Thursday, November 15, 2018

Which Tent Do You Want to Live in?

Far-right traditionalists have long maintained that General Conference in February 2019 will not really be about human sexuality. It will be about something deeper. They are right.

A sample of what I mean:

- "This is not a new battle in the church. Every generation has had to confront the false gospel that would deny the Lordship of Jesus." - WCA President, Keith Boyette

- "The Fallacy of the Big Tent" - title of column by Good News Vice-President, Tom Lambrecht

- "The Judicial Council has defined connectionalism in a new way which will change the United Methodist Church. As now defined by the Judicial Council, connectionalism allows 'room for diversity of theological perspectives and opinions.'" - Boyette, after the October 2018 Judicial Council decision

These are the primary spokespeople of the far right in the UMC. Just look at what each of these quotes means:

- If you disagree with us on human sexuality then you are preaching a false gospel and deny the Lordship of Jesus. I've pointed previously to Lambrecht saying the same thing. He denied saying what he said because it's not politically correct. But just listen to the words. I hope we can all agree that denying the Lordship of Jesus is a pretty high offense. I don't want to be in the same denomination as one who denies the Lordship of Jesus or preaches a false gospel. That person is pretty much by definition not a Christian. This is why many people with traditional views on human sexuality will ultimately not want to be part of a WCA denomination. We are capable of recognizing that significant differences in theological opinion does not mean some are dismembered from the Body of Christ.

- "The Fallacy of the Big Tent" makes for a good title but poor theology. First, every tent has stakes in the ground that mark the boundaries. I, for one, appreciate those who remind us of the boundaries. But in his column Lambrecht criticizes "a 'big tent' enclosing many varied perspectives, opinions, and practices within one over-arching church." This should be contrasted with "if your heart is as my heart take my hand" and "in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." The choice before us is whether we will live in a big tent or a pup tent. The One Church Plan envisions a big tent that is bound together by our doctrinal standards. The Traditionalist Plan envisions a pup tent where we achieve unity by group-think.

- And as further proof of that statement, see Boyette's rebuttal to the Judicial Council. He criticizes their judgement that connectionalism "allows room for diversity of theological perspectives and opinions." I am not familiar with a Methodist church that does not allow room for diversity of theological perspectives. Which of our local churches does not allow room for diversity of theological perspectives? Which of our annual conferences? In  which era of Methodism did everybody agree?

The areas where we do have, or at least should have, agreement are our doctrinal standards. Those standards are silent on LGBT inclusion. A trumped up case was made to the Judicial Council that our doctrinal standards do speak to this because Wesley's Notes on the New Testament (which are officially part of our doctrine) refer once to marriage as between one man and one woman. I can't recall any other time in my ministry that someone has appealed to Wesley's notes, which are out of print by the way, as the sole basis for a doctrinal position. Wesley's notes also identify the Pope as the beast in Revelation (chapter 13, verse 1). So if those notes really are doctrinal standards that we all need to adhere to then we all need to be clear in our teaching on Revelation.

I believe the vast majority of United Methodists - even the vast majority who have signed on to be WCA members - do not envision pup tent Methodism.  We envision a big tent with lots of room. A Methodism that holds fast to essentials and allows diversity in non-essentials. That's what we're voting on in February. I'll be voting to keep you and me in the same tent.


  1. Thank you, David! You speak truth to all of us, especially those who misrepresent the gospel. There are many of us in the UMC who are inclusive AND believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ!!!

  2. From shortly before GC2012 to shortly after GC2016 I spent a lot of time cruising the internet listening to every voice I could find within The United Methodist Church. By the time Gc2012 was over my image of The United Methodist Church was as a gianormous square raft with umpteen paddles lining the four sides, each paddling the best they new how. Sometime later my image shifted to water spilled on the floor trying to go multiple directions at once, making effective leadership impossible. By the time GC2016 ended, my image was cats with their tails tied together.

    A view of the denomination that very few people had--especially those in leadership--was The United Methodist Church is only one branch of Methodism which is only one part of the much larger and much more diverse holy catholic/universal Church. This understanding allows for common theology amongst all the different denominations while allowing each denomination to possess additional theology that is only unique to it. John Wesley very much had the understanding that what he started was part of the Church of England which was part of the much larger universal Church. Wesley never expected for a single faith tradition to try and embrace multiple and conflicting theologies. He himself left the Fetter Lane Society and moved to the Foundry because of theological disagreements that were not as deep as ours. He talks about why their are multiple faith traditions in his sermon, "The Catholic Spirit".

    I was raised on the understanding that The Methodist/united Methodist Church was a unique part of the Universal Church. I have been stunned to discover that it is literally drowning in theological plurality that leaves it saying absolutely nothing in particular. I now understand why I ended up spending the bulk of my life in a non-descript gray area where I could not find comfort with God or the world; as John Wesley said, that is a miserable existence. I am also no longer surprised that people are not choosing to become United Methodists and that it is suffering from a long time numerical decline that has the capability to make it disappear. I am all for everybody having the freedom to teach and live as they see fit; I just do not have a desire to share a church with some of them. I do not believe that a single denomination should be saying God does and does not believe in something because that is saying God is indecisive and double minded and those are not the words I would use to describe the God I now know. On amore logical note, I prefer to cast my lot with the Christianity that has a proven track record, not something new invented in my lifetime. The long term understanding of sexuality that Christianity has historically upheld and current American denominations that are not dwindling away still uphold is that sexual relations are reserved for one man and one woman. Yes, Christianity has "gone off the rails" from time to time and I believe this new sexuality ethic is one of those times. But I will defend the right of those that disagree with me to teach and live as they feel convinced they need to teach and live.