The Uniting Methodists group has released their vision statement. When I saw it, I had hoped that some of the questions I asked and perhaps some of the concerns that Joel raised might be addressed, but they were largely not. I have also not received a response to an email asking the same questions. Never the less, there is now a statement they have released that is supposed to help clear things up that should be read and discussed.
Over all, they attempt to use Christ’s prayer in John chapter 17 as the rallying cry for unity. You can go check it out, I’ll wait. Verse 21 is where the appeal to unity comes into play. As I have questioned how it is that the Uniting Methodists uphold our standards of faith when they deny them by belief, or allowed belief, in their statements, we have the same problem again. Wesley, in his NT notes, writes the following when commenting on verse 21: “That they all may be one – This prayer was literally answered to the first believers, who were all of one heart and of one soul: Act_4:32. And why is it that believers are not in the same spirit now? Because they neither attend to the example nor to the truth of Christ.” I will remind you that these notes are a part of the UMC standards of faith. It seems clear here that properly following Christ and what His truth is, happens to be a central point for unity. Christ did not say believe as you will, just call yourself Christian. Because of this, how can there then be unity when one group of people believes that Christ taught that marriage was one man and one woman as intended by God from the beginning, and another believes that it is “two faithful people in a relationship of self-giving love”? These are diametrically opposed positions. Should we be wrestling with these questions to discern truth? Most definitely. Should we do as we see fit in the mean time, despite what the church has taught? No. As the Uniting Methodists have affirmed, Christ is the head of the Church, and the part of the church known as the UMC understands that marriage is one man and one woman and God intended from the beginning. The call for unity expressed by the Uniting Methodists is not a fulfillment of John 17, it is instead in opposition to it as it does not proclaim the truth of what Christ taught, but allows for a what ever you believe is right approach to it, at least in the area of SSM and LGBT matters. They are in opposition to the very scripture that they are using to justify their stance, at least so far as the UMC standards of faith are concerned.
I was very pleased to see several statements about holiness in their vision. Holiness is a Wesleyan distinctive. The Book of Discipline describes the importance of holiness when speaking about our Wesleyan beliefs. “In God’s self-revelation, Jesus Christ, we see the splendor of our true humanity. Even our sin, with its destructive consequences for all creation, does not alter God’s intention for us—holiness and happiness of heart. Nor does it diminish our accountability for the way we live.” As well as personal holiness, there is social holiness which the same Book of Discipline brings up by saying “The communal forms of faith in the Wesleyan tradition not only promote personal growth; they also equip and mobilize us for mission and service to the world.” Personal and social holiness matter because they allow us to grow as individuals and as a congregations as well as equipping us to be in service to the world. That is pretty serious stuff. Serious enough I would think that we should not allow some haphazard understanding about what is and is not holiness and holy living. The Uniting Methodists say: “God has called the Uniting Methodists movement to be a unifying and clarifying voice in a divided conversation and a polarized culture. We are not another combatant in a denominational tug-of-war, but a Christ-centered, holiness-seeking, hope-filled people committed to preserving unity in Christ, who offers grace to all people.” If indeed such a group is Christ centered and holiness seeking, then they should be about the truth and finding it, not about allowing people to do as they see fit in regards to holy living. Further more, if we do not have a clear vision about holy living, personally and corporately, then how is it that we can be properly equipped for mission and service to the world as our Wesleyan understanding of faith suggests?
The Uniting Methodists say: “The most visible fault line in the church today is in how to minister to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer persons. Arguments are based on differing yet faithful perceptions of biblical theology and personal and social holiness. When there is sole adherence to one’s own perspective, tragic division occurs among God’s people.” I want to examine this part of the statement particularly. “When there is sole adherence to one’s own perspective, tragic division occurs among God’s people.” The first problem here is the assumption that it is simply one individual’s perspective. None of us have formed our beliefs in a vacuum. We need to recognize the reality that the traditional understanding of marriage has been the position of the entire church catholic until very recently and still is the position of the majority of the church catholic. Before someone tries to say “but what about individuals”, individuals are free to believe however they see fit, but individuals do not speak for the church. In the United Methodist church, there is one voice for the church. We are free to disagree with it, advocate to change it, etc. but there is one voice. For those who hold to a traditional understanding of scripture, it is not simply an individual understanding, but the understanding of the church. The same church that Christ is the head of (uniting Methodists believe this) and has given authority to. For those of a differing understanding, it is not their personal belief either, it has been shaped by others, perhaps other denominations, in much the same way, but it is a belief outside of the Methodist faith currently. That does not automatically make it wrong, but it is something that should be recognized. I am not terribly concerned with the slippery slope. All one needs on such a slope is a foothold. I am concerned with precedent however. The precedent here seems to be that when it comes to holy living, we can agree to disagree on just about anything. That is not corporate holiness, or even congregationalism, it is rather churches of one that come together to share a building. That is not anything at all similar to the Wesleyan understanding of social holiness.
The Uniting Methodists claim that all are welcome, but then ask that all do the following: ” We urge all of us to uphold Christian marriage as a covenant between two faithful people in a relationship of self-giving love.” So they urge (try earnestly or persistently to persuade (someone) to do something. Thanks dictionary) everyone to do this. That is not welcoming to traditional understandings of marriage. What it literally says is that you are free to believe what you want, but we are going to persistently try and persuade you to think the way that we want you to. Basically, the same thing as now, except that those who wish to allow SSM can, and the argument continues until those who buy into this capitulate or go away. It is no different than the way thing are now, except it sounds a lot nicer and they throw in the word “unity” absent any actual Wesleyan understanding of it. There is more here that is troubling, but I have reached my allotted space. Perhaps I will come back to this more at a later date.
Taken as a whole, the statement sounds great, but it doesn’t say much while ignoring very real problems and questions. It ignores how any of this fits into the standards of faith of the UMC. They say they affirm them, but upon examination, that means that we are not speaking the same language. Affirm means “state as a fact; assert strongly and publicly”, but their version of affirm apparently means something very different as they have not offered any real explanation about how their stance fits into the UMC standards of faith. It sounds good, but upon examination does not involve going back to our Wesleyan roots as they have said we should, albeit in conjunction with other things. They “affirm the Wesleyan commitment to personal and social holiness”, yet can not tell anyone what that actually is or mean, so what good is the affirmation then? They took a great deal of time crafting a statement, but at the end of it, I have more questions, and still have not gotten any actual answers. I know that the idea of “living the questions” is popular with some, if there is a way forward, there have to be real answers. Uniting Method its don’t seem to have any.