I maintain there is a flaw in our system. General Conference is trying to dictate human worth and dignity through legislative action. We are voting on who deserves and who does not. We are Robert’s Ruling the value of a human life and the love of God. Shame on us. We have turned engagement in Christian community into a political process. We are using our Discipline and our Bible as the building materials to create walls of separation. We are saying to one another “we want to have nothing to do with you.”
Does a majority opinion or ruling make something right or true? Most of the greatest atrocities in history were accepted by the majority. We sometimes vote a politician into office that subsequently does more damage than good (and then, inconceivably, we reelect them!), and creates more harm than help. When we frame our lives in “either/or” or “winners/losers” structures, we limit the possibilities for our life together.
What do we gain by drawing a line dividing who is “in” and who is “out”? One of my favorite Jewish aphorisms is “when faced with two options, choose the third.”. In planning work, I use a “star of David” process. When faced with an important decision, we come up with a distinct option for each of the six points of the star. Breaking the hegemony of binary thinking is essential for our future. As we move from psycho-social adolescence toward spiritual maturity, we move from concrete/simplistic thinking to abstract/complex thinking. We must come to the level of critical thinking where we can hold more than two perspectives in our heads at the same time. Merely deciding something is “good/bad,” “right/wrong”, “acceptable/unacceptable” holds us captive to a “gospel” of bondage. Committing ourselves to a worldview where someone has to be wrong is irrational. Or, to take the biblical perspective on this, let’s just admit and confess that we are all wrong, then begin working together for something better.
Picking one (or two) “issues” to be make-or-break, line-in-the-sand determinants of who belongs and who doesn’t is simplistic thinking. Instead of thinking in terms of wrong and right, what might change if we thought in terms of wrong and not wrong. This would push us to say, I may be wrong, but I am not completely wrong. I may be right, but I am not completely right. God may have the wisdom to deal in absolutes; but we do not.
A majority opinion is not necessarily right — it reflects a rightness for some, but not for all. To deal with only one aspect of a person, even an essential and fundamental aspect, does violence to the whole person. Labeling does this to people. Labeling is a way we try to make the complex simple. Labeling is a way we draw our lines to include us, but to reject them. It is a fool’s errand that leads us nowhere.
We need pathways that take us beyond “us/them” thinking to a realm of “all of us together.”. In this “all of us together” place, we will still have minorities and majorities, but we will no longer have winners and losers, because unless the majority and minority remain in covenant relationship together, we are all losers. God has given us the gift of one another. Let us learn to love the gift, regardless of right and wrong, good and bad, superior and inferior. Let us be the children of God, together, making the church and the world a better place.
Categories: Christian witness, General Conference, The United Methodist Church
So if I get this right, you are railing against the use of “Discipline and our Bible”. Playing that out to it’s logical conclusion means you believe in no discipline and no bible, The result: anarchy. No thanks.
I can only ask you to read this again. You can use tools to build or to destroy. Just because some people choose to use a knife as a weapon doesn’t mean you get rid of the knife. You can encourage people to use it properly. It is the extremist thinking of assuming the very worst (you criticize something therefore you mean we shouldn’t use it at all) that is creating our problems.
Maybe this assessment of General Conference will help you make sense of what is happening.
General Conference is a body of the people. It is democratically populated with delegates from our annual conferences around the globe. There has been a longstanding division in our denomination between the people in our congregations and the lofty institutions that serve us. Our elites are substantially more progressive than those who provide their positions. General Conference is one of the places where our ivory towers are answerable to our grassroots.—Chris Ritter, “The UMC’s Messy Language About Sexuality: A Rejoinder to Dr. Thomas Frank”, peopleneedjesus.net, April 21, 2016
Personally I think Rev. Ritter has the right perspective about it and it explains why we are in such a mess as well as why leadership is ineffective: a people with one perspective/mindset are trying to lead others who have another perspective/ mindset. Right now I am very grateful for the messy grassroots leadership of General Conference; it is probably what is going to keep the United Methodist Church from disappearing althogether!
In a general way, I agree with what you are saying, but the reality is we do not live in the perfect world that God created. As a result, there is a pragmatic side to this: This is the structure we are forced to deal with for the foreseeable future. Plus, based on the history as I understand it, General Conference is where the liberal/progressive leadership continually chooses to “fight their battle”. A close friend of mine was a clergy delegate to 2012GC. At the conclusion of GC2012. At the conclusion of GC2012, his understanding was that at least some of the liberal/progressive powers that be had decided to back off from GC and would take a more grassroots approach. But then all the blatant disobedience broke out and now, once again liberal/progressives have brought the issue before GC2016. Since it is the liberal/progressives who continually stir this pot, they are the ones that are picking the “battlefield”.
I truly do not fault the liberal/progressives their beliefs; they are welcome to them. But when a group of them continually set themselves above working within the system in which they find themselves–setting themselves “above the law”, so to speak– then it becomes the “Gunfight at the OK Corral” and unfortunately in that setting, there are winners and losers.
I very much agree with the closing paragraph from chapjt: “One thing is for certain as I consider my own life – I’m thankful I’m not God. So, as one of the “cracked pots” living in today’s culture and society in the United States of America, I will choose to align my behaviors as closely as I can to what I understand God requires of me. And I’ll try my best to extend grace to those who behave, at least in my opinion, in bad ways. I hope they will do the same for me.” But based on the verbiage and actions of one specific group of liberal/progressives who keep stirring the pot on this issue, keeping it at a boiling point, I do not have much hope of them returning the favor. Their behavior and verbiage represents a brand of Christianity I do not recognize nor want to have anything to do with; and with every line they draw in the sand, the gap becomes wider.
Whenever liberal/progressives lob the charge that the church is failing to love the LGBTQI community, this quote from Oswald Chambers comes to mind:
“Unless my relationship with God is right, my sympathy for men will lead me astray and them also; but when once I am right with God, I can love my neighbor as God has loved me. How has God loved me? He has loved me to the end of all my sinfulness, the end of all my self-will, all my selfishness, all my stiff-neckedness, all my pride, all my self-interest; now he says I am to show my fellow-men the same love.”
This is the type of God’s love I have experienced of late. It is a concept of God’s love that the Methodist/United Methodist Church lost a long time ago. It is the type of God’s love that led John Wesley to become “more vile” and embrace field preaching.
Some of what you have written I agree with – there is a flaw in our system Voting up or down, right or wrong, etc. is not the most healthy method for a Christian Church to decide things. Consensus is a much better option – but how do you work to build consensus in such a world-wide, large gathering of people? It’s difficult even with a few.
I disagree, however, that the legislation that we are asked (if a delegate) to vote on determines human worth. Perhaps it is the way we act that propels perception that way. Perhaps your understanding of making decisions and legislation based on behavior is equal with personal worth. But, if that’s true, why stop with a person’s sexual practice? That’s where it appears the current energy focus is, but that is not the only behavior that some understand to be against the teachings of the Bible. What about Gluttony – with all our chicken suppers? What about divorce and remarriage? What about gossip? There are other behaviors over which we could certainly exert energy to argue compatibility with the Christian Gospel.
The truth that I find in our discipline and the Bible is that ALL PEOPLE are of sacred worth (loved by God), but all BEHAVIORS are not (go, and sin no more). And, as our society and cultures shift and change, which behaviors are considered of sacred worth and which behaviors are not considered of sacred worth will continue to be challenged and changed. As we continue to work as a “global” denomination, the difficulty grows even more. Finding a process through which we can honor one another’s worth when we address such issues is, in my opinion, a worthy endeavor – but also an almost impossible endeavor. Can we do it in ten days? I doubt it.
One thing is for certain as I consider my own life – I’m thankful I’m not God. So, as one of the “cracked pots” living in today’s culture and society in the United States of America, I will choose to align my behaviors as closely as I can to what I understand God requires of me. And I’ll try my best to extend grace to those who behave, at least in my opinion, in bad ways. I hope they will do the same for me.