks a person’s character, the other seeks to damage and eventually destroy it. Why would someone want to be associated with a publication that allows this toward them or their friends? I want to make clear here that those things do not necessarily reflect the opinions of those who sponsor UMInsight, but it must be asked why they are allowed to appear there, and why regular contributors to the publications have a history of attacking any and everything associated with orthodox faith or a traditional interpretation of scripture. In one appeal from a regular contributor to UMInsight, the statement was made “And now we have yet another voice, citing both “unWesleyan doctrine” – I’m honestly not sure what that means; are all United Methodists supposed to adhere to a narrow Wesleyan theology?” The short answer is yes, we are. We have unchangeable standards of faith that I dare say we all should abide by. As for what unWesleyan doctrine means, it is fairly self explanatory…doctrine that falls outside of the Wesleyan tradition.
I do not think it unfair to describe the UMInsight as a more progressive leaning publication. This is not said as an insult, simply a description. In the past few weeks alone, it has published pieces calling people inquisitors, claiming (wrongfully) that someone has been excommunicated (I don’t think that means what you think it means), etc. In the piece, you ask for help in figuring out how to have these conversations, and in some of the responses you received in various forums, you can find things like how shocked people are that we “disengaged”, how progressives are so much more willing to talk than conservatives, the accusations (repeated for the hundredth time) calling people inquisitors and claiming more unflattering things, etc. If you want to have a conversation, perhaps it is wise to first stop allowing things like this to be said unchallenged. As for the rest, I outlined above how two of us (Joel and I) who share differing viewpoints on several things have conversation, and I humbly submit that is the model for us all to have the conversation. As Cynthia Astle put it “None of us has the whole picture independently, but together we can make up the whole picture.” She is right, none of us do, but when accusations fly unchallenged, it is not a conversation, it is a fight. No one needs to be involved in that.
At this blog, we are advocates. We are advocates for orthodox faith (creeds), we are advocates for unity through our shared doctrinal standards, we are advocates for the rules and the process that can change them, and we are advocates for the rich and wonderful Wesleyan heritage that we share. No one has left a conversation here, the decision was made that the advocacy of UMInsight and what we advocate for here were no longer in alignment in any way, and not only that, but so polar opposite that conversation was not possible and had degenerated to the point of insult and slander that served no purpose. No, this was not a decision made lightly or even happily, but it was a decision that needed made. We did not leave the conversation…it was not a conversation to start with after all.