GC2019 Reflections — Issues and a Question (What all sides failed to do or do well)

Posted: 2019/08/27 in Bible, Christianity, Church, Ecclesiology, Jesus Christ, Theology, UMC

As someone occupying middle ground between conservatives/traditionalists and progressives/liberals in the UMC, I have been pushed to reflect on GC2019 and its aftermath. This piece comprises my observations regarding about the conference’s debate (if we can call it that) and the One Church Plan.

Point of disclosure: I was once both disaffected by the church and an Atheist, and can still look into the church from the outside. I am also the Peter Abelard of the UMC in that I question everything.

The following are issues and a question raised by GC2019 that are based on the following observation:

Neither the Commission on the Way Forward (CWF), progressives (Progs), nor the traditionalists (Trads) effectively argued their positions. The Progs and Trads simply presented their long-held and hardened positions and the CWF laid out its plan without any underlying justification based on our Wesleyan (or any) theological process.

ISSUE: There was a failure to look at the conflict over human sexuality, specifically how to approach non-cisgendered persons and the new realities they present the church, from an outside perspective. The conflict remained internecine with positions on all sides being presented but not adequately defended. It was a significant error to not give serious consideration to the perspective of NONES, the unchurched, those disaffected by the church, and Atheists, all of which are persons we are called to reach out to by The Great Commission. Had these perspectives been considered, I believe there might have been far more work put into establishing the positions that were taken rather than simply putting them forward. It was most disappointing that the CWF presented their One-Church Plan with the implicit assumption that no one outside the UMC would be interested in the denomination’s debate, thus they failed to include critical arguments regarding the Bible, church tradition, current understandings of sociological and psychological issues, and the dynamics of lived experience.

QUESTION: What is the exegetical, ecclesial, and pastoral position of Trads and Progs that takes into account the best biblical scholarship and exegetical practices, the historical scope of church teaching from a wide perspective (I.E. not just about human sexuality), sociological and psychological understandings, and the lived experience of real people (both cisgendered and LGBT)?

Both Trads and Progs needed to present critical, detailed arguments to support their positions. Neither did this.

Trads simply claimed homosexuality a sin, marriage as comprising a man and woman, and biblical authority as if they owned the Bible and its exegesis yet they did not make the case for why they believe they are right (more specifically, they did not make the case to someone who does not hold the same perspective and presuppositions). They also leaned on church teaching as if it never changes. If that were so then the Bible would still be in Latin and withheld from laity, and we might still be burning witches following trial by the Inquisition.

On the surface, it seems that Trads look at experience and reason somewhat abstractly rather than as integral parts of who we are as humans created in God’s image. If we use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as a rubric for theological reflection, then what I have observed is that Trads address Bible and tradition while ignoring reason and experience (or they look upon them with skepticism).

Progs were just as presumptuous, claiming that because LGBT persons suffer exclusion and disaffection due to language in the Discipline, then that language needs to be removed. They claim a felt need for inclusion in a church that has failed to keep up with changes in society, but they have not addressed how changing the position of the church is not mere cultural accommodation. If the church means to be the counter-cultural reflection of the kingdom of God, then more needs to be said by Progs as to how their position comports with almost 2,000 years of biblical exegesis and church teaching. They need to address what the Bible says about human sexuality (specifically homosexuality) and the composition of marriage as we claim the Bible as our primary authority. They need to address the church’s historical positions on these matters as well.

ISSUE: During GC2019 debates, an number of Trads argued Jesus’ teaching on marriage from what I consider to be a manipulated eisegetical viewpoint. Over and over, Matthew 19.4-6 was cited as the argument that Jesus taught that marriage is between a man and woman, thus same-gendered marriage is wrong. I believe this interpretation reads too much into the text and does so in order to support the Trads’ position on marriage. A close and more extensive read shows that the context is a question about divorce, not about the composition of marriage. In his answer, Jesus was reciting the traditional rubric about marriage found in Genesis 1.27 and 2.24 in order to set up his argument against divorce in Matthew 19.6-9. In other words, Jesus was not teaching about the composition of marriage, which no one in his audience would have questioned, but about commitment to the marriage covenant. Trads needed to work a lot harder to establish their claim that Jesus taught heterosexual marriage.

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