Weighing In

For the past month I have been working on a couple other projects and have been listening to other conversations.  However, dozens of people have been emailing about my “position” on the current schism debate.  I thought I would take this opportunity to weigh in.

Let me be clear upfront: I am TOTALLY against “amicable” separation.  The term is disingenuous, deceptive and unhelpful.  This is nothing more than a thinly veiled statement of “if we don’t get what we want we will take our ball and go home.”  At the very least, a call to separate is a clear statement of faith: those who wish to divide are saying that human frailty is more powerful than the Holy Spirit of God to unite, reconcile, and heal.  To find disagreement over moral and ethical issues as grounds for separation is to sink to the level of the lowest common denominator in our society.  Our witness and call is to provide a better way to live in the world.  Our charge to be a beloved community beyond our limitations and divisions is not optional.  I do not have to see eye to eye with all my brothers and sisters in order to love them as family.  I don’t want my brothers and sisters to separate simply because they hold different beliefs.  My baptism is greater than my own limited personal theology.  I am family with all other baptized children of God whether I “like” them or not.

But then, I am not an empire builder, and have never understood a Christianity that is about keeping people out.  I do not believe the Christian faith is a competitive sport.  I cannot conceive of an eternal truth based in winners and losers.  My vision of Christian community is an eternal commitment to the elimination of “us/them” thinking.  I also am a “cast the first stone” type.  I cannot pick and choose one or two issues — no matter how big — and condemn another because they disagree with my own values.  That simply sets me up to be judged by others for the different ways I fail to live up to their standards.  We all live together in glass houses.

So much of our current situation is based on Victorian morality that has nothing to do with our Hebrew forebears, and an abysmal misinterpretation of scripture.  Both sides of the human sexuality debate will have much to answer for in the misuse of scripture as a weapon, rather than a tool.  Our current decision is pretty simple:  will we use our energy and resources to create something wonderful and sustainable or will we use them to cut-down and destroy?  I have yet to hear how splitting the church will more effectively foster a world-transforming discipleship.

Nobody needs my opinion on this, and I am not going to change anyone’s mind.  All my weighing in does is place me on a “side.”  This is sad.  This is tragic.  Choosing sides is the opposite of healing, and yet we cannot seem to articulate our personal feelings without being pigeon-holed.  My bottom line has nothing to do with who is right and who is wrong, with who is positive and who is negative, or with who is mature and who is less mature.  My position is simply this: I love my family in Christ, even when we differ in key beliefs.  My life would be poorer were I to lose my family.  I would much rather spend my time working to find commonalities to work together on, instead of differences that can only divide.  I believe this is the call to all Christians — to find their place in the One Body of Christ, to be Christ in the world — a witness to all that God is greater than anything on earth with the potential to divide us.

Categories: Uncategorized

8 replies

  1. I am just a lowly church music director, and this post was forwarded by a dear minister friend. My one comment: We are all the Children of God; who are we to say anyone is not or should not be treated as such.
    Nancy Middlemas.

    • No such thing as a lowly church music director. I am constantly amazed at people who want to make the argument that there are some people not created in God’s image or that they are not God’s children. What hubris and contempt! I would never deign to judge who God finds acceptable and who God might reject. I truly believe God’s greatest desire is to be reconciled with all people — and there is nothing God is more interested in than how we treat each person. As we treat “the least of these” we treat all.

  2. I wrote this to a friend who forwarded Dan’s post:
    I do not think that Dan is against “amicable separation”, he seems to be against separation. My guess is if pushed on this distinction, he would admit that he would prefer amicable separation to hostile and hurtful separation. To fight against allowing a partner to separate from a covenant is equivalent to the church telling the battered wife that she sins if she leaves the marriage because unity is the highest value.
    My thought is we are already separated and we spend a gross amount of energy fighting about it – our energy would be better spent on other issues and our witness would be improved by allowing each other to go our separate ways. It seems to me if we are no longer going to abide by our covenantal vows, we are better off separating amicably than via prolonged battles, hurtful words and actions over a prolonged timetable. The UMC position on this issue has not changed significantly over the last 42 years, what has created the immediate crisis is the choice of the minority to pursue the path of ecclesiastical disobedience, thus violating the covenant and pretense of unity. The minority has played the game opposite of taking their ball and going home. They have said, if you don’t agree with us, we will stick around and make your lives so intolerable that you have to agree with us in order to keep your beloved unity.
    I would submit that the importance of fidelity exceeds that of unity. And any Christian call to unity is grounded in fidelity to Jesus. If we cannot define fidelity with a reasonable amount of correlation, we should stop pursuing unity. The inability to define fidelity to God and God’s revelation is why solving same-sex marriage will not stop the ongoing conflict.
    I think Dan has misidentified the problem. The “empire builders” are the ones arguing for keeping the UMC together, not the ones offering to allow a loving sharing of the assets. The amicable separators are the ones willing to let the others go in peace rather than kill the whole organization by demanding everyone else change or leave as we die the death of a thousand cuts. The separators are the ones who see the hypocrisy of saying one thing as our actions clearly demonstrate a different reality.

    Other troubling phrases:
    • “choosing sides is the opposite of healing”, – I think eliminating sources of infection, or setting the bone, or stopping the bleeding is the first step in healing.
    • “those who wish to divide are saying that human frailty is more powerful than the Holy Spirit”, – I think those who wish to divide sincerely believe human frailty is driving UMC doctrine and theology. The Holy Spirit does not force what we do. Our free will can result in sin.
    • “Our charge to be a beloved community beyond our limitations and divisions is not optional”, – I think I do not understand this statement.
    • “I am not an empire builder, and have never understood a Christianity that is about keeping people out.”; – I think Jesus clearly spoke about sorting the sheep and goats/wheat and tares, blessings and woes. Christianity is about speaking kingdom values to the world. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt 10:34). Christianity is about inviting everyone in to new life, not accepting the old ways of life. Why are the ones asking for amicable separation labeled as empire builders?
    • “I do not believe the Christian faith is a competitive sport.”; – I think Paul regularly used training and combat metaphors. And Jesus said something about conflict at the gates of hell (Matt 16:18) and small is the gate and narrow is the road (Matt 714) and “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33) There is a competition between truth and lies.
    • “I cannot conceive of an eternal truth based in winners and losers.” I cannot conceive an eternal truth that does not result in winners and losers. The devil was cast out of heaven (Luke 10:18) for a reason. I think the Bible warns that God is righteous and will not abide with sin. I think the exhortations to choose in the Old Testament were grounded in the idea of accepting or rejecting the covenant and subsequent blessings and curses.
    • “My vision of Christian community is an eternal commitment to the elimination of “us/them” thinking.” – I think the great commission was given because people need to hear the truth and be invited to become a part of the kingdom of God. There is a significant distinction between those who choose to follow God and those who choose not to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.

    It seems nonsensical to propose that keeping the covenant (unity) is best done by staying together while letting each local entity decide what the covenant says and which parts they will keep. This is united in name only, not in faith or practice.

  3. I’m a bit surprised people felt they did not know where you were on this issue, Dan. This is exactly where I thought you were before I read this post.

  4. Clearly we are having the wrong debate. We ought to be discussing the interpretation of scripture, especially the authority of the book of Leviticus (since 2/6 clobber passages come from there). We ought to be discussing the authority of creeds, since the EUB Confession of Faith (Article IV) says “We believe the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, REVEALS the Word of God….” not “IS,” “reveals.” The Word of God is different than the words in our Bible. We ought to be discussing the authority of The Discipline. I had a lot more confidence in The Discipline until I had written some of it and seen the very human process by which my words became sacrosanct. We ought to be discussing the nature of the “covenant” which binds us together. When did I promise to chain myself to The Discipline? I thought Covenant is a mutual relationship under God, not blind obedience to the words of The Discipline. We ought to be discussing what it means to be a global church. Only the Roman Catholic Church is trying to be a global church in the way that we are. We have a lot of learning to do, and we’re not working on that very hard. Legally, the UMC is a confederation of annual conferences. But, if we open the door to more autonomy for annual conferences, what are the limits? and what holds us together? We ought to be reading more Wesley. Studying his thoughts and spirit, not looking for proof texts that buttress our point of view.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s