In all of the discussion of the various proposals for the UMC at the upcoming General Conference, I find myself drawn back to one in particular. No doubt there are some who will write this off as me just being my normal conservative self, but that is not actually the case. Let me explain. When I began blogging here with Joel some time ago, I was very hopeful for some sort of compromise, though I confess I did not know how it would look or what form it might take, but I at least thought it possible that we could come to some agreement and arrangement that allowed all of us to operate under the banner of United Methodist Church in good conscience. I even had a few ideas about some things that might work, though I have no clue if they would be legal within the frame work of the church or not. Then the process started breaking down, or at least I started paying more attention to it and saw it breaking down. The vows of ordination were violated without consequences and often with reward in the form of praise and the 15 minutes of fame that comes with it. When pastors were disciplined for breaking their vows, the punishments were negated by those groups that agreed with them. Finally the call came for open disobedience to the Book of Discipline. The thing that holds us together as a denomination (The Book of Discipline) was being ignored and circumvented and we began to act more like we were in the time of the Judges having no king and doing whatever was right in our own eyes, instead of recognizing that we have a King and doing what is right in the eyes of His church.
The rhetoric heated up and any hope of compromise slipped away as the voice considered to be the largest and loudest for “full inclusion” announced that there would be no real compromise, only stepping stones to full inclusion. Then there was the Conectional Table talks that were supposed to help, but were instead hijacked by a group who thinks shattering communion chalices is a good idea resulting in a proposal to change the BoD without the promised discussion from both sides of the issue. The accusations began to fly toward anyone who was not willing to tow the party line so to speak. If you do not support full inclusion you are homophobic, you are complicit in murder because the blood of every LGBTQ teenager is on your hands, are bigoted, possessed of a hard heart, a pharisee, and many more unkind and untrue things culminating recently with the accusation by Matt Berryman, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, that if you do not agree with their causes then you are not indeed worshiping God, but rather are in solidarity with pharaoh’s brick builders, the golden calf and Baal and not with the God who comes near in Jesus. That is not a call for inclusion by the way, it is bullying at best, and the type of spiritual abuse that the group claims is done to others at worst. If you agree with me then you can follow Jesus, if not you can follow Baal. I have little desire to go into what could be involved in worshiping Baal, but suffice it to say it is not pretty. Yep, if you believe that the act of sex between two people of the same gender is a sin, then you worship pagan nature deities and have broken the first two commandments.
That rather (probably to) long introduction is how I got to where I am. I include it so that there is some explanation of how I got here and why. It is, for some reason, important for me that it not be thought I started here as I did not. I got here based on what I encountered. So, on to the CUP plan. You can find the plan here.
The first proposal involves the just resolution process. In a nut shell, it requires that the one who has brought the complaint be satisfied that there has been a resolution that was indeed just. Some are concerned that this could be used to force clergy trials and potential punitive measures, and that is true, it could be. It could also be a powerful tool of reconciliation as it was originally intended. In many cases the process as we have it has been used not for justice, or even resolution, but as a way to circumvent the spirit of what the BoD prescribes as it’s process by using the letter of it. Is there some potential for abuse? I imagine so, there always is, but I choose to think that it is much more likely the Spirit will move when the accused and the accuser are both consulted and brought together for resolution rather than the current system we have now that does not require that. After all, a relationship between two people can not properly be restored by only one of them.
The second proposal again refers to the just resolution process. In a nutshell, it requires that the process requires an apology for any wrong doing and a commitment to change the behavior. That really should not be a sticking point. Isn’t that the point of the Christian walk to begin with? I can not see any problems with “I am sorry, I will not do it again.”
The third proposal starts getting a bit more complicated all in all. The purpose is to increase the accountability of our Bishops. This seems a necessary step as there has been at least one instance where a bishop went into the jurisdiction of another bishop after being repeatedly asked not to, for the sole purpose of performing a same sex marriage. Apart from that sort of thing showing a basic lack of respect for ones peers, it also demonstrates that the process we have in place now failed mightily as a deterrent to such action and failed also to properly handle it after the fact. This hopefully clears up that process and holds our Bishops to a higher standard than they are currently held to. I am of the opinion that a large part of our problem is that our Bishops are able to violate their vows without penalties, then why not the pastors as well? There must be more accountability for our Bishops. If the leadership does not follow the processes we have, then the rest of the church will not either.
The fourth proposal is where the real sticking points for most begin I imagine. The proposal is that the penalty, should a trial find the clergy member guilty, be 1 year of credential forfeiture for a first offense and complete removal for a second offense. Let’s be honest and state the obvious, this is harsh and I would not say otherwise. What we do know is that 1 month is not long enough as RMN has already effectively negated the penalty by paying for that in one case and suggesting they would in other cases. This is specific to the issue of same sex marriage. The reasoning is that this is the issue of the day and the one that is causing discord. To be perfectly honest, I would like to see it expanded quite frankly to include all cases of sexual immorality and all cases of teaching doctrine contrary to what is laid out as our unchangeable standards of doctrine, but that is just me. Why so harsh though? Well the first rational is as a deterrent. Yes, I know, deterrents don’t always work, but they sometimes do. Another reason is that it is not a secret that in certain jurisdictions that pastors can perform same sex marriages (which are again against the teachings of the church and the BoD and in violation of their vows) without penalty or with little penalty. We have seen cases of 1 day suspensions for example which are ineffective. The hope is that this will act as discipline, that is to say that the church is trying to bring one of it’s pastors back into the teachings of her. Should that hope not be realized then the church, in the interests of protecting what she believes to be the truth, must remove those who are preaching and modeling actions and beliefs contrary to that. This is becoming a larger and larger problem within the church in general as we see pastors denying the bodily resurrection, denying the trinity, etc., but that is another blog.
The fifth proposal allows for those who can not live within the BoD to leave. Some have suggested this is an attempt to purge the progressives, others have said it is a way for large conservative churches to leave. I suggest it is exactly what it says, namely an act of grace by the church that allows those who can not follow out BoD to leave, property intact, to continue ministry consistent with their conscience. This does not in anyway prevent a church from staying or force a church to leave, but it does require that a church teach those things consistent with the BoD. It does not prevent efforts to change the BoD, just asks that, if you remain, you not be just the opposition, but the loyal opposition. Suggestions otherwise I think are more rhetoric than reality. Should the large conservative churches however choose to leave, then so be it. We are a people of faith and we will move forward in ministry anyway. Should the entire Western Jurisdiction decide to go it alone, so be it. We are a people of faith and will move forward in ministry anyway. What we are not is a people who should desire to hold others captive.
The sixth proposal protects the pensions of those who have served the UMC should they withdraw. This should be something that is easily agreed to as it is only right that the benefits of one who has served be protected and granted them. A worker is worth their wage and all that good stuff.
There still may be hope for some sort of compromise on the LGBTQ conflict that has gone on longer than I have been alive. I don’t know, and in truth I can not see it from here, but the thing that obstructs my vision is that there can be no good faith for the future when there is no good faith in the present. If we do not follow what has been decided by the church now, why should we have any confidence that we will follow it in the future, especially when the voices that claim to represent the full inclusion groups have stated that no compromise is possible. I can not see a future compromise from here because I can not see present obedience and loyalty to what the church has determined now.
Another concern is not, as some will undoubtedly claim, the slippery slope, but rather what is properly called a precedent. IF the pattern established is that should we not like what is in the BoD all we need to do is ignore it, break vows, and shatter chalices then the future unity of the church is already lost. Contrary to the belief of some the problem is not that there is opposition, the problem is that it is not loyal opposition. The problem is not that some seek change, the problem is the manner in which it is sought. I have often thought that the root issue is not any one particular thing, but is in reality a question of authority. The authority of the church to set it’s standard, the authority of the church to protect it’s doctrine, the authority of scripture and where it’s place is properly, etc. We can start to work through those issues of authority by recognizing the authority of the church and her doctrines. Until that happens, all of the other discussions, no matter how fun or tedious, no matter how rewarding or frustrating, can not help the future of the church. After all, if the authority is not respected and enforced when we disagree, then what right do we have to expect it enforced when we do agree with it? In 2004 the communion chalice was shattered both literally and figuratively. That thing which holds the blood of Christ that should bind us together lays in pieces on the floor. I support the CUP plan because it is my belief that it is the glue that allows that chalice to be repaired so that once again the blood of Christ may fill it and bind us together.