GC2016 — Losers and Losers

We are engaged in a fascinating bog here in Portland.  There are strong and many calls to draw a definitive line in the sand to say who is right and who is wrong, who will win and who will lose.  We have come to the place where no one can possibly “win”, but we are committed to making sure if “we” lose, “they will lose more.  We will force our will on the bishops, on the body, on the process, and on the denomination.  The frustration rests in the fact that we do not have leaders actively working on a way forward.  Our track record up to now is to take a “gentle” approach, in hopes that if we wait long enough this will work itself out.  Even decent attempts at Christian conference have failed for a simple reason — they have been offered as “events” not as a new way of being and behaving together.  Any time you do something experimentally and irregularly you undermine its potency.

Another deficiency is the lack of accountability and consequences.  Our church as a whole is looking for someone else to take responsibility and make a decision FOR us, so that when the decision is made, those who oppose it have someone to point fingers at and blame.  As long as “our church” does this to us, we can wrap ourselves in our victim mantle and abdicate any responsibility.  By casting this dynamic and interpersonal human engagement as a “win/lose” proposition we can guarantee victimhood for someone.  It is a very USA approach to complex problems to try to make them as simplistic as possible.  In the entitlement reality of our modern US America nothing much matters except that I get my way.  If I win, I am vindicated, I am absolved, and most importantly, I am right.

Asking our bishops to declare a winner and a loser is immature and irresponsible.  Upon a decision of whether we accept LGBTQI on their terms or not, we won’t really settle anything.  Anyone who has read my blog knows that I am for full inclusion of all people, and that I believe much of the opposition to LGBTQI people is wrong headed and based on poor biblical interpretation and theology.  That is MY position and perspective.  But if the bishops are forced to make a declaration and the body is forced to vote, I don’t gain anything.  Nothing has changed.  We split the church, we alienate our blood and baptism brothers and sisters.  We end the hurt of some to cause the hurt of others.  We all lose, and God’s people once more find a way to do more damage than good and to proclaim to all the world that our faith is hollow.

Forcing a decision to be made for us does nothing.  It does not heal the horrible hurt that has been inflicted on LGBTQI people for years, it will not mitigate the hurt that is done to biblical traditionalists who honestly believe they are standing for the integrity of their scripture, and it will not help the millions of people in the mainstream of our church who simply don’t understand why this is such a volatile and damaging disagreement.

We live with a bad assumption that has not served us well.  This assumption is that we know how to talk to others about difficult topics, and if we only frame a conversation as “Christian conference,” we have the capacity to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  The flaw in the thinking is that communication is as natural and simple as breathing, therefore we must be good at it.  Forty years should prove how poorly we communicate.  Until we have a process for learning how to talk to those with whom we disagree about difficult and potentially harmful realities, we will not improve.  There is nothing in our process that promotes or provides improvement.  We truly need arbitration and mediation, some collective re-training and education, and some professional guidance in critical thinking.  Aligned with this, we need to focus some of our best theological and philosophical thinkers to do extensive and intensive reflection on the whole corpus of Hebrew and Christian scripture, as well as some cultural anthropology on the contexts from which our sacred writings come.

Yes, we are stuck, but we really haven’t committed to finding a way forward.  We do the same things over and over and expect different results.  We have not changed our system.  Why would we expect different outcomes?  If we really want to be the body of Christ, if we truly revere being the people of God, and if we truly believe that God loves the whole of God’s creation, we need to call all people to make a commitment to work together to take responsibility for this make-or-break decision.  No one can make it for us.  We have got to make it together, or everyone will come out a loser.

9 replies

  1. 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
    Why can we not be accepting of all of our neighbors – when we are not accepting of our neighbors, who ever they may be, we are going against God’s definition of the two greatest commandments for us and must not love ourself either. Just how I see it.

  2. The only problem is that this should have been done years and years ago. Who allowed it to go on so long? So while we relearn how to dialogue, a whole group of people are victimized and continue to be ostracized. Truthfully, if I wasn’t retired, I would refuse to baptize any child in an appointment until someone showed me papers that they would not turn out GLBTQ. We have bastardized one of our sacred sacraments by revoking God’s grace through our sign act. Thank God that the allied forces in WWII didn’t decide they needed to take more time to decide whether they should try to save 11 million people. Perhaps if they hadn’t finally acted there would be 11 more million people who were killed. I know I’m exaggerating but come on, how many more years are you going to try to include everyone. Well, I feel from a purely business standpoint that this trainwreck will probably insure that we won’t have to bother bearing the debacle financially or spiritually again in 2020.
    By the way, I continue to like what you write.

  3. Thank you Dan for sharing your cogent and compelling dispatches from Portland. You have ameliorated the frustration I feel every time I turn to Twitter. Monitoring the social media stream, for all of its immediacy and occasional brilliance, is counterproductive to faith, hope and charity.

  4. Routinely read your posts. Almost as routinely disagree with about half of everything you write. Regardless, have always appreciated that in the UMC unity of living in commitment to Christ has never required uniformity in living out that commitment.

    If the UMC debate were only about a issue, there could be resolution in some form. The debate within the UMC is not about a issue. The debate reflects world view shaped by faith. There are those whose following of Christ is shaped by their left-wing social and political agenda. They will embrace/avoid whatever in Scripture does or does not support that world view. The same is true of some conservatives. Appeals to whatever… tradition, interpretations of Scripture, where Scripture speaks or is silent, simply reflect that mindset which serves as the rational for understanding/acting. The vast majority of local members are disenfranchised by this process. It is not unlike the way the current secular primary system weights the vote of some party regulars/supporters over the vote of mere members.

    • You are exactly who I write to/for. I am not in this for agreement. I share my thoughts, feelings, opinions, and I hope others will feel free to do the same. I tried to address what you are talking about in Four Kinds of Church and Four Unpainted Corners. I don’t think we are locked in two opposing views, but in multiple difficult-to-synthesize views. However, the intransigence you name is the heart of the problem.

      • Hum… intransigence. Nice word that. Most folks would simply say stubborn. Does not convey a nice impression. Odd. If on this issue one holds to Scripture and refuses to compromise, he is … what was it you called it, intransigent? But if one this issue one advocates what is clearly against Scripture and refuses to compromise, he is … not what? Would he also be intransigent? Odd is it that those who hold to Scripture are styled as … what was that word again… oh yes … intransigent. Meanwhile, those who disregard the clear teaching of Scripture are styled as … what?

  5. Thank you for your posts this week Rev. Dick!

    I appreciate your transparency as well as the record of your journey this week. Your blog has been a great help with discerning my own feelings on our denomination as I pursue ordination as a deacon. My prayers are with you!

    Yours in Christ,

    Jeremy Graeff


  6. Thanks, Dan.
    I can only imagine how painful this must be for many faithful people. I am profoundly perplexed by the resistance to full inclusion plans; and even more perplexed by the affection that so many have for divorce. What would it look like if we went fallow for a quadrennial? Maintained. Nothing new. Empower the entrepreneurs to realign/rediscover our priorities… Go back to the articles of religion… Rewrite the BOD?

  7. National Issues Forums offers an excellent model for talking and deliberating multifaceted and difficult issues that do not have quick fix solutions. As a trained moderator, I have witnessed this process work. Also. I’ve been trained to “name and frame issues” for deliberation. I’ve seen This process work in small community groups and in large groups of people from diverse backgrounds. It will work well for true Christian Conferencing.


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