...none of us knows "how" this proposal can "save the day." But if we were willing to get together, might God not show us a way forward we have not yet seen? Jeremiah 32:27. I just cannot give that up, so I sign--not as one who buys the whole deal hook, line, and sinker--but as one who believes a broad coalition of UM's engaged in holy conferencing might be a group into whom the Spirit might blow like a Wind and descend like tongues of fire. But now, as then, we must be "all together in one place."
After that conversation I went back and read "A Way Forward" again and I am reconsidering my earlier comments. I agree with Steve completely on the opportunity that is before us with this proposal, so like Steve I am willing to consider what is being written for the sake of further discussion. However, unlike Steve I am still unable to put my name to it for the following reasons. I raise these concerns not as rebuttal, but to be part of the kind of holy conferencing on this issue that Steve hopes will happen as a result of this proposal.
First, I know that over the years the General Conference has given more latitude to individual congregations in reference to governing themselves, but I wonder if something as critical as human sexuality should be essentially categorized in the same way as a church's freedom in organizing itself. What kind of ecclesiology is involved in allowing for the local option on sexuality? We don't give the same leeway in reference the doctrine of the Trinity. Why are core Christian convictions about sexuality a "think and let think" matter? These are honest questions I ask the Way Forward folks.
Second, as I have said before, I highly doubt we can have a coherent theological discussion on homosexuality when we can't have a coherent theological discussion on marriage and sexuality in general. By this I mean engaging the discussion of homosexuality in the larger theological circle-- a theology of human sexuality, a theology of marriage, marriage and creation, marriage and redemption, the place of children in marriage (biological and adopted), marriage and celibacy as calling and vocation that bears witness to God's kingdom, et al. It seems to me that we have the theological resources available to us but it seems that one side just wants to quote Scripture while the other side simply wants to talk about loving relationships with an amorphous and squishy notion of inclusiveness. We are not using the wisdom of the ages. Why is human sexuality not connected to our "core set of theological, missional and ministry convictions," to quote the Way Forward proposal? The "Way Forward" proposal assumes that it is not. Can someone explain to me why it is not?
Third, I serious doubt that the Way Forward proposal will stop the debate and the protesting that goes on at General Conference every four years. Those on the side of keeping the Book of Discipline the same see this as a nonnegotiable issue in a way that will not allow them to accept the local option. Those who do not leave will continue to fight to change the Discipline back to the previous position on this matter. And there are those on the other side of this issue that will find the local option not acceptable because it does not go far enough-- nothing less than wholesale denominational affirmation of homosexual practice in the covenant of marriage will do.
Fourth, it seems to me that even if the local option is adopted and we painfully muddle through it, there will still remain strong tensions between churches on one side or the other, pastors on one side or the other, and between conferences (though I think the last one will be much less pronounced). It is my hunch that many on both sides feel so strongly about this issue that the "live and let live" option will be very hard to live with over time.
I offer these concerns as a way of starting a serious conversation. If "A Way Forward" provides us with a way to have that conversation between people who see things differently, and if it truly leads to a holy conferencing moment when the winds of the Spirit blow, then count me in as a supporter of "A Way Forward," albeit without my signature.