Someone recently expressed confusion when I offered a critique of the petition drive to urge the bishops of the United Methodist Church to issue a statement regarding same-sex weddings and unions. (Read about the whole issue here if you are unfamiliar.)
Not that my tiny voice carries any weight beyond the walls of this blog, but I have been wrestling with the question of whether to sign the letter for a few days and wanted to share the outcome of that process.
The basic point of the letter I support. The bishops of the UMC should do what the office of bishop requires.
If the letter had been a fairly short statement to that effect and a pledge of clergy support for the bishops in fulfilling their role within the connection, I would have signed it.
I have three reasons for not signing it.
First, I am not as alarmed as the pastors who wrote the letter. I do not think the future of the denomination will be thrown in jeopardy by the rebellion of the 900. I certainly do no see “destruction” as a result of same-sex unions being performed. They are performed now with a wink and a nod. It will strain our unity. It will make our life together more challenging. It should not be ignored. Proper church discipline should be used. But it is not the end of the UMC.
Second, there is a a slight whiff of hypocrisy about this call for strict enforcement of the discipline. I have read the list of original signers of this document, and I know some of them to be quite adept at pressing at the boundaries of our doctrine, discipline, and polity. Even in this letter upon the sanctity of the General Conference, they lob verbal grenades at the General Board of Church and Society, which last time I saw was authorized by the General Conference, too. The blessed sanctity of the General Conference seems to extend only so far.
Even more than that, the letter hints at laity revolt as a justification for denominational policy. The pastors suggest that if gay marriages take place, they will no longer be able to force their churches to pay apportionments. This is a not-so-subtle threat as many of the signers of the document are appointed to churches that pay substantial sums to the conference and general budgets of the church.
Finally, the letter implies the bishops have more control than they do. Bishops do not sit in the juries at church trials. They cannot suspend clergy for chargeable offenses unless a committee has voted to endorse that idea. They do not determine punishment when someone is found guilty. They do not even select the jury pool at church trials.
Yes, the bishops can issue a statement, but they cannot stop the 900 from breaking the discipline. They cannot unilaterally do much at all right now. Suggesting that they can do something decisive to reverse course or halt the rebellion is not a fair representation of the situation.
I am not a fan of church politics and this feels like it is more that than anything else, at least to me.
It is quite possible I am mistaken in some of what I understand to be the case. But if I am not, for these reasons, signing the petition. It simply does not speak for me.
I am certain the denomination will survive my abstention.