Thursday, October 14, 2021

Why I'll Still #BeUMC #4 - The Big Tent Still Matters

 We all know why we are here. 

We have argued about abortion, government provided health care, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, the trust clause, the mission and purpose of the Church, environmentalism, I could literally go on all day. Every social issue and nearly every theological issue have been raised at General Conference and certainly in congregations around the world. And yet, organizationally, the story of the Methodist movement over the last 50+ years has been about uniting denominations, not dividing. 

Traditionalists will say this division is about the authority of scripture. They are wrong at best and lying at worst. We have disagreed about the interpretation of scripture for decades, too. None of these issues or conversations have caused a split. The split is simply because of one thing: LGBT+ people want to be fully accepted.* Maybe that's enough of a reason for the split, but we should at least be honest about it. 

Having said that, the group that is now leaving the denomination will differ from the UMC in a lot of ways besides just their exclusion. As evidence, you need go no further than ❡101 of the current draft of their Book of Doctrines and Discipline with the use of the word canon. There is a parenthetical - "the Greek word kanon means rule." It is true. It is also entirely unnecessary for the points being made in this section of the document. But the inclusion of this ancient definition is important - this group is focused on rules. It's not that rules are unimportant. Rules matter. One can think of the old metaphor of a tent - every tent has stakes that hold down the edges of the tent. If you go outside of the edges of the tent then you are no longer in the tent. 

Reason #4 I'll still #BeUMC - the Big Tent still matters.

I don't love the language, but the metaphor still works. The new denomination's tentative Discipline is heavy on just that - discipline. Everyone is welcome, as long as you think like us. That's not a denomination I want to be part of.

The church I serve now is a beautiful shade of purple. We can disagree on any number of topics and still worship together on Sundays. When I was on the Board of Ordained Ministry, I regularly voted for commissioning or ordination of candidates who were more conservative and more liberal than me theologically. Their theology was different than mine, but it was still Methodist. We do not all need to think alike. In fact, we are healthier when we have a degree of diversity. 

The Tent is not all-encompassing. There will be limits - again, on both sides of the theological spectrum. The tent may end up a little bigger or a litter smaller than I would personally prefer. But, at the end of the day, I don't want to be part of an intentionally Small Tent denomination that is defined by who they choose to exclude. I would much rather be part of a Big Tent defined by who we include. I don't want to be in a church defined by "Rule." I want to be part of a church defined primarily by Grace.

*I haven't finished reading the full text of the transitional Book of Doctrines and Disciplines. My favorite part so far is the paragraph on inclusiveness. First, note that we aren't splitting because inclusiveness is a priority either. They use the word! And they use it broadly! It's a good paragraph - except they don't mean really mean it. "Therefore, inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination on the basis of...[large list], or gender (defined throughout...by a person's immutable biological traits identified by or before birth.)" Literally, we won't discriminate against you unless you are LGBT+. Similarly, "Inclusiveness means the freedom for the total involvement of all persons who meet the requirements of our Book of Doctrines and Discipline in the membership and leadership of the Church at any level and in every place." Taken literally, this means people who are LGBT+ are not only banned from ordination, but from membership and leadership. That's an interesting definition of inclusion.

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