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Saturday, September 10, 2016

MY CHURCH: CHURCH SPLIT OR CHURCH PALAVER?

This week's post is a meditation on this article: 

“Professor fears church division is ‘a given’”
United Methodist News, September 2, 2016





Can The United Methodist Church (UMC) hold together

The potential for a split is elevated because a few regional conferences of the UMC have declared that they will not implement church law prohibiting practicing homosexuals from active clergy work.

THE UMC  WILL HOLD TOGETHER, given a measure of tolerance of others’ views. I disagree profoundly with the Ted Campbell, the professor headlined above--the person who announced that church division is “a given” in his speech to the recent World Methodist Council meeting in Houston, U.S.A. My point is that the splitting of The United Methodist Church (UMC) has not occurred and need not occur.

I learned ABRUPTLY in the early 1970's that Christians disagree on the matter of homosexual practice. One afternoon a profoundly committed Christian student sought my counsel privately on a non-academic concern of his. In my office he confided that he was a practicing homosexual and held church membership in an anti-gay congregation. His congregation had sent him to a therapy camp where he would be made Christian (i.e. “straight”). It didn't work. In tears,he confessed that he'd endeavored sincerely to become straight through confession and prayer but discovered that change was impossible. Still in tears, he asked for guidance on how to resolve his dilemma: how to continue as a Christian and as a gay man. 

Since then, I’ve met and worked with many Christian gays, including several in clergy roles. As clergy, many offer tremendous ministerial and leadership skills as ordained members of the church. And as evangelists: they offer links to gay communities. For these reasons, acceptance of gay persons in ordained status is the direction in which Christianity is evolving, particularly in North America. Let’s thank God that homosexual practice isn't a forbidden personal identity in some of our UMC conferences and in several Christian denominations.

It's reported that, in his speech at the World Methodist Council meeting, Professor Campbell included a sad story of a divinity student who decided to turn away from pursuing his God-given calling to Christian ministry when he learned that the United Methodist Church would not ordain him. I'll bet that this fellow had great personal integrity. To resolve his dilemma he gave up his divine calling to ordained ministry, left his course of training, and took up a different vocation. Sad. So sad that his advisers did not refer him to a church body that would ordain him.

By their voting in their 2016 General Conference of the UMC, a majority of delegates signaled their belief that it’s still “One man, one woman for a lifetime” for ordained clergy. Why? Some refer to the African delegates' votes as tipping the balance.

My understanding of the Africans' situation is this: many African societies still legalize polygamy. In one African nation, for example, over 30% of married women are in polygamous situations. In such cultures the “one man, one woman” standard upheld by United Methodists makes sense. 

WHAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE is to exclude--to "excommunicate?"--entire North American annual conferences that have come to acceptance of homosexual persons in clergy roles. A split is what the professor declares has happened. 

I'll call it excommunication. Expelling the affirming conferences denies them the right of employing clergy-persons living gay Christian life-styles. Ejection implies excommunication.

But here's the odd thing: the Church doesn't forbid lay members to live gay life-styles. The U.M.C. employs a double standard: one standard for clergy, a different standard for lay persons. Go figure.

The most Christian posture in our present denominational situation would be to practice holy conferencing. That means to ask, “What do you mean, and why?” Step 2: listen, assuming the best motive on the part of the other person. If decision-makers can get to that point, a reasonable and holy compromise structural resolution can be found by granting more autonomy to conferences and congregations on the matter in question. 
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The UMC prides itself (I think “pride” is the correct verb, and that's regrettable because pride often comes before the fall) in its status of a Global Church. In my opinion, the UMC, does not meet the criteria required to be truly global. To be a truly global church would accommodate reasonable differences while still affirming the one holy, apostolic faith.We UM's live around the globe but we're not yet a truly global church. We have legislated against an accommodation of reasonable differences. 

Traditional West African villages have a lot to teach the UMC. When a serious dispute arises in the village, the chief calls the elders and villagers to their  meeting place to palaver. In the palaver, the chief moderates. He or she asks each side to state its position. The chief keeps the palaver in session until a settlement is reached that satisfies all. The village unity is maintained. The goal is to get beyond claims of harms done that, if unaddressed, would tear the village apart.

A palaver does not proceed by majority rule. The goal is to talk until that mutually satisfactory solution is found. The palaver process restores the village unity.

Our UMC Global Church would better consider itself to be a global village and adopt the goal of a satisfactory resolution through palaver. 

I’m quite sure that church merging processes can happen in reverse and lead to good results. In fact, I’m confident that my membership in a post-split affirming denomination would be more satisfactory spiritually than the current name-calling, judgmental, rule-bound process at work in the UMC.

However, I conclude that better consequences--a better Gospel witness and superior financial management as well--would result from maintaining The United Methodist Church if it finds a way ahead satisfactory to all, as in every successful village palaver.

The 2016 General Conference authorized the bishops of the UMC to convene a council to study the matter to seek an acceptable solution. Perhaps this commission will be serve as a palaver for the global village called the UMC.

Prayers that the council may be successful representatives in our global village palaver and discern a resolution acceptable to all.

Never say "Impossible." Never.

1 comment:

ronald frederick said...

We went through this years ago in the UCC. The Congregational Church in Steilacoom was upset about the affirming position of the UCC. Sadly, I was on the anti gay side of the issue and we eventually withdrew from the UCC to be a non denominational church. However, God loves humor and one of my children became part of that Gay Community whereupon I received much education. After being a member of that church for nearly 60 years, I have now left partly because of the one man one woman policy they now follow.

Ron Frederick