Aside from contributing my “thumbs up” to a few friends’ Facebook posts over the past couple of weeks—the lowest form of social media slacktivism—I surprised myself at how silent I remained throughout the ten days of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in Portland.
In case you haven’t heard, no resolution related to sexuality and marriage made it to the conference floor for a vote. As it stands today, therefore, UMC doctrine remains unchanged. Meanwhile, legislation that emerged from committees indicated a theologically rightward tilt, as our denomination is on the verge of becoming majority African.
I, for one, can’t wait! I hope they send missionaries over here to teach us how to be Christians again!
The reason no legislation came to a vote is because the Council of Bishops headed it off with a plan of their own: Sometime before 2020, a specially called General Conference, whose membership will be identical to the group that met in Portland last week, will vote on proposals made by a CoB-appointed commission. The commission’s membership will supposedly reflect the global membership of the church.
In other words, as thousands of others have already pointed out, the bishops’ plan amounts to “kicking the can down the road.”
I’m disappointed. I was rooting for one piece of legislation that passed committee known as the CUP Plan. It would have strengthened accountability (in the form of minimum sentences) for clergy who break covenant with the church by performing “gay weddings” (the “stick”). At the same time, however, it would have offered progressive congregations a gracious path to exit the denomination while retaining their church property (the “carrot”).
It stood a reasonable chance of passing from what I’ve read. Now we’ll never know.
Regardless, I hope that this soon-to-be-appointed commission will make a similar proposal—or if not, at least have the courage to propose splitting the church up. The differences between traditionalists like me and revisionists are irreconcilable. As I’ve often blogged here, there is no middle way. Methodist “centrists” are either those who haven’t thought it through or (more likely) are progressives who are willing to bide their time until, they believe, cultural pressures will force the church’s hand. Adam Hamilton, for one, wrote that within ten years—after the older generation dies off, presumably—homosexuality will no longer be an issue for us Methodists.
As I blogged at the time, what do young people know about scripture that older generations don’t know? Because as always, as always, as always, the issue that divides us comes down to the authority of scripture.
Besides, what credibility has Western culture earned such that it should dictate what the church does and believes?
Nevertheless, this professor, from the UMC-affiliated Claremont School of Theology, rightly questions whether biding one’s time is a realistic option for progressives in light of shifting demographics in our church:
By the next General Conference, since the UMC is growing only in areas with a more traditionalist viewpoint on LGBTQ inclusion, the church’s position as a whole is almost guaranteed to become more conservative, not less in the coming years. Some progressives I talk to acknowledge that bringing about a change in the current rules will now take at least 16 years, with some predicting a 30-year struggle. Are we willing to live with our current divide for another generation? In light of our denomination’s plunging membership, does the church even have time to wait sixteen years, much less thirty or more?
In other words, if the progressives couldn’t get what they wanted this year, they’re far less likely in years to come.
To his credit, whether he agrees with “my” side or not, the author seems to understand the stakes for theological conservatives like me.
I often don’t see this same understanding of the stakes among many progressive clergy I know. For example, one of them posted a link to his blog post on social media yesterday. He was complaining about how we conservatives often (rightly) frame the issue in terms of Christian orthodoxy. He disagrees, writing, “When I hear [orthodoxy] used in this context, I find the speaker often actually means that he or she does not believe that God does new things outside of the knowledge base of those who wrote the scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
To which I replied:
No. What revisionists on this issue ask us to believe is that the Holy Spirit is “showing us something new,” which contradicts what the Spirit has already shown us.
Arguments about truth outside of scripture are beside the point. Quantum mechanics is beyond the scope of the Bible. Sex and marriage are not.
Again, no one has to agree with theological conservatives in order to fairly represent what we believe.
General Conference wasn’t a total wash: Conservatives won a clean sweep of five new members of the Judicial Council—our church’s Supreme Court. And, by a wide margin, they withdrew our church from a pro-abortion ecumenical organization that the UMC helped create back in the early-’70s (those were the days!). They also removed language in our Discipline that explicitly affirms Roe v. Wade.
All that to say, I hope our bishops can see the writing on the wall and do the right thing.