The reality is, our connexional system was not made to take these strains because it is not built on individualism nor on the diversity of theology, much less mission, many of today’s United Methodists share. Another stark reality is this: there is a better chance that General Conference will do nothing, forcing people of conscience to leave The United Methodist Church, hurting our overall mission. A constitutional amendment, requiring a super majority, will not pass and any votes requiring a simple majority are either meaningless or impossible to predict and often distressing to the losers because of how close the vote was. Regardless, putting the future of The United Methodist Church to the vote — putting the histories, the hearts, and the loyalty of so many to vote – will continue to harm us, corporately and individually. Indeed, why do we vote on justice or righteousness? As such, we have to look at another way, a way of preserving the best of The United Methodist Church while allowing conscience. – Joel Watts, “No Vote, No Schism”, Unsettled Christianity, Jan. 26, 2015
We have, yet again, another proposal before us as United Methodists that seeks to avoid the one thing we most need to do: Confront our generations-long official policy of exclusion and practice of injustice toward sexual minorities. My good friend Joel Watts offers his proposal, detailed at the link above, that does everything except the one thing we as a corporate entity most need to do – confront the demons at the heart of our current malaise, name them, and exorcise them. By seeking to bypass our traditions of gathering in Holy Conferencing, trusting that even in the ugliness, rancor, and mutual distrust that always exist in politics of any kind that the Holy Spirit will move across the face of those chaotic waters and bring forth order and creation, Watts offers nothing more than a band aid. Worse, since the infection is deep and has metastasized, such a band aid will only make a few feel better as the rest of us continue to see the effects of the spreading sickness.
I will repeat it for emphasis. No one likes politics, except perhaps those who are powerful enough to work their will through the process. What is worse, church politics seems to violate our sense of what it means to be “church”, because it is little different in the passions it arouses, the enmities it creates, and the long-run bitterness that occurs, regardless of outcome. We would far prefer administrative processes, or at worst that should controversial matters be unavoidable that their outcome be predetermined in order to prevent the hostility and messiness of politics.
Alas, the latter has been the case with the Discipline language regarding sexual minorities, in particular at the last General Conference, and all it did was create the very bitterness, anger, and stubborn refusal to prevent the matter from disappearing with which we continue to live. As much as it might be nice to create systems outside – or perhaps even within – our current polity and practices that would avoid politics, the fact of the matter is we cannot avoid it. We cannot go around it. We cannot avoid looking our adversaries in the eye and speak the truth they already know: They’re continuing support for dehumanizing language in the Book of Discipline, as well as the discriminatory practices that follow from that language demeans us as a body calling itself Christian; is antithetical to the mission and ministry of the United Methodist Church, and violates the Great Commandments, in which the whole of the Law and the Prophets is summarized. That this is hard, to tell people – some of whom we might know, perhaps respect, maybe even love – that they are hurting not only our churches, but perpetuating an evil within our polity that is killing us. It is hard, but it is also unavoidable. All the other solutions save the not-yet-released conclusions of the Connectional Table seek to avoid this because it’s difficult, it will be painful, and it will create bitterness and anger for years to come.
Yet, we already live with bitterness and anger, mutual distrust and accusations of unfaithfulness, heresy, apostasy, and violations of everything from Biblical mandates to the Discipline. This isn’t going to stop if we adopt some magic formula that violates the one thing that keeps us in the Wesleyan tradition: Holy Conferencing. We will not be “church” if we refuse to face our collective sin, our rejection of an entire group of people, and the ways this rejection have hurt them and us, driving people away from what could be a fruitful encounter with the Living Crucified Christ while diminishing the pool of talents, gifts, and grace that could feed the stream of United Methodist ministry and mission for another generation.
As much as I admire Joel; as much as he has put thought and effort in to a solution that keeps to the Discipline, as much as it might seem a quick fix to a long-running problem, the truth is we have to confront this head on. We have to confront one another head on. We have to have this discussion, no matter how difficult it is. We have to be willing to speak our faith on this matter, because that faith is more important than the feelings of our interlocutors, or our own feelings of discomfort. It could very well lead to some leaving the denomination, although I still content that won’t happen in the numbers threatened, simply because that threat has been used for decades to prevent us from dealing with the matter of the sexual minorities in our midst, and I don’t see a whole lot of movement. No, we can’t avoid politics, however much we would prefer to do so. There is no way around, so we must go through and have faith that in the middle of our arguments and mutual denunciations God is present, moving us forward to be the church we are supposed to be. It isn’t a magic bullet, but there aren’t any.