The Problem with Unity
This past Sunday, while sitting in the Sunday morning session at the Unity Spiritual Center of Denton, I had a powerful flash of insight: This is the religious conservative’s worst nightmare and is one of the reasons why a split within The United Methodist Church seems to be nearly inevitable.
A quick overview of Unity: There are no doctrines to speak of, although there is much emphasis on healing. All spiritual paths are considered valid. None of the traditional Christian beliefs may be found here. No trinitarian understanding of God, no divinity of Jesus, no emphasis on sin, no liturgy, no confession or assurance of pardon, no baptism, no Holy Communion.
It affirms human goodness and emphasizes the light within each individual, spiritual healing, prosperity and the awareness that we create our own realities by our thoughts and words.
In other words, it can be seen as liberal Christianity’s inevitable end point, the slippery slope at its best. Indeed, the conservative’s worst nightmare.
The Certainty of Conservatism
I spent many, many years in the tight, doctrinally-boundaried, inerrant-text, clear demarcation between those going to heaven/those going to hell world.
Ultimately, I had to leave because my own intensive study of the Bible and observation of how it was being used left me with too much cognitive dissonance to stay. For the sake of my own spiritual integrity, it was necessary to depart. I was also essentially kicked out when I chose to leave a marriage where death was the only possible outcome for me otherwise.
In many ways, I miss it.
I miss the certainty, the ability to pronounce with absolute authority, “THIS is the word of the Lord,” and not have it questioned.
I miss my skills at discerning who was indeed heaven-bound and who clearly did not have adequately correct belief to make it to heaven.
I miss being able to proof-text with the best of them and the consequent gift of condemning others who disagreed while I sat in my safe world, surrounded only by those who were like-minded and clearly favored by God.
The Fuzziness of Progressives
The progressive side of things brings a much fuzzier world. So much certainty vanished, so much mystery took its place.
I landed very much in the cloud of unknowing, yet fed by the historic liturgy of the church, held by the Eucharist, grateful for the Book of Common Prayer which gives me words when I have none.
I hold to Trinitarian theology because those are the best words I have to handle the actual unknowability of the Holy One.
I confess my sins because I know they keep me from truly loving God and my neighbor well. I revel in the words of pardon and assurance because they set me free.
I love the Holy Scriptures, but no longer worship them. I think they offer us the Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who does indeed set us free. I also affirm they were written in a different time, in different cultures and without any awareness of what our times and cultures would be. Were they to be written in our time, I believe they would read very differently–and be equally as difficult to understand 2000 years hence.
But I understand why the conservatives/evangelical sector of the UMC genuinely fears that the progressive/liberal sector is taking the UMC in a dangerous direction. I can sympathize with why the conservatives think that full inclusion of the non-heterosexual world may be the final step to perdition.
I just don’t happen to agree with them. In fact, I think just the opposite. BUT, those conservatives/evangelicals are still worthy of respect and honor. Breaking connection with them serves no one well.
Do We Have Commonalities?
Some call across the connection to maintain unity with our differences, to stand together on our commonalities and to honor our differences. If we were to do that, we would emerge strong and hopeful.
But what are our commonalities? They seem to be slipping away.
Dan Dick gave me an idea in one of his excellent blogs: What if we could see our commonalities as rooted in these Wesleyan rules: Do no harm and avoid evil, do all the good that we can, and attend upon all the ordinances of God?
Wesley filled them out with particulars that related best to his time. We can fill them out with particulars that relate best to our time, to the locations and cultures where we serve and offer the words of grace.
Those particulars may differ widely, just as we are wide geographically. What is doing good in one culture may actively bring harm to another. What some people may see as evil (such as drinking, smoking, gambling, makeup, mixed bathing, etc.) may be seen as neutral activities in another.
I realize it is more complicated to live in a world with fewer rules. This is also the call to maturity. It is the call of Jesus who, quoting his own instruction as a faithful Jew, sums it up with just two rules: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The working out of those two rules gives us our individuality. The holding on to them offers us connectional glue.
We’ve got major, major structural/financial issues within the UMC that must be addressed if as an institution we have any viable future. Not one single decision will be easy. But they all become possible if we all agree that we wish to avoid evil, to do good, and to practice the disciplines that help us stay in love with God.