We are a little over 3 months from what many consider to be a historic General Conference. Its purpose is to respond to the Commission on a Way Forward’s Report, and any other petition “in harmony” with the stated purpose of this Special Session. Harmony, now here’s an out-of-place word used in the context of the United Methodist Church. Our Tribe has been everything, but “in harmony” for decades. This lack of “harmony” may very well account for our steady decline.
On May 18, 2016, the majority of the Council of Bishops managed to “guide” that General Conference into accepting this notion of forming a Commission (fancy name for Committee–well, that certainly sounds like Methodists…) to study the issue on human sexuality. This Commission would meet and develop a report to be presented at a called special session of the General Conference that would result in Unity once and for all.
It was a motion formed from the notion rooted in emotion, that 2 opposing views could find common ground and develop a solution to make everyone happy. Allow me to say that I followed the advice of our Bishop: Wait, Pray, and Be Hopeful. Since she was selected to be a part of this Commission/Committee, I followed her counsel.
I made no decision about leaving or staying in this Tribe. I prayed every day and encouraged others to do the same. And for a season, I remained hopeful…until this season of waiting, praying and being hopeful began to speak into my heart the reality we face as United Methodists. These spiritual disciplines I practiced are now giving birth to a new, call it “insight” into our current dilemma. And this post I started over a month ago, has taken on an entirely different direction. What started out as a post about the hopelessness of this special General Conference, is now a post about the results of these past 2 years. Thus, this title of “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”. I am NOT labeling ANYONE good, bad or ugly. I am not judging others; I am looking at this process and what it is capable of doing.
Here is what The Spirit has helped me understand through the spiritual disciplines of waiting, praying and being hopeful through that resolution to form the Finding A Way Forward Commission and their resulting work.
The Good is that our governing body has realized that this “recurring every 4 years” issue needs to be resolved, once and for all. Since 1976, we, meaning the General Conference, Jurisdictional Conferences, Bishops, Annual Conferences and members of the United Methodist Church, have been kicking the can down the road. I say “we” because all of us bear guilt in the failure to address this cultural issue. “We” would rather ignore, whine about or disobey this issue rather than resolve it.
Right now I’m thinking about that “rich young” man who came to Jesus with that powerfully poignant question: “What must I do to have real life that never ends?” He had been “kicking the can down the road” for God knows how long; putting his hope in rules and rituals. And when Jesus came to town, somehow he knew the futility of kicking that can down the road and presented his issue to the One that knew the answer.
Though we want life to be both simple and easy, it is neither. Life requires difficult choices. Life, as God designed it to be before The Fall, also requires we make decisions that are not popular. But it is those difficult and unpopular decisions that most often determine if we are serious about our desire for life that works now and lasts forever…or not. Though such choices are painful, as it was for that rich young man who came to Jesus with his dilemma, life will force us to make those choices. So, it is good that come February 2019, we come to make a decision that will determine whether or not we will have a life worth living now, and for eternity.
The stated purpose of this Commission is to find a way forward where both sides can peaceably work together and live in unity. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not a doom and gloom prophet. Truthfully, I wanted this Commission to be successful. But then….then I read again their purpose and goal.
As time is quickly winding down, I can see clearly now that this Commission on a Way Forward was doomed for failure. Before their first meeting. Before the first member of the Commission was named. Before names were presented for consideration on this Commission. Even before the vote that set in motion this notion of moving forward as a single body was doomed. It seems my Tribe has chosen a road that cannot be navigated, and was never meant to be navigated.
“The Bad” isn’t the issue surrounding human sexuality. “The Bad” is that all 3 sides on this issue are using different and incompatible values as the basis for finding a model where all 3 sides can peacefully coexist. In order for people to move forward, there must be an agreement on the foundation of that movement. And….heavy sigh….no such foundation exists. Here is how I understand the 3 sides and their foundation of unshakable Truth:
- The Writers of the Bible misunderstood God. We have become more evolved and enlightened as a species, and thus understand more than they did. Thus our contextualization demands we change the ancient views to views that fit into our culture. Literally, the Bible is wrong on the issue of human sexuality, thus we can no longer guide our lives by its teachings on sexuality. And if we cannot allow it to guide our teachings about human sexuality, it is no longer reliable for all other matters of faith and life. Only those who have had the blinders of orthodoxy removed can determine what is right or wrong.
- Unity can be built through contextualization. This is the path that Adam Hamilton, Michael Slaughter and, according to the secret ballot, the majority of Bishops, have chosen. One place determines that it is right. Another place determines that it is wrong. And we can both be correct because of our context. Accept each view as being right in its own context. If we all surrender our theological understandings and embrace contextualization, then we can move forward again in unity. There is no ultimate right or wrong; only contextualization.
- The Bible has the final authority on all matters of life and faith. We cannot faithfully follow Jesus as His disciples unless we model a life of holiness built upon the truths found within the Bible. The lines of ethical behavior, of moral right and wrong, are found only in the context of the Sacred Writ. We are not free to ignore, or even adjust, these ethics found within the Bible. Though some have taken those Truths out of context, and others have misapplied them to social situations, the Bible remains the foundation. Truth is neither subjective nor culturally contextual…Truth is absolute.
Reading what I have just written, it looks like I’ve oversimplified these deep and divisive issues facing our Tribe. Complex issues cannot always be explained in terms of the simple. Yet I am convinced this is where each of the 3 sides are–and hopefully you can see, as I have seen, that it is impossible for these 3 sides to be unified and united…and why this Commission was doomed before it began its important work. That is indeed, The Bad.
And this leads us to The Ugly. We will never be able to form unity in this current state. The ones in the middle think they have the answer–let’s coexist peacefully. But the other sides disagree. And rightfully so. You cannot have it both ways. It’s like mixing water and oil. In the realm of the chemical world, bonding of molecules is necessary to create unity within 2 or more components, thus creating something different. At their deepest core, the molecules of oil and the molecules of water cannot bond together. It is a violation of the law of chemistry and thus, an impossibility. Mixing progressives and the orthodox together is a human and spiritual impossibility. Their molecules will simply not bond together, which bonding must happen in order to produce unity.
I liken our current impasse to John Wesley and the Church of England. Unity could not happen at the spiritual molecular level which was needed for unity. The decisive moment occurred in 2 steps. First, when he commissioned and sent Francis Asbury to America to organize the movement. Second, when he commissioned and sent Thomas Coke to consecrate Asbury as a “superintendent”. But Coke went further by consecrating Asbury as “Bishop”. Even though Wesley didn’t like that, yet he would not stand in the way of this new Awakening.
In both cases, Wesley did not have the permission of the Church of England nor the authority to do such. I strongly suspect that Wesley knew that such actions would result in a “divorce” from the Church of England. To do this, Wesley was in a real sense, commiting “divorce” with the Church of England. Yet he moved forward with those decisions, even with what might have been a sadness in his heart. Somehow he knew though, that it wasn’t a “divorce”, rather a mitosis that would extend the influence of the Kingdom of God.
The Ugly does indeed offer hope. Remember the story of the ugly duckling? It grew up to be a beautiful swan. To do that it had to give up its “duckiness” and embrace a new future of being a swan. What is needed now for the United Methodist Church is a “mitosis” (read 7 Major Benefits from the Mitosis of the UMC and The Two-Church Vision: Spiritual Mitosis Rather than Angry Schism). The result would be 2, maybe 3, unique expressions of the Wesleyan Movement that would not share a name, but a spiritual DNA: The Body of Christ! The only solution is for all 3 sides is to end this thing called United Methodists and to part ways as each seeks the Kingdom of God. While this may be considered ugly (and it probably is), it is the only healthy way to handle this impasse.
Back to this title. I will say it again, so as not be be misunderstood. It is not that one side is good, another side bad, and the last side ugly. Truth is, each side has the good, the bad and the ugly. The Good is that we we long to see the Kingdom of God. The Bad is that sometimes we are wrong, but HE is always right. And The Ugly? Well, think about a cocoon, It is indeed ugly, but my oh my, what comes out of it. Let’s be patient with each other, ourselves and the Holy Spirit as through mitosis, that part of the Lord’s Prayer becomes a reality in our time: “Thy Kingdom Come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The ugly comes through making tough choices and right decisions. But God always transforms “the ugly” into “the beautiful”. Do you doubt that statement? Then remember the Cross!
I am still waiting. I am still praying. And because I have faithfully been doing the first two, I am NO LONGER hopeful for unity. I am, however, more hopeful than ever, for another Great Awakening in our world.
In my next post, I will share what I could see, as a life long Methodist, this new church coming out of this mitosis, looking like.