“Time won’t leave me as I am, but time won’t take the boy out of this man”--”City of Blinding Lights”, U2

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Papering Over Differences

Dean Snyder at Untied Methodist reports on the resignation of Cynthia Astle as the editor of the United Methodist Reporter due to "philosophical differences with management at the Reporter."

Dean writes:

Astle says she has also heard from several conference newspaper editors who say they are under pressure from bishops and council directors to remove letters to the editor and reader response columns from their papers in order to downplay dissent within the denomination.

I'm not an active reader of the United Methodist Reporter so I can't speak to how fair the paper treats controversial issues or even if the management is moving in the right direction with the paper. If it is an emerging trend to suppress debate or to ignore when there are real differences for the sake of unity or influencing public perception of our denomination, well then, the United Methodist Church will be diminished not strengthened.

There is a tension that must be held, however. How can we, on one hand, have vigorous, open debate on big issues but not focus on that which divides us? I don’t know, but I don’t think the answer is to paper over our differences. I think it may be one of the biggest problems that we in fact face in our denomination.

It seems to me that the as the UMC has struggled with controversial issues such as homosexuality that we have become exceedingly divided for two fundamental reasons. The first is willful ignorance of the varying hermeneutics present in our denomination. Homosexuality really isn't the issue; the issue is how we approach the issue of homosexuality. By failing to recognize that there are differing approaches as to how we read and interpret the Bible (specifically, how the Holy Spirit speaks to us today), we set ourselves up for failure, particularly since we do theology by democracy at General Conference. I suspect we remain willfully agnostic because of the second problem, which is an inordinate fear of schism. Fear of schism has prevented us from addressing the problem of differing hermeneutics. We suspect (and fear) that we may find that our hermeneutics cannot be reconciled. There will be winners or losers. But that is what we do when we do theology by democracy anyway. We create winners and losers. But I don't know that if we can't reconcile our varying hermeneutics that schism is the necessary result. We may have to fundamentally change how we relate to one another within our denomination. I don't know the answer. But ignoring and avoiding the problem won’t produce the unity we all crave, anyway. It only creates fault lines and caucuses.

One caveat. Don't read the above as endorsing separation. Read it as a plea to change the subject of our debate of late.

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