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What do we really want?

The recent judicial council decisions in the United Methodist Church have sent the blogosphere into a state of - energetic, if not friendly, blogging that I haven't experienced in a while. The decision over whether or not a pastor has the right to deny membership to practicing gay and lesbian persons has been particularly troubling, with the Council of Bishops already issuing a statement that leans toward (by my reading) clear disagreement with the Judicial Council on this issue.

What does this mean for the church? The United Methodist community?

Over at WesleyBlog, Shane Raynor has recently written a post titled, "The Left Gets Ridiculous," where he concludes, "The far left is losing its stranglehold on our denomination, so they're beginning to say and do ridiculous things in an attempt to hang on to power. Meanwhile, the UMC continues to move in a more conservative and more evangelical direction."

As a self-defined member of the "far left," I'm surprised ot hear we've had a stranglehold on the UMC. I guess that's a matter of perspective, because it has felt like an uphill struggle most of the time.

My concern: One of the things I've so appreciated about blogging is the chance to converse with people of widely divergent theological views. Connectionalism at its best in a new format. Folks like Shane and John have been a real blessing to me, and I feel like we have some blog-dialogue that we don't always get face to face. But the tone of Shane's comments, and comments from many others (and I don't want to put words into Shane's mouth, so I say tone) leaves me feeling like some are just holding out hope that eventually all people of divergent viewpoints will just go somewhere else, so that everybody in the church can agree and get on with things. I think folks on the right (and the left) sometimes express these thoughts, directly or indirectly.

John asked recently if we (on the left) are ready for amicable separation yet. Not many responded that they were. We don't like to talk about it, many of us. We've been a church with people of very divergent viewpoints for a long, long time. And we've lived together. But John raises a good question, I think.

What is it we really want? Do we want a church where everyone has the same viewpoint? Same understanding of scriptural authority and interpretation? If we want people of varied views, how varied can views be, before, to use a question from John, the line is drawn and crossed?

What are the benefits of staying together? What are the benefits of splitting up?
If we stay together, is our goal really stay together, or is it just to wipe each other out - to "win"?

I feel like there is a lot of winning and losing language floating around, a lot of power language, a lot of victory/defeat language. Is that what we're about?

Do conservatives really doubt the motives of those of us on the left? I hear a lot of talk about our "pro-homosexual agenda." Do conservatives doubt that my motives are based on something other than a sincere belief that God is calling for a fully inclusive church? Believe that if I interpret the Bible differntly, I must automatically hold it in a lower place in my life?

Do liberals doubt the motives of those on the right? Do we believe that conservatives are bigoted and close-minded?

I don't have answers to all of my own questions, just more questions. Where do we go from here? What do we really want?


Jason D. Moore said…
You're right. It is a nice post.
Kristen said…
Beth I really enjoy reading your Blog. i am a frequent reader of Shane's Blog and yours. I am a young (22) Methodist and I'm hoping to enter seminary next fall( at drew ;-)]. Right now I am stuggling with all of this. I jsut hope both ssides can remain in prayer and have thoughtful ( not hurtful) discussions
Revwilly said…
We have a major trust issue in the UMC. A relationship cannot survive wihout trust.
Beth Quick said…
Jason - thanks ;)

Revwilly - I think you are right on target. I hadn't thought of it in that way, but it is so simple and true.
I think separation, if it comes, will come from the bottom, not from the top. It bubbles up every time someone makes a decision where to take their kids to church. Parents on the left and the right both want their kids to get a sound moral education. They won't send them somewhere to be taught things they don't believe themselves.

Tom Harrison
Revwilly said…
Elizabeth, you are the first person who ever agreed with me, perhaps because it is so simple. Several years ago a study was done an about 1500 people. Each was given a test to determine he/she was a high trust or low trust person. The low trust people had a significantly higher rate of heart disease and died at a much young age. The heart of the UMC is diseased and unless something is done we will die before our time.
Anonymous said…
Revwilly may be right. My problem right now is that I have a really difficult time trusting the intentions of some conservatives in the denomination. I know there are people sincerely wrestling with this issue who have undertaken prayerful study and have come to to a different understanding than me. I respect that. I think the church is much better off when not everyone shares my theology, my hermeneutics, my politics, etc.

But I can't trust the Good News/IRD folks, when they are being funded by people outside of the denomination attempting to hijack the church and use it as a way of enforcing a severe conservative agenda. Homosexuality is just the one issue they focus on now because that's where they know they can push the wedge. We must not forget that the IRD was founded to combat liberation theology and keep the poor from gaining any ground. I just have no faith in the good intentions of anyone being funded by Richard Mellon Sciafe.
Anonymous said…
Warning, this is not a Pithy comment. LOL.

Elizabeth wrote,

What is it we really want? Do we want a church where everyone has the same viewpoint? Same understanding of scriptural authority and interpretation? If we want people of varied views, how varied can views be, before, to use a question from John, the line is drawn and crossed?

What are the benefits of staying together? What are the benefits of splitting up?
If we stay together, is our goal really stay together, or is it just to wipe each other out - to "win"?

Conservatives believe that absolute truth is not relative and doesn’t depend on point of view. We believe the Bible to be the absolute true Word of God. We want Unity in the church. Of course we want folks with different backgrounds, with different ethnicities, different social and economic status, we want all of that. But we want Unity applied to fundamental beliefs of Christian Doctrine. If one of those beliefs is that the Bible is the Divinely Inspired, True Word of God. In the case of Beth Stroud, if that Word tells us that sexual relationships outside of the marriage covenant are sinful, then how can we go along with persons who don’t see it that way or think that it applied until the 1960s but now things have changed and the church needs to “modernize” to accommodate both heterosexual and homosexual persons living in sinful lifestyles?

Do I want everyone to have the same view point? Well, yes and no. On the issue of scriptural authority and interpretation, as a conservative, I believe that there is only one absolute truth. Thus, there is little room for various point of view. I don’t believe that God has one set of truths for Dick, a heterosexual male in a married relationship, and Jane, a lesbian female living with another woman, even if it is monogamous.

In the fundamentals of Christian faith, for example, the beliefs in: The Deity of Christ, The Virgin Birth, The Blood Atonement of Christ on the Cross, The Bodily Resurrection of Christ, Christ will return again to Earth. The fact that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. All of these are what I consider fundament beliefs of Christianity. They are not open for debate, there can be no compromise. So, to answer your question, on these types of issues, most conservatives do want everyone to have the same point of view.

Then, there are issues like baptism of infants, or what form or communion we take, or immersion vs. sprinkling in baptism, should a pastor or priest be married, do we venerate saints, do we worship on Sunday or Saturday, do we allow women to be pastors. These are all issues that really are equivalent to whether we have red or blue carpet in the sanctuary. They really don’t matter. People feel passionate about them, they argue about them, churches split over them, but they don’t matter. So, on these types of issues, we could care less. Do we have to think alike on these? No.

I believe that Christ wants Unity within the catholic Church. I believe that when we all get to heaven, there will be no Roman Catholics, no Methodists, no Southern Baptists, no Presbyterians, no nothing. Just Christians. Both Old and New Testament Christians. We stand in our churches each and every Sunday and repeat the Lord’s Prayer “… Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN….” Well I believe that there will be perfect Unity in the Body of Christ at that time, and I am praying for it to be so now on earth as in heaven. What does that mean to each of us now as Christians? Do we really think about this and issues like this when we pray the Lord’s Prayer or do we simply say the line and wonder what we are having for lunch after church is over.

One of the benefits of staying together is that if we spilt, there is just one more division in the Body of Christ. As a conservative I don’t really want to divide the Church. I want the truth as revealed in the Bible to be studied and an understanding of the true will of God and Christ to be revealed. Much like took place at historical moments of the Christian Church like the Council of Nicea. We should be a United catholic Body of Christ. We should strive to avoid division if at all possible. One very good reason for Unity is, what does it look like to unsaved infidels in the world when Christians are fighting tooth and nail over issues like these? Why would any unsaved person want to become a Christian when we are tearing each other apart over these issues?

Of course if we don’t come to this understanding, than staying together is equally bad. When a church, such as the UMC, has such visceral disagreement as we do over these issues, then maybe we should divide. Christ himself said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Christ implies that we should have unity in the Church and all of this in fighting is strictly anti-Christian. I sincerely believe that in all fighting we are having, the only kingdom that is being advanced is the kingdom of the Enemy. How many man-hours (or woman-hours) have been spent by Bloggers and Commenters the past week making points and counterpoints on these issues that could have been spent evangelizing some lost soul to the Kingdom on God? I’m not saying that I would have and that is a whole other failure on my part as a Christian, but just look at the wasted hours typed up quoting scripture, making point and counterpoint, and evening hurling insults. What if the Council of Bishops spent as much time in the past 5 days worrying about reaching the lost as they have calling for General Conference? What if each of those Bishops had used that time to win one soul each to Christ. What if one of those souls they had won had been filled with the Holy Ghost and become the next Billy Graham or the next Apostle Paul???? We will never know….

I am a beekeeper. When a hive of bees swarms, the colony splits in half. From the standpoint of honey production, that is bad since you have lost half your workers. However, you now have two hives instead of one. They may rapidly build back up with each having a population of twice that of the original hive. While swarming sets you back in the short term on honey production, the following year you can have twice the production if you have a place to hive the swarm and don’t loose them. Churches are similar. When a Church divides, it is bad for both primary and the splinter groups. However, if they are both steadfast in their Christian faith and not driven by political motives, the Holy Spirit should be with both. In fact, such divisions over the 2000 year history of the church have done much to spread the Gospel. Our own beloved UMC is the result of a break with the Church of England. I say, Thank God for that. If the UMC divides, maybe both the liberal and conservative sides move to areas, move to parts of towns or cities that need Christian evangelism. Maybe both appeal to lost persons that would not have been attracted to them as whole.

One good thing about God is that He is able to direct His will, regardless of the choices made by men and women. That is why both total Unity and a division can both be good for the Church. Only Christ knows, and I pray that he will lead what is in the eternal interest of His Kingdom.
Anonymous said…
In the 1920's the great battle between the liberals and fundamentalist raged in the Presbyterian Church. The issues were doctrine and Biblical authority. J. Gresham Machen wrote a book arguing that liberalism and conservatism are basically two different religions and can not co-exist together. They are fundamentally different. I tend to agree with Machen. I see very polarized divisions among "United" Methodist. Maybe we should allow these two religions to go their separate ways and live out their faith the way they understand it best instead of these political battles that causes hurt and pain.
Andy B. said…
1844 until 1939

Separation without burning any bridges? Separation with the hope that some day we will come together again? Maybe?
methodist monk said…
An Episcopal Instructor of mine once told us a story about a church he was called into to be the interim Priest. It was right after Bishop Gene Robinson was installed. The church was divided over taking a stand and where they should take a stand, so he sought to "reframe" the issue into a different category. You see then, as now we are still framing this struggle as a stuggle for power. Who has the power, what do we do with the power, how can we ensure those on the other side do not get this power.

His idea was to reframe this issue in a struggle for "creative space" as he referred to it. No about sides and winning or losing, but about opening that creative space up so that we all benefit. Admittedly this is very difficult to do...mainly because we are all programed to seek power not space, but shouldn't we try?
John said…
Beth, thank you for addressing this important question in a mature and thoughtful manner.
Joel Thomas said…
I used to be more civil. But I got tired of e-mails and letters about either gays or me going to hell. I got to that "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" point.

However, I do realize that uncivil discourse in the end accomplishes nothing. But seriously, my method of commenting did lower my own blood pressure by letting out a lot of pent up anger.

I'm a liberal who believes there is such a thing as absolute truth. But I also think we "see through a glass darkly."

If unrepentant practicing gays are bound for hell, then they will join millions of unrepentant supporters of racial segregation. I simply don't believe God's grace works in such a legalistic fashion. Repentance is a matter of the heart, not a legalistic formula achieved through litmus test.

This day, this night, this hour, minute and second, I am bound for the promised land. See you on the other side.
John said…
Sanctimonious Hypocrite-

If you look at our attendance and membership free-fall, I'd say the sort of split you speak of has been happening for some time.

Now, I don't blame liberal theology for the split- at least not directly. If you look around our connection, there are vibrant, growing liberal churches. Liberal theology can sustain numbers.

The decline, then, is not caused by either conservative nor liberal theology in and of themselves.

Rather, it is caused by the friction of these incompatable theologies wrangling for control of the same one body.

Our Lord said that no house divided against itself will stand.

And if He is right (and I hope both sides agree that Jesus is right even if we disagree about what Jesus really thinks) then our denomination cannot survive this constant fighting.

It is almost like Beta fish. Either theology may well thrive on its own, but forced into the same tank, they cannot help but struggle for each has differing and often conflicting goals and values.

If we do not slpit, then we may have to re-think connectionalism. What would the UMC be like if we kept certain pieces together (like the Board of Pension and Health and the Publishing House) and then turned major policy making over to the Annual Conferences?

And we should ask what sort of unity is better- a unity which insists on one polity and one Discipline no matter what the consequences in terms of mission and practice or a unity which lets both sides work out their salvation with fear and trembling?

Or in other words, at what point will our current form of unity become so caustic that it destroys the very essence it seeks to preserve?

Just thinking "outloud."

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