A Deep Theological Divide

I love the Christian Century but I wish they'd get into this century sometime soon. (Their website's now two issues behind the print edition.)

The latest Century has a piece by a O. Wesley Allen, a self-desribed liberal in favor of a proposal floated by Bill Hinson, president of the Methodist Confessing Movement, for an "amicable separation" between liberal and conservatives in the Methodist Church


Because, Allen says,the dispute over homosexuality have revealed that the Methodist division "goes down to theological core."

Methodists, he adds, answer these questions differently.

  • What is the root problem of human condition--what constitutes sin?
  • What is salvation and how did Jesus bring it?
  • What is the mission of the church?
    How do we understand and interpret scripture?

Here's how Hinson put in his statement:

There is a great gulf fixed between those of us who are centered on Scripture and our friends who are of another persuasion. Repeatedly they have spoken of the need to get our church in step with our culture. We on the other hand have not desire to be the chaplain to an increasingly godless society. Rather our desire is to be faithful to the Word of God.

It's in stark contrast to the view taken by Rev. Jonathan Baker of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Fairfax, Virginia, in an article from the Delaware NewsJournal.

  • "I hope we can model a positive way to stay at the table in dialogue. I believe we can agree to disagree. Unity is not uniformity."

  • The faith has always been open to a variety of expression on topics such as racism, slavery and war, he said. With that in mind, he was disappointed that delegates voted down a resolution that said: "Although faithful Christians disagree on the compatibility of homosexual practice with Christian teaching, we affirm that God's grace is available to all."

Back before I was a journalist, I worked in student housing at university, where we trained our staff in negotiation--because one of their biggest jobs was resolving roommate and neighbor disputes. We used Getting Past No by William Ury. He stressed getting past people's surface disagreements to the underlying issues. We had to find out what was at stake, and if those underlying issues were in conflict --then there was no chance at negotiation.

So what's at stake in the Methodist, (and Catholic, and Presbyterian, and Episcopalian) debates on homosexuality or abortion or stems cell or communion or you name it?

A clash of worldviews.

On side is the "conforming to truth" group," who believe that:

  • Being a Christian means dying to yourself and submitting you life to the the truth of God's kingdom
  • truth can be found in Scripture or the traditional authority of the church
  • truth counts first--no matter what you feel on the inside
  • that Christianity is mainly a individual relationship--how I respond to God's call.

So when a member of this group looks at the question of homosexuality--and they conclude as NT Wright did , that "a Christian morality faithful to scripture cannot approve of homosexual conduct," than any attempt to ordain or marry or otherwise affirm gays and lesbians in the church is apostasy. A direct violation of a core value. That's what's at stake, and there's no compromise.

On the other side is the "embracing in love group," who believe that:

  • being a Christian means to love God and your neighbor above all
  • love is more important than truth
  • Jesus came to welcome people on the margins--including gays and lesbians
  • that the mission of the church is to bring the norms of God's kingdom--justice, peace, and love, to the society.

So when this group looks at homosexuality--they say, God's grace is for everyone, Jesus would include and affirm gays and lesbians, and so do they. To do otherwise would be apostasy. Again, no compromise.

The example of slavery, raised by Rev. Baker, may help illustrate this. The reason we've got Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists in because the two groups split over slavery--there was no compromise on either side, in the end, as the pro-slavery and anti slavery issues were polar opposite--the more the church tried to push the together, the more the poles pushed back.

The Methodists, at this year's General Conference, rejected the idea of a split, but Hinson and other's aren't ready to give up. NT Wright described the rift over homosexuality among Anglicans as a "kind of irresistible force and immovable object question" and that definition fits many of these disputes.

I've not seen much reporting that takes this kind of worldview clash into account. Maybe I'm way off here--I'm certainly not in favor of another church split.

But the answer to the dispute between these two worldviews isn't going to be compromise--at least that's how I see it.

It's either conversion or separation.


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