It was asked of me why many conservatives are unwilling to compromise on numerous issues in the UMC as we all try to go forward. While I can not speak for anyone but myself, I will give some thoughts on the matter from my perspective for whatever they are worth. I hope that this fosters a small bit of understanding even while realizing that it will most likely only end up causing argument.
Let’s start with a working definition so that we are all speaking the same language. “An agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions” and “A middle state between conflicting opinions or actions reached by mutual concession or modification” Both from Oxford dictionaries. Assuming that this is what is actually meant by compromise, I will go forward from those definitions which mean essentially the same thing.
The obvious issue is that of all the plans proposed, there is nothing mutual about them. I have not seen anything that has been proposed by both conservatives and the progressives jointly. Because of this, a true compromise is not on the table, at the very least in spirit. No plan has actually provided that each side make concessions either. All of the plans have been either maintaining the current stance or allowing for some form of “full inclusion”. Some plans have tried to solve this by forms of legislation that allow for jurisdictions and/or annual conferences to make the determinations. While a good attempt, there are issues with that which I have addressed several times before and will mention briefly again.
It boils down to allowing an AC or jurisdiction to determine what is and what is not sin. That would mean, for (a hopefully absurd) example, that the church could say that eating cherry pie is a sin in Ohio while simultaneously say that eating cherry pie is just fine in Oklahoma. That damages and ruins the witness of the church and it’s ability to instruct in personal holiness. There are several bureaucratic issues or potential issues as well, but it really boils down to that. The church, as a whole, should determine what constitutes personal holiness, not individual geographic locations, or philosophical associations as these plans suggest.
There are scriptural pitfalls as well. I am going to use 1 Timothy 5:19-25 to illustrate these these issues, though they are echoed in the other pastoral letters as well. What we have here is Paul writing about church leaders and qualifications and the like.
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except before two or three witnesses. Those who sin, rebuke before all, so that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that you guard these things without prejudice, doing nothing by partiality. Do not lay hands quickly on anyone, neither be partaker of the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. Drink water no longer, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake, and for your frequent infirmities. Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment. And some they also follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand, and those who are otherwise cannot be hidden. (1Ti 5:19-25 MKJV)
I am not going to use these verses in order, but rather jump around a bit through the section as it pertains to the topics I am addressing.
I will begin with questions or ordination. Starting in verse 22 we see talk about laying hands on. This would refer to appointing a person to church office without proper examination. There have been those that have suggested it is not proper to ask personal questions about the intimate relations of the candidates for ministry, but Paul would have disagreed more than likely. So, in a nutshell, make sure that the examination is proper. In the second section we have the call not to partake in the sins of others and to keep ourselves pure. On the surface this would seem simple, don’t be sinful if someone else is, but there is a deeper meaning here. As often is the case, Wesley, in his comments on the New Testament, offers us some guidance.
Lay hands suddenly on no man – That is, appoint no man to church offices without full trial and examination; else thou wilt be accessory to, and accountable for, his misbehaviour in his office. Keep thy self pure – From the blood of all men.
Here Wesley instructs that should you lay hands on, that is appoint to church office (IE a minister), you are accountable for their misbehavior while they hold said office. Now in this case, the responsibility was Timothy’s, but for us the case is much different. There are BoOMs which put forward candidates. I submit that with this understanding, they are responsible for the misbehavior of those in office, then there is the ordination ceremony itself which also has the one presiding bearing responsibility to some degree as well. At this point, the misbehavior is no longer that of simply an individual, but also of those who put forward that individual. What amount of responsibility is shouldered by those who have approved the candidate is up for some debate, but there is little doubt that there is some from this passage.
Knowing and understanding that, combined with the understanding that we are indeed in connection with one another, if an improper candidate is put forward and ordained, then there is a burden of responsibility on all. It would be difficult to blame someone for desiring a somewhat extensive examination considering those circumstances. It is difficult to blame those who believe in this way for being concerned about the behavior of their fellow ministers in the faith. Many have even taken this to mean that one should refuse to be a part, any part, or the ordination of a person that is thought to be unworthy. It is difficult to blame them for that as well. This is not a thing that happens in isolation, but rather a thing that is understood to affect the entire body of believers. This is a sentiment that is echoed throughout the New Testament about those who teach and preach the faith. There is more that could be said, but this is a fine basis for thought and a decent enough spring board to start looking into it for yourself should you choose.