As I mentioned in previous posts, Last week I received a book in the mail, gratis: Seeing Black and White in a World of Gray. In both its title and cover design, it’s meant to be the rejoinder to Adam Hamilton’s ‘Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.’
‘Seeing Black and White’ purports to be the orthodox correction to Hamilton’s insufficiently biblical, conservative, traditional, historic, theological, _____________ book; that is, Hamilton’s book doesn’t take a sufficiently strong stand ‘for the bible’ and against ‘the gay agenda.’
The freebie book arrived at a time when some, like Adam Hamilton, in my United Methodist tradition are proposing a third ‘way forward’ through the stalemate over homosexuality and others are openly advocating for a conservative schism from the United Methodist Church.
‘Strategic disunity’ is the euphemism I’ve seen used by those who don’t want to see the Church’s strength frittered away in lawsuits.
I suspect those advocating for an amicable schism now have read the tea leaves and realize that, demographically speaking, they’ve already lost the debate on homosexuality. For people my age and younger, even amongst the most conservative evangelical tribes, homosexuality is a non-issue.
Conservatives will never be stronger on this issue than they are at the present, or perhaps better put, the conservative argument is only going to find a rapidly shrinking audience on this issue as public opinion continues to shift.
So better now than later for conservatives to take their assets and run.
The issue of sexuality aside, I find it ironic- and indicative of a deeper problem- that conservatives, those who by definition seek to ‘conserve’ historic institutions and whose frank assessment of human sinfulness leads them to take a dim view towards utopian-minded movements (like creating a ‘purer’ church), are the ones agitating for a schism from the larger UMC.
No matter how we might disagree over sexuality, conservatives should at least agree that an even graver sin we Protestant Christians continue to commit is Protestantism itself, our continued, unreflective disunity from the Church Catholic.
Conservatives routinely pray for revival in the Church but seldom, if ever, do they pray that the Spirit will so manifest itself by repairing what was torn asunder in the Reformation.
As Stanley Hauerwas writes:
The very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully worship.
Unfortunately, the Catholics are right. To be saved requires our being made part of a people separated from the world so that we can be united in spite of — or perhaps better, because of — the world’s fragmentation and divisions. Unity, after all, is what God has given us through Christ’s death and resurrection. Catholics can celebrate their disagreements because they understand that our unity is founded upon the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that makes the Eucharist possible. They do not presume, therefore, that unity requires that we all read Scripture the same way.
The Church’s unity is a present reality won by Christ on the Cross; it is not a goal we can attempt to achieve through politicking or persuasion.
All we can ‘achieve’ is harm to the unity already established through Cross and Resurrection.
There are myriad groups in the United Methodist Church advocating various causes in and around sexuality. There are those who want strategic disunity, those who want to maintain the status quo by asserting their demographic strength, those who want to find a third way and those who want to make the denomination more welcoming and inclusive.
Thus far, I’ve not seen any groups on Facebook or Twitter advocating for the reunification of Methodists with the Church Catholic even though the reason for the original ‘protest,’ justification by grace through faith, has been settled since the 16th century.
So rather than advocating for ‘strategic disunity’ through yet another schism in the One Body of Christ, rather than making another ‘protest’ an end in itself in the face of the unity won by Christ, I think conservatives should instead begin advocating for a Methodist reunification with the Catholic Church.
After all, at least there they’ll find brothers and sisters who already share their views on sexuality. Why wound Christ with another division to his Body when what conservative Methodists seek is already found?
Rather than spend their time and energy bringing yet another wound to Christ’s divided body, conservatives could expend those same resources attempting to persuade our Catholic friends to ameliorate their positions on celibacy, female ordination and the primacy of the bishop of Rome.
Moves that would give the rest of us fewer and fewer reasons, save our outright nationalism or prejudice, not to (re)become Catholic.
Not to mention, there’s the whole question of whether in a post-Christian culture the religious marketplace can afford to have so many competing, niche products.
Already ours is a culture that asks ‘What’s a Methodist? Presbyterian?’
The first resolution proposed for next week’s annual conference in my corner of United Methodism proposes that we make our official language more progressive towards homosexuality.
I expect that resolution will meet with its predictable counter argument.
Perhaps as the denominations that once fractured the Church Catholic 4 centuries ago fracture themselves it’s time for a different sort of resolution altogether.
I doubt the schismatic conservatives would claim me, but on their behalf: I move that we United Methodists seeking to heal the wounds long ago done to Christ’s Body take measures to reunify with the Catholic Church whence we came.
Only such a motion, I think, is true re-form.