Good News Magazine recently published “Regarding United Methodism’s Future,” which is intended to be a report on the collective work of faithful United Methodist clergy and theologians navigating the disagreement of the Church’s relationship with homosexuality. Many are presenting this document as a fair and centrist opinion of the church itself, which unfortunately is not the case. “Regarding United Methodism’s Future” seems to suggest a traditionalist’s view of a means for moving forward in this long and exhausting debate. Although I applaud these 80 participants for gathering to discuss this difficult and divisive topic, “Regarding United Methodism’s Future” is well crafted to positively position a traditional view while negatively expressing progressive understandings. To be fair, the document does not claim to hold any authority, nor does it claim to be an unbiased presentation, so my major concern is with this document being shared as if it is either centrist or somehow official. With that said, here are three reasons why “Regarding United Methodism’s Future” is unhelpful.
1. Assumption of Crisis– The document begins saying, “We have come together because of the crisis besetting our beloved United Methodist Church.” The young gay man who finds a safe place to be in ministry does not understand this to be a crisis. The two women who have been living together for 25 years do not see this as a crisis. The perception of crisis is a symptom of fear. Some would use the word “Liberation” or “Maturation of faith” to express the struggle many in the church are facing. Some would express the tension in our pews to be a manifestation of a wilderness journey toward a promised place of inclusion. I may be a bit dramatic, but so is using the word “crisis.”
2. Presentation of a False Dichotomy–There is the assumption that one is either a traditionalist or a progressive. If there are only two sides presented you must treat a false dichotomy with swift and immediate suspicion. Resurrection means there is a Third Way, a way beyond compromise, a Third Way of Gospel truth. The world says there is life and death. Jesus said there is life, there is death, and there is resurrection. To be fair, social liberalism is based in defense of a perceived victim. Liberals don’t know what to do without a victim to defend. Likewise, social conservatism is founded in protection against a perceived enemy. Social conservatives wouldn’t know what to do without a perceived enemy. With crisis language and only two camps in the discussion, this is clearly written from the social conservatism view.
3. The Flavor of Language–The language used to describe the traditional view is positive, for example, “Traditionalists are convinced that God’s will . . .” and “Traditionalists affirm the sacred worth,” whereas language describing progressives says, “Progressives cannot change their minds . . .” and “Progressives will not be satisfied.” So the language suggests that Traditionalists are trying to please God while Progressives rest upon their own understanding and uncompromisingly want all or nothing.
I do not pass judgement on the document itself. It’s not a bad stab at reconciliation, but nor is it entirely good. It is carefully crafted to present a positive traditionalist view, creating a literary environment in which Traditionalists are the good guys looking for a “win-win” way forward while Progressives are causing crisis and division. You may agree that this is, in fact, the case. I’m not saying it isn’t; rather I feel compelled to point out that this document is not an unbiased and centrist opinion. I understand the importance of finding the Via Media, a sacred middle path through which the bread is broken and the importance of sharing the common cup into which Christ’s blood was shed. I’m just saying . . . this document isn’t it. Just sayin’