The group known as Uniting Methodists recently held a gathering of sorts. I was not there, and have asked several questions of those involved in the group as individuals as well of the group itself via it’s website. I still have no answers. At this point I am taking it as an outright refusal to address specific questions about how their statements of faith actually fit in with the United Methodist Standards of faith that they claim they affirm. In the hope of getting some answers however, I spent the little over an hour listening to the video provided on the Uniting Methodists website to try and get some. I didn’t, but I did notice a few things that I can only assume are endorsed by the group as it involves three of the people instrumental in it and is listed as a resource on their website. I want to point out that I keep hearing about the importance of conversations from the group. I’m still waiting for one. A conversation involves the exchange of ideas. They seem only to want to make statements and not respond. Either that, or perhaps I am unimportant enough to answer. After all, I do not have a large constituency, don’t provide a large influx of money, and certainly don’t have an influence. The WCA, whom they constatnly mention as opposition, answered my questions. For that matter, RMN and MFSA has too. So has Good News. Come to think of it, every para-church group has had no problem answering questions I have asked. Well, until now.
The first thing was their ‘survey’ which concluded that 80% of Methodists fit into the broad middle. Is it really a shock that 80% of the crowd attending a talk about the ‘Methodist Middle’ are a part of the Methodist middle? Of course this all came after the now famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) sugar packet presentation trying to explain the four basic groups of United Methodist groups, and then of course going on to make the ‘middle ground’ seem to be the best option. Hamilton suggested that when he has taken this survey before, he has had similar results. I tend to discount surveys done on a whim by a presenter via smart phone as being representative of anything other than the presenters skill as an orator in persuading others to see his point. The second problem is that this then becomes a very American-centric representation of an opinion. There is a rather ugly word for taking the American opinion and claiming it is the best one.
There was the to be expected comparisons to women in ministry and slavery with a nice dash of reminding us how ugly all those things are. It has been written many times and in many places how those comparisons do not hold up and I am not going to go into it here. The suggestion was made though that because of those things, we must see this as a justice issue, or at least those who are more progressive than I must see it that way, and that I (“I” here meaning one who is not progressive) simply do not. This could not be more untrue. I have indeed examined issues of human sexuality as a justice issue in scripture. One of the essential attributes of God is His justice after all, so when trying to discern God’s will properly, justice must be an integral part. Frankly, the insinuation that my (and again “my” being those who are not progressive) understanding of theology, and for that matter the UMC’ understanding of theology, is so shallow as to not include God’s sense of justice is insulting. Of course it is possible that I misunderstood and what was intended was an illustration about how we have come to different conclusions about how God’s justice plays into this. If that is the case, so be it, but the Uniting Methodist movement is then incorrect that this is a matter of scriptural interpretation as we now have a view of (at least one) essential attribute of the nature of God that we are in serious disagreement over. That is a far larger divide than simple Biblical interpretation, it is a disagreement about the nature of God. Absent any sort of explanation and answer, I am left with the two choices that I can discern on my own. The Uniting Methodists are either generally insulting believing that the traditionalists have a shallow theology, or they are liars in claiming that the only thing dividing us is questions surrounding human sexuality. Neither option is good. So, highly questionable statistics (how proud Twain would be), and either of two choices, a hallow traditional theology (absent 2,000 years give or take to the contrary), or outright lies in their vision and theological statements. Not looking good for Uniting Methodists.
There were the other predictable things mentioned as well. How we are better together, the bleak monetary future of the UMC, a surprise in admitting that some division is likely no matter what the solution is, and my favorite, the appeal to unity in John. Bringing up the prayer in John really bugs me as they use it in the context of the UMC staying together as a denomination. The entire prayer may be found in John chapter 17. On the 11th verse of the chapter is the so called appeal to unity. ” And now I am in the world no longer, but these are in the world, and I come to You, Holy Father. Keep them in Your name, those whom You have given Me, so that they may be one as We are. (NKJV)” What is suggested by the Uniting movement is not that we be one as Christ and the Father are unless you are prepared to somehow argue that the will of God is somehow different than the will of Christ. That is certainly much larger than a difference in interpretation, it is again a difference in understanding not only God, but Christ, the trinitarian relationship between the two, and the most basic tenet of orthodox faith, the trinity. So again, what do we have here? Is is something bigger than human sexuality or a lie?
The single biggest problem with the Uniting Methodist group is that they make a broad claim without actually listening to people. Traditionalists of all stripes, and for that matter many progressives, have admitted and been saying for a long time that we approach scripture in significantly different ways. They talk about how it is not about the authority of scripture, but Hamilton himself has made several claims about scripture that most traditionalists find rather objectionable. Come on, bucket three is still a joke after all. That’s about authority. See the Uniting Methodists do a couple of things. They have fallen into the progressive trap of encouraging you to ask questions (this is a good thing) but then encouraging you to continue asking them until you get the answers they approve of. They have set the authority of interpretation squarely on the individual and discounted both tradition and the church in the process. They have encouraged, and continue to encourage, the sort of hyper individualism that denies the one body instead of leading us into the one body. They have placed themselves and their thoughts, ideas and compromises at the head and proclaimed theirs is the best way instead of having Christ at the head and proclaiming His way. There used to be three types of lies. “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Now we can add the fourth to it. Lies, damned lies, statistics, and Uniting Methodists.