Scripture interprets Scripture.
But Book of Discipline apparently does not interpret Book of Discipline.
At 3:20 in this video, Rob Renfroe and Tom Lambrecht discuss how pleased they are that Frank Schaefer was not allowed to use a section of the Book of Discipline to “undermine” another section in the recent United Methodist judicial proceeding against him. (Here’s what I wrote previously about this case.)
A judicial ruling that prohibits someone from using the Book of Discipline to “undermine” itself is really all you need in order to perfectly encapsulate how screwed up our denomination is.
The fact that we have a Book of Discipline that actually could be used to undermine itself is a sign of the messiness of our processes. I for one love this mess; it is holy, and we call it “conferencing.” I think we do holy conferencing pretty well, actually. I saw it at work in the South Central Jurisdiction during our most recent meeting, with regard to Bishop Bledsoe. Messy, tense, yet filled with grace and respect. No, the mess is not where the problem lies.
The problem arises when you try to impose “by the book” thinking on a “holy conferencing” system. One is neat and tidy, either/or, cut and dried. The other is the aforementioned holy messiness that we know as the conference. We really need to make a choice here; it needs to be one or the other. How serious are we about upholding our commitment to conferencing? If it truly is a part of our Methodist identity, then why in the world would we prohibit discussion of the entire Book of Discipline in a disciplinary setting?
I do not know what specific part of the Book of Discipline Schaefer wanted to use in his defense. My facts are limited to the video I saw. But it doesn’t matter with regard to my larger question in this instance.
The Bible contradicts itself all over the place. Like women don’t speak in church but in Christ there is neither male nor female, for example. How do we followers of Jesus deal with these contradictions? We talk about them. We discuss, we think, we pray, we conference.
Yes, the Bible and the Book of Discipline are two very different things, I get that. But the principle is the same. I would never dream of ignoring parts of the Bible just because they happened to “undermine” another part. Instead I wrestle with it until it begins to make sense to me, and I do so in relationship and conversation with others.
I suppose I just find it incredibly disheartening that we can’t do the same with the Discipline, especially when that is exactly what we are supposed to do as Methodists. We’re not a “by the book” church. We are a concentric set of conferences – charge, district, annual, jurisdictional, general – built on relationships and dialogue, not hierarchy and dogma.
The message of this ruling is clear. Don’t bother looking in the Book of Discipline for anything that might contradict the “Don’t marry gay people” policy. Nothing along the lines of, oh say for example…
“Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the rightful claims where people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law.” (Paragraph 162.J)
And you’re definitely not allowed to ponder how in the world we can make a claim like this and at the very same time forbid our pastors to marry same sex couples in states where it is legal. That would be “undermining,” you see, and get all messy. We just can’t have that.