I am now about to wade into the muck of an issue I have avoided, but feel I can do so no longer. The subject of this post has been on my mind for a long time now. As I write, let me state that this post is not about whether the UMC should continue to reject or change its position and endorse gay marriage. If you want to engage in that discussion, as important as it is, there are plenty of other blogs in which you can participate. The purpose of this post, and let me be clear, is to make what I think has become the obvious case that the United Methodist Church is definitely moving toward a split... a schism and it is unavoidable. (I have to say that the Protestant use of the term "schism" amuses me. For five hundred years Protestants have multiplied by dividing and now we are treating "schism" as some great sin... well... that's another post for another time.) I am not interested in this post in the virtues, or the lack thereof, of gay marriage. Rather, I want to focus on what I think is the obvious truth-- the days of the current United Methodist Church are numbered. I am very sad about that, but I think it is the coming reality.
Consider this scenario: a couple whose marriage is in deep trouble decide to go to a counselor to save their marriage. Both husband and wife want their marriage to continue. The problem is that he continues to physically and verbally abuse her while she continues to have affairs with other men. In counseling it is very clear that each person believes the problem is the behavior of the other alone, and that the solution to saving the marriage is for the other spouse to cease their egregious behavior while the other one keeps on keeping on. One side wants the other to stop church trials for violating the Discipline while the other wants the opposition to cease violating the Discipline.
In this parallel with the UMC, the husband symbolizes the traditionalists who believe that the progressives (the wife) is breaking the covenant by not keeping the vows they made. The wife, the progressives, are charging the traditionalists (the husband) with abusing the lgbtq community by their continued opposition to full inclusion. One side believes the other is alone at fault. Both sides want to save the United Methodist marriage, but both sides believe only the other is responsible for the very rocky relationship; and each side is accusing the other of being the schismatics.
Now, would any marriage counselor have any hope for a marriage to continue in such a situation? To be sure, God can work miracles in any troubled marriage, and it can be so in a deeply fractured church, but all the talk about unity in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit has not changed the clear truth that the subject of human sexuality for both progressives and traditionalists in the UMC is a non-negotiable and that will not change.
And let add a word about the local option. When it was first put forward I read the proposal with interest and spent some time in reflection. The progressives see the local option as their attempt at compromise, but here is the problem as I see it. First, for the traditionalists approval of gay marriage, even in the local UM setting is still a bridge too far. Second, a change toward the local option will not be sufficient for progressives because their view of human sexuality is also a non-negotiable. The local option will be a first step toward a global church that is fully inclusive as they understand it. Again, for both sides we are dealing with non-negotiables. Moreover, letting individual Annual Conferences decide the matter will not solve the problem. Instead of having a big fight every four years, it will happen every year at many Annual Conferences because whatever is decided at the AC level will not be acceptable to the other side. It was quite clear at the most recent General Conference that neither side trusts each other. Accusations of dishonesty to under-handedness abounded from both sides. Now that it has come to this can we seriously believe the marriage can be saved? Vital unity needs diversity, but diversity for its own sake unifies no one.
Only two matters remain: first, how long will we deny that the divorce is coming; for the longer we deny it, the more painful the breakup will be. Second, what will be the terms of the divorce? It's time to admit that our differences are irreconcilable and no amount of theological and moral argument will bridge the impasse. As a theologian it is difficult for me to admit that, but I believe it is true.
The problem with non-negotiables is that they are non-negotiable... and non-negotiables make differences irreconcilable.
It is sad, but it is true.
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