In a comment section of another post I have written, the question was posed “Is there any middle ground left in our increasingly polarized “holy conferencing?” Can the General Conference do at least two things to bring us together?” with the link to this blog.
I found the post well written and thought out and therefore worthy of a reply that was better handled in this format than as a reply to a reply. Please take the time to read what Rev. Terry Van Hook has to say about this and other topics as well. A big thank you to Rev. Terry Van Hook for putting something out there for us to look at and examine and for wading into the often unfriendly waters of Methodist blogging. I am not going to comment on that particular blog here, but wanted to give credit where it is due as somehow in reading that blog and preparing my comments, I came to realize what follows.
The questions first posed were is there middle ground and can the GC do anything to bring us together. The answer to both is no, but there is a way that there can be legitimate ‘holy conferencing’ and there is a way that we can be brought together. The idea of holy conferencing relies heavily on the parties involved recognizing the authority of the church. Where we are now as a church, we do not have that. As I have stated many times, Reconciling Ministries Network has rejected the authority of the church in any discussions about LGBTQ individuals, at least any authority that does not suit their singular agenda. They have openly called for disobedience to the rule and teaching of the church and have hindered efforts of discipline for those who have been disobedient to their vows. Furthermore, they have openly lied about the actual positions of the UMC and twisted them to suit their singular agenda. While those with a more conservative interpretation of scripture are not without fault in the vitriol that has come from all of this, they have not rejected the authority of the church. How can anyone, in good faith, approach those who have said that there can be no compromise in an effort to find compromise? How could we possibly come together in holy conferencing as believers, when one party rejects the authority of the church which calls it holy? I do believe there could be some semblance of holy conferencing, but at the moment it hinges on those who currently disagree with the teachings of the church, to submit to the authority of the church while this continues on in the manner that is outlined for change.
The GC also can do nothing to bring us together, and here is why…it is not the problem of the GC, it is ours. The UMC is somewhat unique in it’s approach to governing the church of Jesus Christ as expressed in the Wesleyan tradition. We have a GC that serves as the voice for our denomination, but that same GC relies on our consent to recognize it as authoritative. That includes everyone from the laity on up to the Bishops. It requires of us to submit to the authority of the church and to trust that, for whatever reason understood or not, that we trust the GC to make moral and just decisions under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as expressed through the delegates that are there. It is cumbersome, it is bulky, it is imperfect, and it relies on us. It also relies on our ability to set aside notions of the American church, the African church, etc. and to embrace the notion of Christ’s church. One church, one body, one voice, all comprised of many believers. The GC can not bring us together, not because it is the problem, but because we are. We are strong willed and prideful creatures so determined that we are correct and that we have heard the voice of God and the nudging of the Holy Spirit that we refuse to submit to any authority save our own. We have chosen to be the final authority and stripped the church of its rightful place as the voice of Christianity as the UMC understands it. We are trusting ourselves and not trusting the process that has been established for God to work through. We could bring ourselves together, but it requires us to submit to authority of Christ as expressed by the UMC. It is not on the GC, it is on us.
On to some particulars of the blog. “One side talks about “love” as being inclusive of all sexual behavior. The other side seeks to uphold the biblical mandate that some sexual behaviors are “incompatible with the Christian lifestyle” yet paints it with such a broad brush that leaves many hurting in it’s wake. ” I think I understand what you are trying to say here, but feel the need to mention that the UMC does not say that sex between two people of the same gender is “incompatible with the Christian lifestyle”, it says that sex between two people of the same gender is a sin. I want to be sure that we are not misinterpreting the UMC as saying that a person is beyond the grace of God because of who they have chosen to have sex with. I do not believe that you were implying that, I simply wanted to be clear about the actual position of the church. As to some being hurt by the teachings of the church, I understand that it seems I am without compassion, but the reality is that some are always going to be hurt and upset by the teachings of the church. For that matter, the rich young ruler was hurt from his exchange with Jesus. We should be careful with language of course, but someone being hurt is not reason to negate a teaching. My old football coach explained it like this: hurt means you can carry on, injured means that you can not walk off the field. Does the teaching (pick one, anyone really) of the church hurt some? Most definitely. The question is does it cause injury. As the UMC has not said that even a practicing homosexual is beyond the grace of God, does not deny the sacraments and does not forbid the full benefits of membership in the UMC, I do not find the policy to injure.
Initiative #1- The idea of a “covenanted family” is an interesting one. I worry about it as we may unintentionally call something holy that God Himself did not call holy. There is no biblical evidence that I am aware of for anything similar to this, and because of that, I can not in good conscious support it, but neither can I dismiss it out of hand. I hope that those who read this may offer some examples of this from scripture should they exist so I can come to a conclusion. The idea of recognizing some sort of “Covenant Families” that do not engage in sexual activity that the UMC finds to be sin is also interesting. I am not aware of any such relationship existing currently however. The idea of blessing the union of two people (and any resulting or previously existing children) as a family has been traditionally expressed through marriage. One of the most common complaints about the church in the LGBTQ area has been that conservatives were invading the bedroom. This is just as invasive of the bedroom. If the church is blessing a relationship on the basis of it being strictly nonsexual, then the church has a vested interest in keeping it that way, much the same way as the church has a vested interest in preventing adultery.
The early monastic orders were not at all same sex families. They existed for a completely different purpose than the purpose of family. A family exists for fostering each other and, often, the raising of children, while monasticism is traditionally understood as being ascetic in it’s nature and existing for Christian worship. Yes, our very lives should be an act of worship, but the nature of monastics and the nature of family by any common understanding are so very different that a comparison only show vast differences and no real similarities. “Can we recognize the deep need we all have for family without being overwhelmed by our completely sexualized culture?” Of course we can, and, at it’s best, the church does this already. We are the family of believers after all. That is a part of the one body bit and, even by the current understandings of the UMC, no one professing faith in Christ is denied baptism into that family with all of the privileges and problems that come with it.
Initiative #2- I don’t have any real issues or problems with this other than I am not certain how effective it will be in showing us the way through this. All of the things that you have mentioned are either already addressed by the church directly or indirectly. I am not sure what there really is to study that has not already been studied. I am not trying to short change the idea, just that I think it has already been done all in all. We have had studies on human sexuality, are active in human trafficking, have clear standards about pornography, marriage, etc.
At the end of all of this, can it pull us away from “the rocky shoals of division and estrangement of the “peculiar people” of the UMC”? Probably not, but not because it is unworthy of attention or discussion, but because the peculiar people called Methodists won’t let anything pull us away from it. It isn’t because it comes up every four years at the GC, but rather because we are not fighting over anything short of who has the authority. Do we have the authority to decide what the nudging of the Holy Spirit is for the future and doctrine of the UMC, or does the church as a whole have the authority to decide this? Do we get to decide right from wrong as a definitive statement, or does Christ through His church? At this stage, the only thing that can save us from separation is if we are willing to lay down our pride, our obstinate opinions, our over estimated sense of self importance, and this insane idea that we always know what is best, and instead submit to the authority of Christ, through the church, even when we disagree, even when we think it is wrong, even when we do not understand. The question is nothing less than will we submit to God, even when we disagree. If the answer is yes, then there is hope, if it is no, then we will not survive.