May 3rd, 2012

sin happens

So, who's being oppressed, here?

General Conference is dealing today with issues of human sexuality, which means that the drama quotient is going to be sky high before the morning is out. Already, angry gay protesters have disrupted the Conference, in defiance of rules specifically prohibiting such exercises. I'd call the protestors "brownshirts" (such are their tactics), but I suppose "pinkshirts" would be more appropriate. Meanwhile, I'm reading a lot of carefully nuanced blogs and FB posts by progressives, full of coded language. I'm so tired of it all.

We conservatives/evangelicals live in the same world the liberals/progressives do. We wrestle with the same ambiguities. We know and love people who don't conform to our preferred lifestyles. We want to be as generous and loving toward every human being as we can possibly be. We are not the sex police.

Why, then, despite all the "holy conferencing," can't we agree together? Because "agreement" in this case means wrapping our tongues around saying things we sincerely believe are not true. It means not just cutting people a break, showing them grace, but baptizing their sin and saying it isn't a sin any more. And while, weary as I am, I might be willing to do that just to buy some peace, it's not up to me. I don't have the authority to do that. General Conference doesn't have the authority to do that. And so we slog on, defending our post, even without hope of relief, because we've been set here to do so.

Yes, we all sin. And no sin is worse than any other. But while we can all forgive those who lapse into this sin or that sin, even more than once, only the gay rights folk want us to redefine sin so as to say one sin out of all the others isn't a sin at all, but a blessing from God. That's as bad, and as deformed in its values, as saying that one sin out of all the list is worse than any others (which is what they accuse us of). No sin is worse than any other. No sin is better than any other.

Calvin Coolidge came home from church one Sunday. His wife had stayed home because she was ill. "What did the preacher preach about this morning?" she asked. "Sin," he replied. "What did he say about it?" she asked. "He was against it," said Silent Cal.

We're supposed to be against sin. That doesn't mean we're against sinners; after all, "sinners" means us, too. And while I'm willing to take people as I find them and do not lecture them about their lifestyles (such action would be as rude as the behavior of the protesters in Tampa), when I stand in the pulpit of God, I am bound to the truth. I have only one book to preach from, and it says that this is a sin. No amount of clever handling of the text can get it to say that it's not a sin. And the whole history of the Church, and Judaism before that, says that it's a sin. Not a worse sin than the others, and certainly not a better sin than the others, just a sin. And, as I hope to be saved from my sins, so I am under obligation to call things by their right names, even as I tell people that Jesus can take away our sins.

No matter how many times you make me sit in a circle and do "holy conferencing," I am under orders from God not to say what you want me to say. So, could you just beat me bloody and get it over with, please? And then we'll go on to something else.
lindisfarne gospels

Methodist shoptalk

Demographics is where it's at. Forty-one percent of the delegates to General Conference are from the four Central Conferences (two in Africa, one in the Philippines, one in Europe). They came prepared to be full participants, and it's rattling a lot of people's cages.

Now, the delegates from outside the USA are not all the same in their outlook on issues. The Europeans are no doubt more like the Americans than the Africans in their views on social issues. Africans and Filipinos aren't much of a muchness, either, and shouldn't be always lumped together. And, of course, none of these groups are monolithic voting blocs, even on issues they feel strongly about.

The big issue (at least, to some folks) is homosexuality. Here, the amendments that were proposed (again) to our Book of Discipline failed by a vote of 40%-60%. Let's take a look at that. I know of no way to accurately canvass the votes of delegates (nobody does exit polls), but I'm guessing that at least three-fourths of the Central Conference delegates voted against the amendments. Many Europeans probably voted for them, and some Africans and Filipinos (the most westernized) probably voted for them, too. So, let's say the split among Central Conferences was 10-30. That leaves 60% of the vote coming from the US, and the toal vote was 40-60. Which means the US was split almost right down the middle, about 30-30.

Last GC, there was an attempt to make the US a Central Conference and give each Central Conference the ability to write its own rules on certain things. You can bet your sweet bippy one of those "certain things" was going to be rules on gay marriage and ordination of homosexuals. In a dead-even split amongst Americans only, the chances that some day, somehow, the forces of (they call it) "progress" would eke out a victory are pretty good. That didn't happen; meanwhile, the numbers of Central Conference (especially, African) delegates keeps rising, since that part of the Church is growing, and our part is declining. For progressives, this is all terribly depressing. And it brings out a resentment, couched in muttered, old-fashioned racist code -- muttered by some of those who've made a career of chastising the rest of us for our supposed racism. It's ugly.

No doubt, as the number of African UMs increases and global connections among UMs also increase, the proportion of Africans voting against gay empowerment will decline, though I doubt by much (at least, in my lifetime). Of course, the efforts of conservative/evangelical/orthodox groups like the Confessing Movement to contest the elections the last two times out has made the American delegations more reflective of the UMs in the pews than would sending the usual suspects, as we used to do. So, as Africa grows gradually more liberal, there's nothing that says the American UMC might not grow more conservative. But that's all long-term. In the here and now, the Africans (and Filipinos) either saved the ship from sinking or hijacked it from its appointed course, depending upon whom you talk to.

Me, all I can say is,
As cold waters to a thirsty soul,
so is good news from a far country. (Proverbs 25:25)