A Modest Proposal
The Connectional Table discerns and articulates the vision and the stewardship of the mission, ministries and resources of The United Methodist Church as determined by General Conference and in consultation with the Council of Bishops. – “Who We Are”, umc.org
It seems every few weeks another proposal arises from the morass of discussions within the United Methodist Church over the status of sexual minorities. As I mentioned yesterday, the one thing these proposals have in common is an attempt to avoid the political process within the denomination, a process that allows people to speak their minds, to become angry, to threaten to break our bonds of union, and generally seek to avoid, divert, or somehow end the conflict within the church by administrative fiat, either through some action from the Council of Bishops, a series of interim agreements, or using various clauses within the Book of Discipline to allow churches to go their separate ways yet remain within the polity of the United Methodist Church.
None, however, regard our current process as legitimate. None accept the process of the Connectional Table and its promise to provide the 2016 General Conference legislation that will deal with these issues in a way that is constructive, healing, and reconciling for all. None of the things people are talking about want the Connectional Table to succeed, I believe, because it is tied so closely to the entire structure of the denomination and its hierarchy (for a list of the membership of the Connectional Table, just click here). For some reason, the entire discussion seems to assume we need “A Leader” to decide for us, rather to rely upon what is admittedly a long, slow, clunky, typically churchy process, using a committee to talk to concerned persons across the denomination on various aspects of the matter, not all of which will satisfy everybody. We would prefer clarity of vision and goal, rather than the hodge-podge of diversity that we know is our reality.
Yesterday, I was accused, despite any evidence in existence, of supporting retribution. I fail to see how that accusation makes any sense, considering all I’ve read about the matter. As an aside, I would add that it is strange to me that it is up to the communities of sexual minorities and their supporters not to seek retribution, despite centuries of repression, violence, denial of their sanity and even full humanity, as well as being automatically excommunicated simply for being who they are. They, however, must be gracious if and when the church decides to change and allow them full participation in the life of the church, as if the straight majority were somehow conferring a boon rather than recognizing what has always been the case: that we have lived with gay and lesbian and bisexual and other-gendered people in positions of leadership for the life of the church. Only now they have the imprimatur of our official documents. Untold violence has been wreaked upon sexual minorities, yet they are not to react in kind. Obviously they won’t, for any number of reasons, yet the fear of retribution exists precisely because those giving voice to these fears would act that way, so they expect LGBTQ people to act the same way. Rather, knowing their lives to be filled with grace, they will live according to that grace, rather than the power that befuddles the brains of far too many in our churches.
In any event, my modest proposal is simple: Stop listening to all these damn proposals. I don’t care who makes them, how steeped they are in our history, our polity, or our theology. There is an actual process in place, and it will have something ready for all of us well before General Conference next year. That will be that with which he have to do, not some concoction from denominational superstars, self-appointed leaders, or the more-clever-by-half individuals who believe they know what’s best because conflict, in and of itself, must be bad.
Except, it isn’t. The conflict within the denomination is good for all of us. We are seeking clarity on an issue that while hardly central to our theological or confessional life nevertheless demonstrates what we believe about who God is, about Creation and its goodness, about humanity and its goodness in redemption including our sexuality, and about what it means to be the Body of Christ in the world. It is a canary in the coal mine of the world, telling those outside who we really are and what we really believe. Conflict gives us the chance to seek clarity on an issue of fundamental human dignity. Conflict gives us the opportunity to grow, because we come face to face with the limits of our own understandings, the possibility that we may well be wrong, for all the surety we offer the world.
So, allow the arguments to continue. Let the Connectional Table do its job. Get a sense of which way the wind is blowing in the months and weeks in the run-up to General Conference next spring. Give yourself a sense of peace that the men and women on the Connectional Table, for all their personal agendas, might well have the best interest of the whole church at heart. Have faith that, as a part of the Church of Jesus Christ, it exists within the power of the Holy Spirit no less (and no more) than all those heroic individuals who would clamor for attention for all their clever yet remarkably unworkable proposals that seek to bypass our need to come to terms with the ugliness of our language and our practice. If you don’t like conflict, or prefer we not deal with the matter of how we treat those among us who are different, there is no reason at all to participate. Unless of course it is conflict itself that leaves you uncomfortable. In that case, I suggest you sneak off to a cave to be an anchorite; conflict is as old as the church, and over matters of far more importance than this. In which case, please cease trying to to cash in on celebrity, cleverness, or a supposed attunedness with some majority in the denomination that exists only within your own mind. Allow the actual process created by General Conference to do its work.
I know it’s boring. It is so much better to think oneself the hero, rather than allow some bureaucratic/political process to complete its work. That, however, is what we have. It’s what I support. It is, in the end, what we need in order to confront the sin that implicates all of us, no matter how righteous we may think ourselves. Thus, my modest proposal: Let the system work. Who knows. We might all be surprised!