Disconnect at the Connectional Table

Recently the Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church engaged in a dialogue over human sexuality. I was under the impression that the purpose of dialogue was to increase understanding, and perhaps even reach consensus. Apparently I was wrong. According to an article on UMC.org,

The Connectional Table, one of The United Methodist Church’s governing bodies, has decided to draft legislation that could change church law “to fully include LGBTQ persons in the life and ministry of the church.”

The draft would be brought back to the Connectional Table at a future meeting for consideration. The April 29 decision to draft the legislation came the same day the Connectional Table began a series of three public discussions on human sexuality.

Wait a minute…. The decision came the same day as the Connectional Table began their discussion? Doesn’t this type of legislation presuppose the outcome of the discussion? If this is how we’re going to operate, why even have the discussion at all?

In 1957 Rudolf Bultmann wrote an essay titled, “Is Exegesis Without Presupposition Possible?” In this essay he argued that all of us bring certain presuppositions to biblical exegesis–this is in fact unavoidable. Nevertheless, we must avoid wholly predetermining the conclusions of biblical exegesis. We reach these conclusions only after rigorous investigation.

The Connectional Table could take a lesson from Bultmann here. We all come to the questions around homosexuality in our denomination with presuppositions and biases, but if our common discussion is to have integrity, we must not presuppose the conclusions of our common inquiry.

The same article continues:

San Antonio Area Bishop James E. Dorff opened the discussion with a Bible study based on Jesus’ prayer for his disciples’ unity in John 17:20-26. Dorff told those in Chicago and online that Jesus prayed for unity so that Christians can be a witness to the rest of God’s people.

“What is our end game?” Dorff asked. “Will we be of one mind? I doubt it. Will we all be of one church? I sure hope so. Will we all be brothers and sisters in Christ? I hope so.”

Sadly, the chances of our all being of one church have never been slimmer.

24 thoughts on “Disconnect at the Connectional Table

  1. I saw no one at the CT who expressed a different view from what they had expressed before. That is not a sign that the mythical “center” has shifted.

  2. I wish I would have made the time to watch this “discussion.” It sounds like it was an interesting forum. From some other stuff that I read (perhaps better stated, skimmed), I was under the impression that the legislation was to allow for freedom of theological expression as it pertains to the integration of the LGBTQ community into the church (membership, marriage, etc.). I read this as an attempt for the church to hold the middle: that is clergy in favor of monogamous same-sex relationships could perform weddings, but that the decision was totally up to the pastor (i.e. no one is going to be forced to do anything they don’t agree with).

    Here’s my question: aside from convincing everyone to completely agree on everything (it will never happen), how can the church maintain unity in the midst of our various theological opinions? How can we honor our varied theological viewpoints without suppressing the implications of their practice? Perhaps, I’m too optimistic, but I see this as an attempt by the Connectional Table to provide a way for us to be united in our diversity. It may not be the right answer, but at least they’re trying. If it’s not the right answer, I’d be curious to know what the alternative might be. How can we move forward together, making disciples and transforming the world for Christ’s sake?

    • I couldn’t tell you what the outcome of the effort by the CT might be, but I would guess that it would include an acknowledgement that the Church “is not of one mind” on the subject (a blindingly obvious statement). Further the conducting of same sex unions would be removed from the list of chargeable offenses. Perhaps discretion over ordination and appointment would be returned to Annual Conferences and Bishops. No one on the “left” with whom I am in contact has any agenda of forcing people to conduct marriage or commitment ceremonies they don’t want to (Weddings are ALREADY a matter of pastoral discretion). Nor do they have an agenda of forcing ordinations or appointments where they are not appropriate. I’ve been told by friends on the “right” that such a settlement would be unacceptable to them. For the life of me, I can’t understand why.

  3. This type of behavior is starting to look like Good News and IRD’s type of “discussions.”

    The problem isn’t that the issue hasn’t been talked about. The problem is that we’ve rarely had discussions that would matter. We are looking like our political parties, which makes sense, since both sides seem to be using their playbook.

  4. Thanks for all of these comments. I appreciate your posting them, and I’ve read them all. I really don’t know what to say…. The whole scenario speaks to a level of dysfunction that seems out of control to me.

  5. David, I know I am labeled as downer dan but this is exactly what I’ve been seeing for years. My call for separation IS call for separation from this kind of situation. It is sad and it happens on all levels by all sides. I love that United is a place now that can be a plum line but the rest of the institution is rotten to the core. It can be redeemed and given new life… And it will take schism for that to happen. God will bless it.

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