“Why should your County tell my County what we can allow within our borders?” was asked. The riverboats were promoted as a local option, with each County able to accept or reject them. For the record, only Warrick County said No. And now, we have not only riverboats (which cruise no more, but stay permanently docked), but also land-based casinos and horse tracks with pari-mutuel betting. The public fisc is now utterly dependent upon gambling revenue, and ALL of us have to spend the State’s money (and our missions offerings) on dealing with the social ills associated with the gaming industry’s presence in our State.
Local control is a myth. What is permitted in one place becomes the new reality throughout the State. Which we should keep in mind when we assess the opinion given by our bishop, Mike Coyner, on the controversies that threaten to tear apart The United Methodist Church. Let each Annual Conference decide its Social Principles for itself, he suggests. Let each Annual Conference elect its own bishop and hold its clergy accountable to whatever standards it wants. So, gay marriage and gay ordination (the current hot-topics, but not the only ones that have ever arisen, or ever will) could be permitted in Annual Conference A, but forbidden in Annual Conference B. Where’s the harm in that?
I ask, is this not basically the same thing Adam Hamilton & co. asked for last time around, and which the Progressives have asked for for several quadrennia: that we simply agree to disagree and let everybody (meaning them) do what they want? It hasn’t been looked upon favorably before, but maybe if we vest everything in the Annual Conference, somehow it’ll work this time. After all, Annual Conferences are large, stable bodies. But no more stable than States within the Union. Remember the controversies in society (and Church) leading up to the Civil War: the States where slavery was permitted were not content to keep slavery within their States, but felt that unless slavery were permitted throughout the Union, they would somehow be imperiled. Their agitation led Abraham Lincoln to remark that he didn’t think the country could continue, half-slave and half-free, but that we would become all one or all the other. And so it proved.
So it would prove with The UMC, I think. Our connectional polity provides a means of rapid cross-pollination of ideas and practices. When somebody in the Holston Conference sneezes, people in West Ohio get cold feet. So unless The UMC is prepared to dissolve itself completely into two or more successor denominations, each with its own covenants which it is willing to enforce, then allowing local control on such vital matters is just a way to surrender one’s post without looking like one is doing so. If a Biblical example of such behavior is desired, one might look to Hezekiah, who foolishly gave away the keys to his kingdom to the Babylonians, but thought himself well satisfied because the crash wouldn’t come until after his reign.