We continue to see an escalating conflict in The United Methodist Church over the issue of homosexuality. However, as many have noted, our church’s teaching on homosexuality is just the presenting issue. The divisions in our church go much deeper, affecting many of the core issues of our doctrine (deity of Christ, atonement, resurrection of Christ, authority of Scripture, etc.).

I have had an interesting window into those deeper issues lately, as a number of Wisconsin clergy have been exchanging opinions on our annual conference clergy email list. I would like to quote a number of the comments there, not to indict individuals, but to illustrate the deeper divisions that exist.

“’I identify as Christian and reserve the right to define that as it applies to me,’ that is how I speak of myself these days, if needed.”

In other words, there is no objective definition or description about what it means to be a Christian. Anyone can define that any way they please, and anyone can call themselves a Christian. In the same vein, anyone can call themselves a United Methodist and define that however they like. We have no objective shared identity.

“It seems to me that Anselm’s theory of atonement theology has made God a blood thirsty, punitive, child abuser who decided to kill his first son to forgive his other children’s sins and then sends people who don’t buy this flawed doctrine to hell.

“I agree with Albert Einstein when he said, ‘I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation.’” (emphasis original)

These remarks hearken back to the “Re-Imagining” controversy that rocked the church in the early 1990’s. One of the doctrines explicitly rejected there was the doctrine of atonement. “Re-Imagining” theology is alive and well today in United Methodism.

“I also agree with Thomas Jefferson when he said, ‘St. Paul was the first corruptor of Jesus’s religion.’ Perhaps it is because St. Paul made the religion OF Jesus religion ABOUT Jesus.”

“Philip Gulley said, ‘I argue against the deification of Jesus because of my admiration of him. I believe his promotion to divine status contradicts the Jewish faith of Jesus and ultimately encourages behavior inconsistent with the ethic of Jesus.’”

In other words, Christianity isn’t about Jesus. I think the early church would be shocked to know that. And the “deification” of Jesus contradicted his own self-understanding. Never mind what the Gospels report Jesus as saying about himself, as well as his miracles. (Oh, wait! Those didn’t really happen.)

“Thomas Jefferson said, ‘The clergy converted the simple teachings of Jesus into an engine for enslaving mankind and adulterated by artificial constructions into a contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves…these clergy, in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ.’”

I don’t know when Thomas Jefferson became our doctrinal authority. After all, he is the one who cut out of his Bible all the verses relating to miracles or the divinity of Jesus Christ. I guess he knew better than the biblical writers who Jesus was/is and what true Christianity entails. What floors me is the attitude of the clergyperson who would quote Jefferson as attributing to the clergy (including himself?) the motivation of enslaving others and gathering wealth and power unto themselves. How could anyone with that view of the church possibly remain in the church, much less serve as an ordained pastor?

Perhaps the situation is best summed up by this comment:

“We know what the other side believes and why. We still disagree. That is not due to a lack of logic by one side or the other. It is due to the fact that we operate out of different assumptions of how the world works, and ought to work. We have different worldviews. This means different definitions of God, Church, justice, sexuality, Biblical authority, grace, moral foundations, etc. We logically reach different conclusions (positions) because we start out in different places (assumptions). “

It is no wonder that we have such deep and irreconcilable differences in The United Methodist Church. We are operating from different worldviews, using the same words but with completely different definitions. If we were to wave a magic wand and resolve the dispute over the church’s teaching on human sexuality, we would soon find that other doctrinal issues would come to the fore. Right now, those other differences are camouflaged by all the “noise” of the argument of sexuality.

These comments make one wonder where the Board of Ordained Ministry was when these people were accepted into ministry. On the other hand, how could candidates take the vows of ordination, while disagreeing so deeply with the church’s doctrine? And if a clergyperson’s beliefs have “evolved” into something different than what our United Methodist doctrinal standards teach, where is their integrity to acknowledge that fact and withdraw from our church? Unfortunately, many boards of ordained ministry are controlled by persons of more “progressive” (and sometimes even non-Methodist or non-Christian) theology. They allow others who believe this into the church because they themselves believe this way.

Those who think we should give up fighting over the biblical teaching on sexuality by “agreeing to disagree” are fooling themselves. Such a “resolution” would not bring peace in the church.

What do you think?