Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Those Pesky People In the Pews, or, Facts Are Inconvenient Things

This blog builds upon a former blog, “The Problem of Labels, Assumptions, and the Economy of the Whole,” which can be found by clicking here.

As a former United Methodist General Conference delegate and politician (now retired by choice), it has been interesting to watch what has happened post GC2019 and the present attempts to reach a better end to GC2020. Some new plans have come to fruition (though some of them are similar to older plans using different names and nuance). 

A new delineation in labels and “sides” is attempting to make this a binary issue so that we can have things neat and binary for the sake of arguments. It is, after all, the American way: people are trying to frame the UMC into the two sides of “traditional” and “centrist/progressive.” Such is getting traction among those who will be in the ring of General Conference 2020.

There’s one flaw in this: such only defines a very, very small percentage of United Methodists. Nearly all these frenzied discussions are among clergy or laity holding significant leadership positions. 

What about the 10+ million people who sit in pews across the world? Are we so sure that they fit into this neatly-assigned polarity of “traditional” and “centrist/progressive?” My hunch is, there is a huge disconnect between (a) delegates, leadership of interest groups, and clergy, and (b) the people in the pews. The fact is, there isn’t any factual information supporting such a binary reality in the pews at all. 

My somewhat-informed observations reveal at least this much:
  • There are always extremes, but most UM Christians believe Jesus is the Christ, and believe in a historical and literal crucifixion and resurrection… even those who embrace the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ folks. This confounds the traditionalists… and the progressives.
  • Most of American United Methodists live in “red” states, as do most Americans. That is something traditionalists usually celebrate… until they dig a little deeper and realize that partisan politics and church politics don’t always jibe… especially in areas of sexuality. Extreme progressives sometimes to fail to acknowledge that most UMC’s are located in red states and areas.
  • Traditionalists have divorcees among their ranks – which represents a conundrum to those using strict interpretations of the New Testament on traditional marriage and who is eligible for church leadership. Also, other than on LGBTQ+ issues, many folks would be considered “traditionalist” in belief and practice. Some progressives have not reconciled LGBTQ+ full inclusion with their faith. These folks are often ostracized by their “constituencies,” but they are more numerous than either “side” likes to admit.
  • There are LGBTQ+ folks that vote Republican. They also hold to traditional church doctrines and traditions. That drives traditionalists and progressives alike absolutely nuts. 

One layperson came to me concerned about “voting” as a congregation: “If we begin a list of bullet points that we are going to start voting upon, we’re not going to have much of a congregation left.” I agreed.

I wonder how our traditional and centrist-progressive camps at General Conference, along with our special interest groups, are going to deal with the larger majority of United Methodists who don’t find themselves represented by either camp?

The “middle” is bigger, wider, and deeper than most think. If a new narrative doesn't replace the present one that has us in our present gridlock, we are doomed to make the same mistakes.. which will lead to continued split after split after split, and continued decline.

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty. Our American way of aligning by partisanship and a false sense of certainty isn’t going to help us that much in a Christian faith that has at its heart a mystery.