Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Few Confused Thoughts on UMC Schism

I've been reading a lot of discussions about the United Methodist Church, sexuality, and schism recently, and to help me sort through some of my thoughts, I'm going to write out what I've been thinking and where I've been confused.

I used to be absolutely, without a doubt, in favor of changing the Book of Discipline to allow United Methodist ministers to perform same-sex marriages and to remove the language about not ordaining "self-avowed practicing homosexuals." I doubted whether such a change would actually have a hope of going through anytime soon, but that was my hope.

My interest in the church as an institution has been growing, so I watched a lot of the live feed of Annual Conference this year. When I realized people were livetweeting it, I started following them. I was pleased when the aspirational motions related to sexuality passed at NEAC. (Here's one of them.) A little while after conference, though, I realized that I had created a bit of an echo chamber in my Twitter feed; the UMs I followed tended to agree with each other. So, I sought out others.

I'll admit that I haven't ended up following many people who are as conservative as the progressives I follow are progressive, but I do read a number of traditionalists. I also happened upon the group of people from Via Media Methodists, and they in particular have made me think a lot over the past six or seven weeks.

I think trust is really important in the church. I've come to deeply value corporate faith and United Methodist connectionalism. As I considered that more, I started to think that upholding the Discipline is really important because it allows us to trust each other. But I read a book by Ursula K. Le Guin yesterday called Powers, and then I read the #NotMyChristianLeader tweets, and I started thinking about power and trust.

It seems like there are two issues of trust here. Some people are calling for the UMC to uphold the trust we have in each other as a single institution by following and enforcing the Discipline. Another (though not entirely disjoint) set of people sees a marginalized group that can't fully trust the church while the Discipline states that "practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

(I'm not sure this is really representative, but I think it's closer than I was. I'd love thoughts on any of this post, but especially that last paragraph.)

I had only been considering the first kind of trust, and I still think it's important. I also think it's important to hear the second group of people and recognize that there is a feeling of a betrayed trust. There is a difference in the two, I think, because the default assumption of the UMC is - and should be - that the Discipline will be upheld, whereas in the second case the thing causing the lack of trust is part of the institution and clearly stated. I'm not sure how that should change how we approach the two different issues.

Then there's power. Here's a tweet from Suey Park this morning:
is what happens when those tokenized/marginalized stop waiting for a white person to hand them a mic and speak up.
I started thinking more about that (and probably in a slightly more generalized way), and I wondered how people are expected to speak up when they aren't handed a microphone. Reconciling Ministries and similar organizations aren't new. People within the UMC have been calling for a change to the Discipline for awhile. If the group of people saying there's a problem doesn't feel heard, what are the options?

At this point, there's so much talk of schism that I think people know the voices are all there, speaking. I don't know how much listening is going on, but I've seen some good conversations. I've also seen some really cringe-worthy talking past each other.

I said earlier that I doubted whether such a change would actually happen anytime soon, just based on the makeup of the UMC (which, it's important not to forget, is not just an American church). So I worry about where we go from here. Through all of this, even as my thoughts changed, I've been hoping for unity. Sometimes it seems like it would be more peaceful to split, but I don't think a clean, gracious split is really possible. A few congregations choosing to leave the denomination is one thing. But a broader movement to split seems really messy. I know that if there were a major split (something like the MEC/MEC, South split), the church (in the Southern Plains) of which my parents are members and the Massachusetts church of which I am a member would end up in different denominations. But congregations aren't uniform. When a split like this happens, how many individuals change congregations to align with personal beliefs? I can think of people at both my church and my parents' church who would consider leaving, even though in the everyday life of the congregation, very little would change.

I know most people want unity, but we can't effectively be Church if we lack trust in each other.  I'm also no longer so convinced that a change to the Discipline is the right thing, and not just because of the splintering it might cause. So at the end of the day, I'm confused. Confusion isn't really comfortable, but I know it can be a place of growth, so for now I'm trying to read and listen and hope that soon I'll sort out my confusion about what I believe and what I value.

And I appreciate any thoughts. Discernment is corporate, too.

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