Can this marriage be saved?
For the last two years, United Methodists have watched and waited as the Commission on a Way Forward met and considered ways to resolve our increasingly fractious differences over human sexuality. These differences highlight our other, more fundamental, differences over theology and the nature of religious authority, particularly the question of the normative value of Scripture.
Now the Commission has issued its report to the Council of Bishops, which formed it, and the Council has issued -- not exactly a report, but a statement of intent. They have recommended exactly the option that has been rejected several times before by General Conference. Leaders of the Council then said they wouldn't produce the final report to February's called General Conference until just before the deadline for petitions. That way, no one could take their text and provide easily-made amendments to it. And then, for toppers, those same leaders -- acting on behalf of the Council, but without the Council's voting to have them do it -- petitioned the Judicial Council to try to exclude any other petitions from being received.
Meanwhile, members and pastors and congregations are becoming increasingly frazzled and angry. We are like marriage partners in the early stages of a divorce: not yet committed to court action, perhaps trying to find a good counselor, but in any case, thinking more and more of what comes after X. Dissolution of the covenant becomes more thinkable all the time. As it becomes more thinkable, it becomes more nearly inevitable. As it is perceived to be more inevitable, people begin to anticipate and act before the time is ripe: we see this now as various congregations, even in conservative conferences, are attempting to leave the denomination. Keeping the partners together in these circumstances is becoming increasingly difficult; even though most of us say
we want to stay together, actually mending the relationship so it won't fall apart at the first provocation after the "official" reconciliation is ever more likely. Trust has been lost. Desire has been lost. We hang on out of duty, or maybe faith in God, but our hearts are riven, and we are tired of fighting.
The dishonest and manipulative actions of the bishops have made everything worse. Charged with assisting with our healing, they have played dirty to win for their side, they who are not supposed to have a side other than the whole church. So, can this marriage be saved? I doubt it. Somebody will have to leave the household to get on to the next stage of our divorce. And then, the custody battles will begin -- because the bishops have so managed things that way.
God help us.