Let me be clear: I think honest conversation is righteous and healthy—even indispensable—within the Body of Christ. One of our goals at United is to help students have real conversations with people with whom they disagree. Part of our problem in the UMC is that political posturing has replaced intellectual virtue, and when that happens, the road ahead can look pretty grim.
Bishop McLee is calling for further conversation on homosexuality. Setting the issue of the church trial aside for a moment, I want to reaffirm that conversation and dialogue are essential within the body of Christ. I believe Bishop McLee is sincere in his desire to heal the wounds within our denomination. We were seminary classmates at Perkins, and while I didn’t know him well, I did know him well enough to come to regard him as a person of deep faith and integrity. Whether or not we believe what he is doing is right, I believe that he believes that conversation, rather than a church trial, is the best way forward for the UMC.
That having been said, I think we have to ask how productive this conversation can possibly be. Our beliefs on human sexuality are influenced by a host of other beliefs and assumptions. Our practices of and beliefs about reading scripture, our theological anthropologies, understandings of salvation, ecclesiologies, theologies of ordination, and theological understandings of the concept of marriage will all come to bear on how we understand the issues around homosexuality.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road: the current crisis we are experiencing over homosexuality is the result of decades of neglect of basic doctrine among mainline Protestants. Doctrine is not properly a litmus test to see who thinks the right things and who doesn’t. Rather, doctrine forms our worldview, and our worldview invariably affects our ethical perspectives. Put differently, the way in which we think about God and God’s relationship to humankind will shape our perspectives on how we are supposed to live in the here and now.
Many UM’s have gone for decades suggesting that we are committed to a theological method, not a specific body of beliefs. We have acted as if the doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Resurrection are interesting speculative ideas, objects of study rather than divine revelations about the living God. We have drunk deeply from the cup of modernity. We have placed our faith in political agendas and neglected the sanctifying power and work of the Holy Spirit. And here is the result: misunderstanding, anger, factionalism, and possibly schism.
Before we can have a meaningful conversation within our denomination about homosexuality, we need to begin to repent and allow God to heal us doctrinally. There is no quick or easy way forward. Will we do this, and can we stay together long enough and be patient enough to do so? As I said at the beginning of this post, the situation looks pretty grim, but with God, all things are possible.