There are really a couple of things that scare me that I am going to address. These fears do not really relate to if the UMC stays together or endures some form of mitosis, but why. I understand that many people are anxious and concerned for this branch of the church, and I share that concern, but my biggest concerns are that all of this is going on, and no one seems willing to deal with why we should stay together, or why we should split, except on the most surface of levels.
For the most part, the closest thing that we get to a theological understanding of the local option (One Church Plan) is vague references to Jesus’ prayer for unity found in John 17, references to the Jerusalem council in Acts, and the idea that theology is involved. When questions about how does the plan fit with our standards of faith and the like arise, they are deflected at best and ignored at worst. I am not talking about us staking out the theological positions that allow for, or do not allow for, Same sex marriage within the church and the ordination of ‘practicing homosexuals’ (the BoD language, not mine), I am talking about the theology that allows for any of the plans to exist within the rich Wesleyan theological tradition that we have. Yes, I understand that this will mean that some of the conversations that we are all tired of having about sexual ethics are going to come up, but wouldn’t it be nice to actually frame them within the Wesleyan theological tradition and really examine what is there with more than cherry picked quotes from this or that sermon combined with a bunch of varied writings from other traditions using varied methodology to get to their conclusions? Yes, I know that the UMC has allowed plurality, but could we maybe, just maybe, approach the future of the United Methodist Church, the largest denomination claiming a Wesleyan heritage, with not only a robust theological conversation, but a robust Wesleyan theological conversation?
Not only would I love to have a robust Wesleyan theological conversation, can it be an honest one? I write here from my own experience, though I suspect others have similar ones. I can not count the number of times I have mentioned the Biblical prohibitions that I believe exist in scripture, supported by Wesley’s sermons and the Articles of Religion, and in response I hear “What about divorce?”. Now please hear me, I think that the UMC has a very poor position about divorce in general deferring to civil authority in matters of that which God has joined together, but that is not the topic at hand, and the relationship between the two is tenuous at best. Sure, let’s have a conversation about divorce…please…but let’s have an honest conversation about that too, not use such a serious matter as a deflection for difficult questions. I can not count the number of times that I have been told that all I care about are the seven or eight “gotcha verses” where the Bible talks about homosexuality and when I try to explain it is not that but rather the consistent witness of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, and that I can not find any reason why one of the small list of forbidden sexual actions should be artificially separated from the rest to get one of three responses. First, that it is about cult prostitution, even though a few chapters later it is not treated so, not to mention that there is evidence that Molech worship, and everything that it entailed, was seen as sexually immoral on it’s own as well as being idolatrous. Second that it is just a prohibition against pederasty, even though there is little, if any evidence that is present in the text, not to mention the commands not to follow the customs of others in the land and the land they came from. Given that there is evidence that it was tolerated, if rare, in ancient Egypt it seems likely that it applies. I have lost track of how many times I have heard “what about slavery”? The point that this is all building to is an honest theological conversation about Wesleyan theology and how it applies to the future of the UMC. A holistic approach using our standards of faith, our rich Wesleyan theological tradition, and even the quadrilateral that I wish was never brought about. A honest conversation and theological approach, not one built around evasion and rhetorical devices.
Finally can we please stop the emotional appeals? I am emotionally attached to the UMC too. Some of those emotions are positive, some are not, but they are present. Those emotions do not dictate the proper course of the church, nor should they. While our emotions are certainly important to God, they do not dictate the direction that Christ is leading the church. Appeals to emotion, no matter how honest they are, amount to a subtle form of manipulation by tugging at the heartstrings to try and bring about your desired result. We all have emotions wrapped up in this. We are all likely guilty of trying to use those emotions to influence others. We are all capable of being better than that.
So, I am here, even if no one else is. I welcome an honest and robust Wesleyan conversation about the future of the church. Consider this an invitation to sell me on your vision of the future of the church, whatever that may be, but do so honestly. Do so honestly, holistically, and in the Wesleyan tradition, with our Wesleyan understandings of faith, and standards of faith. If we are not willing to do this at this time, then are we talking about the future of a church with a Wesleyan heritage and theology, or are we just attaching ourselves to an idea that we no longer care about? If we are talking about the future of a Wesleyan church, then this is necessary, and if we are not, then we should be honest enough to say so.