The Challenge of UM Dissent, part 1

Over at Locusts & Honey John has a post about the acceptable range of dissent in the United Methodist Church.

In the comments section David says, “I’m not sure why someone would want to be a United Methodist if s/he had strong objections to infant baptism.” Tim remembers from long ago, “I said something like ‘But your a lesbian! How… why… would you do that?’ Her response: ‘I’m going to reform the church from the ‘inside’ ‘.”Perhaps I’m just being irenic, but I think we see our root problem regarding these issues in these comments. It’s easy to dismiss our opponents (or if we’re trying to be more “spiritual” we’ll call them “those who think differently”) as bigoted, ignorant, out to destroy the church, tools of the devil or right/left wing special interests, liberals, fundies, etc. Some may be, but that’s not what I’m seeing.Instead, the people I’ve met over the years grew up in a denomination that was afraid to have a unified and distinctive doctrinal identity. When we grow up in a denomination where doctrinal pluralism is the de facto standard, why ought we wonder about what’s happening now?Doctrine has consequences. It’s not just a list of beliefs we have in our heads. It shapes our worldview, our actions, and our judgments regarding good and evil. With no clearly articulated and shared doctrinal vision for the past few generations in Methodism ought we be surprised when we find uncritical acceptance of the world’s views on sexuality, abortion, economics and war?It used to be that in the midst of this doctrinal confusion we could rely on authority – the Bishops and DSs and Boards and Agencies would keep us in line. Authority doesn’t seem to be working as well as it used to.

The oft-expressed notion, “If you don’t agree with the United Methodist position on X, then you ought to go somewhere else,” might work if we had maintained doctrinal discipline over the generations. But we haven’t. Although moderns would like us to think so, we’re not blank slates. Most if not all these folks in the forefront of arguments in the church have grown up in the church. They understand the positions they now defend as expressions of or faithful developments of what they’ve learned since infancy. That’s why people seek to “change the system from within.” They’re not trying to undermine it – they’re trying to bring it in line with what they think it ought to be in light of the vision of Methodism they’ve been given.

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3 Responses to The Challenge of UM Dissent, part 1

  1. Craig Moore says:

    Good post, we are not doctrinal pluralists, we have a plurality of doctrines. Even the post-moderns think they are right. Doctrine seems to be political no matter how pluralistic we say we are. Someone’s idea of the truth must prevail. The gay agenda is bringing all of our differences to a boiling point.

    Richard I think I need to read your book.

  2. parbar west says:

    Excellent point that our history of experimental doctrine influences the way we’re acting. “They’re not trying to undermine it – they’re trying to bring it in line with what they think it ought to be in light of the vision of Methodism they’ve been given.” True.

    Having spent my childhood and youth in another denomination, I and my friends also had a vision of what it meant to be a member of that faith tradition. A majority of others saw things differently, and for the sake of the kingdom many of us moved on.

    See my expansion on this idea here.

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