Friday, November 18, 2005

Holy Conversation

I've started writing a post several times over the last two weeks, but it's never gotten more than a sentence before I've given up. Over that time, there's been family stuff, charge-conference stuff, ordination stuff, school stuff, and continued talk about the recent Judicial Council decisions flying around me. I guess if I'm going to get back to blogging, I'll need to "data-dump" some of that.

Yesterday, Bishop Peter Weaver visited the School of Theology at BU for "Holy Conversation" about the recent decisions. Those students who are deeply committed to changing the position of the UMC in relation to ordination of sexually active homosexuals didn't seem happy with Bishop Weaver's rather moderate response. One said in my hearing, "He didn't have to bring charges against Beth Stroud -- there were other options -- if he really believed in justice he would have risked his job to defend her ministry!"

I'd expect that from students who are deeply committed to advocacy, but the former Dean of the School, who is now Dean of the Chapel told Bishop Weaver he thinks that the paragraph saying that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" is "bad theology." The Bishop disagreed, I think clearly, citing the New Testament sexual ethic that emphasizes the importance of celibacy, the proper role of marriage, and the persistent reference to only heterosexual marriage in the New Testament. Our Dean countered with the statement that "all of that is in the context of polygamous heterosexual relationships," which made the following discussion a bit convoluted...

Over all, the Bishop's call for conversation among all United Methodists were dismissed by the pro-gay students as impossible, inappropriate, and insincere "as long as some people are prevented from being ordained by Church law." Apparently, we can only have conversation if we first agree to ordain "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals."

I'm not convinced that would further discussion. If the UMC agreed to ordain "self-avowed, practicing homsexuals," would the more conservative members/clergy stay with the UMC long enough to have a conversation? Would the conversation be more fruitful, since any change at that point would be "introducing discrimination," to the Church? If we cannot have a conversation, unless one side gets its way first, why should we try?

For me, there's another issue in this conversation that doesn't come up much: Can we have a church without discrimination? I think not. We might want to determine what kind of discrimination is appropriate, but if the United Methodist Church is to remain a distinctive Christian denomination, and not just become a social club, we need to expect our members to consent to our doctrine, or at least to be willing to be shaped by it, and grow into believing it. Also, we need to be able to say that our clergy should meet some standards of educational competency, doctrinal integrity, and that they will live exemplary lives of Christian holiness. We might not agree what that looks like, but it will require to discriminate between candidates for ministry.

I want the conversation. I can admit I might be wrong, and I'd be willing to listen to biblical reasons why we should think differently about homosexual behavior than the vast majority of church tradition has. I'll even listen to insights from human experience and modern science to help us understand what the Bible has to say to us, but we can't have the conversation unless everyone is willing to admit that they could be misreading Scripture and the insights of the contemporary world.

That's basically what Bishop Weaver said, and it was rejected by some as insensitive. I think it's the best way to save the UMC. It would require putting agendas on-hold, though perhaps as a good-faith measure and not formally, waiting for long-term careful reflection, and an end to the unfair rhetoric by both sides that conflate homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior.


Anonymous said...

I get so confused with this whole debate sometimes. It's probably because I'm coming at it from a outside the conversation, and am only hearing what you (and a few other like-minded folks) have to say about it. "...context of polygamous heterosexual relationships"? What on Earth does that have to do with this discussion?

Wesley Blog gets to the heart of the matter in his (or her--not sure of the writer's gender) most recent post. The root question is sacrifice. Are we willing to sacrifice our right to fulfill physical desires and longings to fully follow Christ? We are called, both by teaching and example, to do so, whether those desires are for sex, food, material comfort, or whatever else. This sacrifice hurts; that's why it's called sacrifice, and I think many have been trying to avoid it through mental and theological gymnastics for many years.

Christ wants everything from us. Nothing less. And if we are unwilling to give everything up, we cannot fulfill God's call on our lives, at least not completely. So what are we, what am I, holding on to that is more important than Christ's call?

Guess I kinda blogged on your comment. Hope you don't mind...


David said...

Fine with me -- why don't you sign in and link to your blog in the future?

Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

So just to try and understand the reasoning, by "...context of polygamous heterosexual relationships" did the speaker mean Paul wasn't saying don't engage in homosexuality, but was saying don't engage in polygamy?

Tom Harrison

David said...

The Dean of the Chapel argued that because the New Testament references to marriage applied to a society where polygamy was acceptable, and never explicitly forbid polygamous marriage, then they implicitly sanction polygamy.

The argument that followed was that if the New Testament accepted polygamy and we don't, we know better than the New Testament in terms of specific areas of sexual ethics, so "loving same-sex relationships," which the New Testament "doesn't know exist" according to the Dean, should be acceptable.

The problem with the Dean's sexual ethics, I think, arise from the fact that he argues from the position that "love" and marriage (or pseudo-marital sexual relationships)are integrally connected, and commitment grows out of love, not the other way around. I agree marriage should be loving, but for Christians I think it is more important for sex to be a part of a committed marriage, which might not always mean that the partners involved feel much love for one another -- though they should always act lovingly toward one another.

Lorna said...

I like what Chris wrote here :) the root question is sacrifice and that applies to both sides.

What is God's heart in this?
What is His teaching?

How do we apply BOTH within the UMC?

I don't pretend to understatnd the heatedness of this debate (from either side) - and I can say is that I feel God's groans about it all.

There's a lot of disunity where He wants unity, there's a lot of finger pointing where he wants us to embrace each other.

Michael said...

Lorna makes an excellent point about unity. Unfortunately, regardless of which "side" one is on, unity essentially means that we are "not united unless you agree with me".

jean said...

Thanks David for your comment on my blog.

Actually there was conversation--at the last General Conference; reported by Good News and distorted by many.

"Will the conservatives stay in the UMC long enough to have a conversation?" Very good point. I for one would have had to make some very tough decisions had the Judicial Council ruled otherwise. I propose a new slogan: Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Bible!