Saturday, February 11, 2017

Seeking Compromise Is Not Divisive

The Bishop of the Mississippi Conference has announced that two large United Methodist congregations are making plans to leave the denomination. There are likely others with similar plans in other places, but these two have been made public this week.

They are planning to leave because “there is a deep concern that any legislative or judicial solution to the denomination's current impasse on human sexuality will sow seeds of deeper division within our Church. They see this division as something that continues and will continue to damage the witness of The United Methodist Church of which they are currently connected,” according to Bishop James Swanson’s statement.

In my opinion, large churches planning to leave the denomination are actually sowing more seeds of division than potential compromise policies on marriage and ordination. That’s kind of the definition of division, isn’t it? Whereas seeking compromise is actually about NOT dividing?

Unless I’m completely wrong, the two congregations who are publicly planning to leave the United Methodist Church have gotten things exactly backwards here. Trying to find a compromise is not divisive, by definition. Saying that you want to leave the denomination is divisive, by definition.

I wish they would just come right out and say why they want to leave. If they don’t want gay people to be married, why not just come right out and say that? If they don’t want gay people to be ordained, why not make that statement out loud? (Though pastor friends in Mississippi tell me that these may not be the only issues at hand here. The situation is probably more complex than just that.)

But why all the hemming and hawing around what is really making them so upset? The time for hemming and hawing has gone. We need to be able to say exactly what needs to be said, with as little ambiguity as possible.

Furthermore, and in disagreement with the statement above, I believe that seeking compromise on marriage and ordination is actually a pretty GOOD witness for the United Methodist Church to be making right now. Having difficult, tense, holy, grace-filled conversations is exactly THE witness that the world needs in our present polarized climate. (As with our nation as a whole, I believe the Methodist church is polarized, not divided.)

In their official statement, one of the churches wrote, "The Orchard has no desire to be a part of these debates. We simply want to help people grow deep in the love of Jesus and branch out to others with that love." I do not see these two ideas as mutually exclusive. One can both love Jesus and have a debate. Being a part of a difficult conversation, and doing so with grace and love and respect, is a PERFECT way to "help people grow deep in the love of Jesus," it seems to me.

I lament that the conversation would be relatively less vibrant minus the voices who are threatening to leave.

As I have said before, my guess is that the Bishops’ “Commission on a Way Forward” will recommend a compromise position that allows individual pastors and congregations to decide questions of marriage and individual conferences to decide questions of ordination. Some people fear this outcome, because of the difficult conversations that will inevitably result.

And some people are so afraid of it, apparently, that they would rather just leave the denomination altogether.

"It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren. The pretenses for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause; otherwise they would still hold the unity of the Spirit in the bound of peace." – John Wesley, Sermon 75, On Schism


Cynthia Astle said...

A good word, Andy! Picking up for UM Insight.

Anonymous said...

And exactly how long are we supposed to keep beating ourselves up over this especially in the light of the consistent answer multiple General Conferences over 44 years has come up with re sexuality? It has been pretty much talked into the ground--there is absolutely nothing left to talk about. Beginning with GC2012, I have spent 4 long disheartening years monitoring a myriad of voices within the UMC. One thing is clear: progressives are determined that the UMC accept their view of the world and that is so not happening. It is way past time for the UMC to get off this insane merry-go-round. By the way, how well has forcing full inclusion of a lesbian working out in the Mountain Sky Area?

Anonymous said...

You speak of compromise. That is a concept that requires a commitment from all involved. I have yet to hear what progressives are willing to contribute to this compromise you talk of. All I ever hear is that I am to compromise my conscience so that you now free to live by yours.

Andy B. said...

Anonymous 2, you raise an important question. Would you care to identify yourself so we can discuss it? I'd love to respond, but I've always had a personal policy of not responding to anonymous comments.

David Chr.Wold said...

Have to ask the same question to the 'Movement' of organizations like MIND in the NYAC. Why, after trying at Annual Conference, General Conference for over 20 years 'suddenly' (behind closed doors and secret vote) does their BOOM (Board of Ordained Ministry) implement , without support from majority, new regulations on sexuality. A decision that would cost millions of dollars if implement or not implement by the UMC.
They did not get support from a United Church, they got support from same people that has for 20 years supported their idea - we still have a 'world out there' who does not agree.

So ask again , What are these ordained ministers telling us by example ?

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