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. Thanks, David for highlighting the inherent contradiction between the purported purpose of “dialogue” at the Connectional Table and the blatant example of manipulation it turned out to be. The Connectional Table exercise in “dialogue” unfortunately does not help build either trust or unity within the United Methodist Church.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding was that the CT approved DRAFT legislation that must then be DEBATED and APPROVED at a later date. The motion to even consider such draft legislation as a starting point for discussion was narrow, meaning the final draft may not even get approved by CT. That being said, I do think it sends a bad sign for supposedly “open minded dialogue” that you begin draft legislation on pro-LGBT legislation on the first day of said dialogue, and then only have one out of your three panelists speak up in favor of the status quo in the UMC.

    Responding to other comments on this post, those who oppose LGBT marriage and ordination do so because they think that sex outside the marital union of man and woman is sinful, and that the church universal should not condone sin. To simply leave such decisions to pastors and conferences sends the message that we as a church do not have a concrete stance on what constitutes private sin, which is problematic. Of course, some argue that we crossed that rubicon when the UMC universally allowed divorce and remarriage of members and clergy, which is a point worth considering for people on all sides.

    Another point worth considering for people on all sides: if we as a church are going to redefine marriage in accordance with the increasingly dominant American cultural understanding of marriage and sexuality, than what ground do we have to stand on to continue to put our fellow Methodist in African nations in awkward situations by banning polygamy? If we wish to treat marriage as some sort of “local option” or “legal option,” then to me it smacks of colonialism to say that our churches in other cultures can’t define marriage in accordance with their culture, but we can define marriage in accordance with ours.

  3. With the administrative and spiritual violence being imposed on the Discipline and resources of the church, the Connectional Table could better spend their time in providing a template for a cordial separation of the two entrenched camps. It is time to quit wasting valuable financial and time resources on circular arguments. Separate cleanly and let each group pursue what they perceive as the calling to reach people for Christ.

  4. If a local church is divided in this situation, which group gets the building? The members who get the most votes their opinion? Do they announce that a vote will take place and recruit persons to attend and cast a vote in their favor? Is it a secret ballot so people can vote without letting their opinions be known? Jesus gave two commands: Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Liars, drug addicts, LGBT, divorced individuals can’t vote because they’re not in line with the Bibles teachings? I appreciate both sides and would have difficulty making a decision. I’ll let God cast my ballot for me.

    • There can be no “amicable separation.” If you think spending the next 40 years in court litigating the assets of just about every local church, then separation is a great idea. Nothing like giving any remaining assets we might use for mission and ministry to lawyers

  5. People on all sides agree this is unlikely to pass at General Conference. Of the 5-6 dozen people in the room (including this observer), only two were from Sub-Saharan Africa, where some 40% of our denomination lives. Yet as the liberal majority rammed its agenda through, I saw no interest or attempt on their part to hear from the representatives of this portion of our global church.

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