United Methodist Church, in
United Methodist Church, in (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I consider Dr. David F. Watson one of the brightest minds, sincerest hearts, and better Christian scholar-theologians I know. Nothing here is to suggest any deficit in his person, character, or otherwise.

I am dismayed.

I am greatly disheartened.

I am saddened that the first three items were even suggested.

(1) Suspension of the Trust Clause (BOD ¶2501) for one quadrennium specifically and only for the purpose of allowing local churches who cannot in good conscience live within the parameters of our Social Principle on human sexuality to leave the denomination with full ownership of their properties.

(2) Addition of new paragraph to BOD ¶248 allowing local churches to use the Church Conference as a venue for voting to leave the denomination. New paragraph at the end of existing ¶248: “The church conference may be convened for purposes of withdrawing the local church from The United Methodist Church for reasons of conscience related specifically and exclusively to the Social Principle on human sexuality (¶161F) and the Qualifications for Ordination (¶304.3). Ordained clergy of said church conference may withdraw to unite with another denomination under the provisions of ¶361.1. The local church of said church conference shall be released from the requirement of the trust clause of ¶2501. The local church shall retain full rights to its properties. Debts upon such properties and any other debts payable by that local church are assumed by the local church.”

(3) Empowerment of the General Board of Pension & Health Benefits to allow clergy who cannot in good conscience abide by our Social Principle on human sexuality to leave with full benefits.

via Some Suggestions for a Unified UMC (or, The A&W Plan) | David F. Watson.

The other suggestions have been bandied about for a while. They are good and I believe should be passed.

However, these first three suggestions regulate the total of United Methodist Church and the whole of our vows and obligations in the Book of Discipline to the issue of homosexuality. There are many other ways to break the BoD and yet, the only reason you can leave (or, rather, go) is because of the sexuality issue. This brings the sole focus of the United Methodist Church and the Book of Discipline unto sex.

Further, for two who have rightly critiqued A Way Forward for the congregationalism backdoor that it is, I am surprised at a proposal ridding ourselves of that which administratively prevents congregationalism. In other words, their suggestion is congregationalism, if only for a quad. The local church exists as a community a part of the universal church. To suggest it can suddenly be independent is not our connexional system.

And, I suspect — and I do not want to believe this was intentional — but if the UMC ever did “go liberal,” then it would not be the conservatives staying, but leaving. I can see a scenario like this: This passes, but so does the end to exclusion. Guess who leaves then… This is, simply, a backdoor to congregationalism.

Specifically, let me address the points.

  1. This is a moral issue. If you are a conservative, then you are more than likely guided by the belief that homosexuality is a sin. Further, you may believe the Church is God’s, that souls are at stake, and to not address such matters lays the problem at your doorstep. For the left, LGBT inclusion is a justice issue. If you withdraw from injustice, then the problem is laid upon you. Further, the allowance to leave only for the left will likely be met with suggestions of discrimination and please from the increasingly evangelical right to leave as well. Suspending the Trust Clause to allow those who do not agree with the official stance (whatever it is at the time this may pass) would dissolve the union with congregations leaving left and right.
  2. While I am sure this would change, local churches are allowed to leave only to join another denomination. This is a schism. Left and right will leave, with only a few remaining in the middle. Not only this, but this does nothing for the congregational members who do not want to leave. I cannot believe I am about to do this, but as Mark Tooley pointed out today, hardly any congregation will swing completely one way. What happens to those who are left behind? What happens to them if their family has deep roots or perhaps wanted to lay down roots? What if the pastor wants to go one way and the congregation another? This will, as others would do, split congregations and communities. It will split them upon the issue of sex.
  3. While I am not as dead-set against this clause as I am the others, and indeed, it may actually help — my concern is awarding bad behavior. They want to leave, let them. I would rather none leave, all stayed, and all obeyed the Discipline.

In the end, this is a modest attempt at schism with a door open for future problems. It allows congregations to be identified by one issue alone — sex. Not scripture, not orthodoxy, not even polity, but that which occurs (or should) in the privacy of a closed room.

Kevin Carnahan has a response as well.

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9 Replies to “No.”

  1. Joel, thank you for these very thoughtful comments. I think you make some very good points, and I appreciate the spirit in which you offer your critique. Let me just offer a couple of points in response. First, the reason for focusing on the single Social Principle as a rationale for leaving the denomination is that this is the source of the ecclesial disobedience that has pushed us so quickly toward division. I don’t see a need to open the door for people to leave over a wide range of issues when our current turmoil is much more narrowly focused.

    Second, you have agreed with Mark Tooley in public. I’m just glad I lived long enough to see that.

    Third, if your point #3 could be accomplished by some more moderate means, I would be all for it. If another plan came up that would do a better job of keeping the denomination together and returning our polity to working order, I would be thrilled and would be pleased to lay these suggestions aside. I have not taken an ounce of joy in writing or discussing these suggestions. If we did not perceive such a dire state of affairs in the denomination, neither Bill nor I would have made them.

    Again, thanks for the spirit of dialogue in which you offer your critique.

    1. Dr. Watson, is the issue LGBT or ecclesial disobedience? I would argue that the real issue here are bishops, pastors, and others (more of them straight) practicing something that goes against the covenant — disobedience. They just have latched on to the LGBT issue. In other words, others will find a way to disrupt over whatever issue the day presents. Further, no one has to walk out the open door.

      I think the final four points of the recommendation attack the underlying root of the problems we face. If we tackle this, mix in some heavy duty theology, we could actually get the denomination back on track. But, what the top three do is to open the door to congregationalism and to eventual schism without getting to the root of the problem.

  2. I saw the Dalai Lama on Larry King a few months ago and Larry asked him about homosexuality. He said that believers should stick to their traditions, and nonbelievers can do what they like. I guess the issue is that some of y’all want a different tradition.

  3. joel, thanks for sharing some good thoughts. as i was reading where you address the points, i was wondering if your first point disproves your second? i am probably misunderstanding something but was struggling to reconcile the two. thanks again for keeping the conversation going.

      1. i’ll try. there is a good chance i’m missing something so my apologies. you mention in your 1st point that it is a moral issue but in your 2nd point say it’s about sex? i may be confusing points you are making w/your interpretation of a&w’s statements. thanks for entertaining my confusion.

        1. Matt – my first point is this. Both sides view this issue as moral/justice issue.

          My second point is this: If you divide the UMC based on this issue alone, you are dividing the based on sex. While this is, for some a moral issue and for others a justice issue, it comes down to dividing because of sex.

          Does that help?

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