The UMC: Leaving Behind The Hope Of Dialogue

The UMC: Leaving Behind The Hope Of Dialogue March 8, 2019

In late February this year, delegates from The United Methodist Church met and, leaving behind the hope of dialogue, pushed the win/lose discussion to its furthest limits. The most likely future: a split that will devastate many and leave what has been a powerful connection in shredded shambles.  

When my husband and I married about 3 ½ years ago, one particularly difficult task faced us as we combined households: what to do with all the books.

Both of us love books; both have collected them avidly over the years. While I, personally, also have given away thousands of books when things got unwieldy, my sweet husband has, I believe, kept every single book he has ever acquired.

We’re lucky enough to have dedicated library space in our house and felt sure we could accommodate all of them.

The aforementioned sweet husband took on the task of cataloging, in his unique system, all the books and then finding a place for them.

I did not help him. I had the rest of my belongings to unpack and place. So, without my input, he grouped the books in essentially two categories: “religious” books and everything else. The “everything else’s landed in the “fiction” section. Since he had not read any I brought, he made guesses, lots of guesses.

Since then I have not been able to find a single book I brought into the house, despite the fact that the again aforementioned sweet husband kept telling me, “I don’t understand the problem: they are arranged alphabetically by author.” Well, yes but . . .

UMC: leaving behind the hope of dialogueHaving been just a tiny bit frustrated about this, I finally took advantage of the recent cold weather and the need to stay inside and started re-arranging all the books.

No Overlap But Hope For Dialogue

I have become increasingly aware in the short time of this fascinating marriage that what I see and hear at any given time may have little or no overlap with what he sees and hears at the same time and in the same space.

And it is clear that his way of categorizing books has essentially no overlap with the way I categorize them.

I am only partway through the process. Many hundreds of books cover the floor, tables, couches and any other place I could find to put them temporarily while I re-sort them. I found several books I have been needing for several months (years?) now. Some contained research for my doctoral work; others had important historical religious facts that I wanted to reference in my writing.

There was no way I could remember the author’s names to find them—I had always sorted mine by genre and knew where they were by a visual memory of where they sat on my bookcases.

leaving behind the hope of dialogueNothing like two different worlds, both correct for us individually, colliding as a couple! Fortunately, as I display my system to that sweet husband, he’s finding it workable and has now, after not being very happy about my project, pronounced, “This is going to be great!”

The hope of dialogue in faith communities

And, of course, our lives together also mirror the lives of those of us who seek to participate in faith communities. Two people, or two faith communities, can look at the same thing, and perceive it completely differently. They can both be right—but only if they agree that the world is much larger than their unique perceptions of it.

Unfortunately, such generous accommodations to multiple points of view tend to happen in faith communities far less than is healthy. “Either/or” discussions predominate rather than “both/and” dialogues.

I use the terms “discussions” and “dialogues” intentionally. “Discussions” tend toward a win/lose outcome; those engaging in “dialogue” seek to mindfully hear each other and learn together but also respect differing conclusions.”

In late February this year, delegates from The United Methodist Church met and, leaving behind the hope of dialogue, pushed the win/lose discussion to its furthest limits. The most likely future: a split that will devastate many and leave what has been a powerful connection in shredded shambles.

I covered the conference, blogging extensively, and growing increasingly disturbed. Three young clergymen there with the Press do a podcast called “Crackers and Grape Juice,” where they interview various religious experts about the issues confronting the church. I had done a couple of podcasts concerning United Methodist Church before but had never met the three of them in person until then.

Since we were together, we recorded two more podcasts. I spoke of the win/lose situation we were facing and confessed that I, too, was trying to find a way to “win” for my preferred position.

I also candidly admitted that by taking such a stance, I did great damage to my own soul. I firmly believe that the Kingdom of Heaven has nothing to do with a “winning” or “losing” side or with identifying who has the “best” doctrinal positions, but everything to do with acknowledging that the only thing that matters is the outpouring of grace from God.

This grace was most clearly seen by Jesus’ statement just before his agonizing death, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.”

Right now, there’s a lot of forgiveness needed. May God indeed have mercy upon us.

Photos: (c) Christy Thomas

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jon Xavier

    Common grace is for all people. Food, rain, stable government etc. Salvific grace is for those who believe, actively trust, in the God who is revealed in the Bible and live according to those standards. It is a narrow way that leads to life. It is the broad way that leads to destruction. Hence, the division which will always be there.

    This issues raised are not new. Homosexuality was widespread in the ancient world. But, just as much of the church has let go of belief in revelation, so they have let go of the God of the Bible, and thus of its standards, invariably resulting in pagan morality cloaked as modern, progressive, enlightened….even love and grace. When, in truth, it takes us back to world that was very much in darkness. Consequently, we’ve also come to the place that we are willing to abort newborn children, again, just as the ancient pagan world preceeding Christianity.

    • pittardm

      You cannot “abort newborn children.”

      • Ron Swaren

        He’s referring to infanticide of children near term.

        • pittardm

          I know. And this notion that lots of women are giving birth then killing their babies is total bullshit.

      • R/R 2016

        “Abort” is just a euphemism for kill.

        • pittardm

          Nobody is killing newborn viable children.

          • soter phile

            Google: Kermit Gosnell

          • newenglandsun

            The Gov. of VA wants to.

      • newenglandsun

        Not according to the Governor of Virginia.

  • Helen

    “I use the terms “discussions” and “dialogues” intentionally. “Discussions” tend toward a win/lose outcome; those engaging in “dialogue” seek to mindfully hear each other and learn together but also respect differing conclusions.”

    I love this distinction! Never thought about it in quite this way before; my husband and I were discussing this very thing yesterday ~ I think he’ll like it too! Thank you!

    By the way, I too sort my library by genre, but also by height ~ which makes my husband laugh ~ it pains me greatly when I find I can’t sort them by order of size!

    • soter phile

      You can’t use semantics to dodge the depth of the divide. It’s a denial of reality.

      If your husband brings home another woman & says he wants an open marriage, the terminology (are we having a ‘discussion’ or ‘dialogue’?) will not matter. He’s destroying the marriage, whether he sees it or not.

      And to the degree he insists on his semantics, you’ll only be all the more infuriated at his denial of reality.

  • Andrew

    “For many will come in my name saying “I am the Christ”. When I think about that word many it suggests a group of people where that group itself claims its way, is collectively, is the route to salvation. The many seem by their action to deny him.

  • Jon Altman

    Every time I asked what was wrong with “live and let live,” (More or less The One Church Plan), the response I’d get was “We just can’t do that.” I couldn’t get an answer to “why.” I think that question was literally incomprehensible to some I asked.

    • soter phile

      Why? in a word: hermeneutics.
      If you can make the bible say that, you can make it say anything (2 Tim.4:3; Gal.1:6-9).

      But I do imagine they stood their with their mouth open looking at you.
      The fact that you were still asking the question… after all this debate… yes, incomprehensible.

      • Jon Altman

        Making the Bible say “anything” is something hardly confined to “liberals.”

        • newenglandsun

          Liberals have no authority to stand on. If they don’t stand on the Church’s authority, they have not Christ.

  • newenglandsun

    The only way for the Church to be united is if it takes hard stands on morality and faith. This is how the Church flourished in the early years.

  • Linda

    This blog post makes me sad. But it rings true. It reminds me of evolution — yes, I “believe” in it. One theory is that a species may be split by a cataclysmic event, like an island splitting apart. Individuals on one side start out the same as those on the other side, but evolution goes on, and the changes on one island aren’t the same as the changes on the other island. Give or take a few hundred thousand years, and the two populations are so different from each other they are no longer capable of interbreeding, and have become two species.

    Some folks and churches have been so isolated from the others that they don’t speak the same language anymore. And they don’t understand the gospel in the same way. Example: I served one parish where a segment of the congregation did not baptize their infants. Neither did they let their children participate in communion until they were old enough to “decide” for themselves to be baptized and confirmed in the church. And said baptism was to be full immersion. I tried to acknowledge their wishes as I found a place to do the baptisms, but what if one of the people in this group had gone into ministry. Would that person baptize infants?

    Another is language. We’ve all recognized that the way we talk isn’t the way that other pastors talk. We’ve been siloed off so long we’re not even speaking the same language.

    Another is preaching. At one charge, I got a phone call from the Nazarene minister who was telling me most kindly that members of my church went to his Bible study and prayer group on Wednesday night. OK, said I. And then he went on to say that he hoped this isn’t true, but he had been told that I had been there for several months and hadn’t had one sermon on the crucifixion of Christ. I explained to him that, as he was a Nazarene, surely he knew that Wesley taught about sanctification, and that had been the focus of my preaching the last several months. Because of the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, we are enabled to become more holy — sanctification. And that focusing only on the crucifixion doesn’t allow the congregation to engage in the process of sanctification. He seemed flummoxed and said he would pray for me.

    So when it comes to something as esoteric as atonement theory, or theodicy and you run into real brick walls. Unfortunately I think we don’t talk to each other enough. But then, if we did that, Annual Conference, i.e., an argument may break out.