The United Methodist Church is a large, bureaucratic institution. “Connectionalism,” is one of our highest values, “congregationalism” one of the vices we most loudly decry. These aspects of our polity mean that what happens at the top really matters. When bishops set the discipline aside they act like Louis XIV – “L’Eglise c’est moi.” I don’t need the wisdom of the church. There is no account of wisdom, holiness, or justice, higher than my own conscience. Why submit to authority we deem ungodly?
When bishops act this way in the context of a connectional, authoritarian polity, their lesson is not lost on those over whom they reign. Maybe those who serve beneath them should listen to their consciences as well, against the church as embodied in their leaders. If bishops can ignore the discipline with impunity, perhaps we can as well. Why submit to authority we deem ungodly?
Where will it stop? The presenting issue, our conflict over what do to about competing accounts of human sexuality, is not going away. If we separate, our separate bodies will only retain the purity of our “justice,” “truth,” and “holiness” for a short time, before cracks appear. If we separate and build tall fences, walls, or moats around our bastions of purity, we and our people are still immersed in an American culture infatuated with sex and dulled in our ability speak with nuance and care by a constant drumbeat of “love,” “affirmation,” and “inclusion.” Our prior (generations long) marginalization of doctrine has eviscerated these good words of the needed connection to the Christian narrative and tradition that give them healthy substance.
But then the Catholics among us will say that separation is just what Protestants do. We divide. The Bible our standard? Truth our standard? Justice our standard? Not at all! Only our own private interpretation of these is the standard. Until we set aside our individualism, separation will be our story.