Neil Sedaka was right. Breaking up is hard to do. It is messy, especially when there is money, property, children, and all the rest involved. We are talking a lot about that in the United Methodist Church. We are talking about it in the language of marriage really. We talk about divorce being messy. We talk about the money, the property, the “children” (congregations). It is difficult. I am going to continue that language in most of this post as I find it appropriate.
While I maintain that we have issues that run deeper than sexual ethics and morality, I will start by addressing those since those are the only things we seem willing to talk about most days. Can a marriage really survive with two diametrically opposed views on sexual morality? Let’s just be honest here and admit, without arguing who is right or wrong, that we have a group of people who view sex between two of the same gender as sexually immoral, and a group of people who do not. That is a diametrically opposed viewpoint. In order to help us understand better, let’s look at some other issues of sexual immorality that have caused problems in marriage.
“At a 2003 meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, two-thirds of the 350 divorce lawyers noted that the Internet was playing an increasing role in marital splits, with excessive online porn watching contributing to more than half of the divorces.” (Huffington Post 05/29/2011 Vicki Larson Co-author of “The New I Do,” journalist, mom)
This is older information of course and it is noted that the trend is increasing. This is a result of two differing views on sexual immorality. One view says that porn is acceptable and the other says that it is not. The result? An increasing number of divorces. The best divorce statistics we have right now say that approximately 17% of all divorces are due exclusively to marital infidelity, and that over 80% of marriages involving infidelity end in divorce. Adultery is another act of sexual immorality. Another result of two differing views on sexual immorality. There are more things that we could list, but this should be sufficient to demonstrate the point. Remember, we are not even talking about the morality of anything, just the reality that we have drastically different views on what is and what is not sexually immoral. That does not bode well for a marriage.
Why do we have such a differing views on sexual immorality? For the most part, it is because we approach scripture from completely different understandings and starting points. To add this to our context of marriage, can a marriage survive when the couple has two different ideas of what the truth is and two (or more) ideas about where the search for truth starts and ends? Sooner or later those ideas are going to come into conflict. The longer you are together, the more likely and severe the conflict will get. Eventually (and I would say this is where we are now), you end up with drastically different world views to the point that any meaningful communication is nigh impossible. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that person A has a few statements (say 25 or so) that they believe are true and form the basis of how they are going to live life and move forward. Person B not only says that those statements do not matter, but believes things to be true and advocates an approach to life that contradicts those. Is that really going to work as a marriage for very long? If it does, I hardly think it would be healthy. Marriages that do not share understandings of truth, have shared goals, shared dreams, and shared beliefs often end in divorce, or are at the very least unhealthy. Two people can not go in two different directions and then claim that they are going to the same place.
I think that I have beat the dead horse of the marriage analogy enough for now. Let’s talk our history. The split over slavery comes up a lot in the United Methodist Church when we talk about sexual ethics. In a nutshell the position of the church was against slavery. Some Bishops wanted to have slaves. The church sanctioned those Bishops (one resigned beforehand) and those who disagreed with said sanction left to form the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Again, let’s look at this not from a moral point of view, but from a purely practical one. A group could not, in good conscience (I am being generous here) live with the church’s beliefs on an issue and they separated. What do we have today? The same basic scenario, save for now we have those who can not live with the church’s beliefs being disruptive and unwilling to leave. While I find the reasons for the Methodist Episcopal church leaving repugnant, I can at least respect their willingness to not cause continued conflict and instead leave to live out the vision of Christianity they had that was incompatible with their parent denomination.
We are at that point. It is time for the break up. We simply are not able and/or willing to live with each other any more. It will be messy, it will be nasty and it will be ugly. Unlike other divorces though, in this case we are breaking up because we still maintain some love for each other and understand that it may be a divorce from each other, but it is not a divorce from Christ. The church is and always will be His bride. We are breaking up because that is what is in our power to live peaceably with each other. We are breaking up because the promises that we made and the covenant that we share has been broken with no attempt or desire for reconciliation. We are breaking up because we recognize that the denomination that we serve is not in agreement at all over several core issue. things like the Articles of Religion, basic approaches to scripture and it’s interpretation. Things that form the foundation of our faith. Mostly we are breaking up because we, like a lot of couples, are using sex to mask what the problems really are instead of addressing the deeper issues. Look for more in the future on this including some explanation on why third way proposals and compromises end up not working, why the Bishops council really is dead on arrival, and what the future might hold for all of us.