Like most everyone else in United Methodist world, I have continued to think about the Bishops statement. I’m still not convinced it said anything, but that will all come to light soon enough. I want to focus on what we do know, namely that the local option is going to be on the table. My thoughts this morning, much to my surprise, come from the Reconciling Ministries Network. Their statement on the bishops report was refreshing in some ways. It was honest and straightforward, unlike the bishops, and they should be commended for that. They brought up some interesting points that I think are worth exploring.
Let’s start with my assurance that my understanding regarding Biblical understanding of human sexuality has not changed, and the thoughts that the RMN statement have brought up are not necessarily in line with their goals and meaning, they simply inspired some thinking. The first section that got me to thinking was this: “In addition to being distressed that all will be represented in the report, the implication (per the press release) is that all three models are included because they reflect the values and diversity of theological beliefs and cultural contexts in the UMC.” Now when we look at the three models, what is glaringly not a part of them is the “full inclusion” that RMN and other groups favor. I am no fan of RMN, but it must be said that they have been a strong voice in the church for some time. It is understandable that they would not feel their values were represented in the report from the commission on the way forward. The question that comes to mind is why not? For several decades, there has been a fight for this, but when everything is coming to a head, it wasn’t a viable way forward. I’m pleased it isn’t, so don’t misunderstand, I’m just surprised that t wasn’t an option, and by implication, doesn’t reflect the diverse values and theology within the UMC. There was at least an olive branch to traditionalists by mentioning their preferred plan did so. No such branch to the more progressive wing. I can’t help but wonder why.
This all but ensures that the progressive wing likely won’t be on board. How can you reasonably expect that they would be if their values and theology are not represented? I don’t have to agree with them to understand the frustration that they must have. Many individuals who share the same values agreed to this ill conceived idea of the bishops solving this in good faith believing that their views would be equally represented and considered, but in the end find that not only were they not, the views that they are diametrically opposed to were. Many of us feel that the bishops have failed us. We need to remember that those we disagree with feel the same way. In this we finally have something in common it seems.
The next thing that caught my attention was this part of their statement. “What value is there in presenting a traditionalist model that has harmed LGBTQ people and our loved ones for decades? What value is there in considering a model that is so complex we all struggle to understand it? The harm caused to LGBTQ persons is the singular reason this process was undertaken. Where is that focus?” So again, I don’t agree with the idea that the understanding of the UMC is harming LGBTQ people, but RMN does believe this. Because they do, how can they be reasonably expected to support harming people? This points to just one of the irreconcilable differences we have, but I digress. They believe that the reason for the bishops starting this whole process was this harm. How can they not feel betrayed? I don’t agree with that assessment, but I understand it. In their minds they feel, much like many do, betrayed by the bishops. They are right.
What is missing from the various plans that were submitted is any sort of coherent theology. Part of the mandate of the commission was to look at the theology of the statements surrounding human sexuality.
“The Commission on a Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.” (http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/commission-on-a-way-forward)
The reality is that we have no explanation of the theological rational for removing the language in the Book of Discipline. We also have the reality that the bishops ask us to accept that the traditionalist plan reflects the theology of the UMC, but that removing the language does as well. That is the type of lukewarm theology that gets us vomited out. Whatever you may think of RMN, they are anything but lukewarm. How strange is it that I don’t know the theology of the bishops of our church? The bishops have managed a sort of unity however, so credit where it is due. They have managed to unify two diametrically opposed groups to unify in opposition to their abject failure. Hopefully that unity will reject the local option. The bishops have told us this is the way forward, but I can’t see that. It’s the way somewhere to be sure, but it’s not the way to faithfulness.