When you get sick and go to a doctor for treatment, she won't just treat the symptoms but works to treat and eliminate the cause so you don't get sick again. When something breaks on your car, your mechanic doesn't just replace the broken part but tries to determine if there is anything else going on that needs to be corrected to prevent another breakdown. When an item malfunctions on the International Space Station, we don't just fly a replacement but work to figure out why it broke in an effort to prevent the same thing from happening in the future. In each of these scenarios, the doctor, the mechanic, and the engineer all repeatedly ask "Why?" to try and determine the real (aka. 'root') cause and address that problem instead of just treating symptoms, which will likely result in future recurrences.
Many people are asking about the state of the UMC today, "How did we get here?" Though much of the rhetoric in the UMC today focuses on the issue of human sexuality, I don't think the real issue in the UMC has anything to do with bedroom decorum. The root problem is much deeper and can be ferreted out using the same nerdy root cause analysis used by your doctor, your mechanic, and NASA. We just keep asking "Why?" until you can't dig any deeper. Let's try it...
The surface problem: the UMC is dividing over human sexuality, specifically over whether to affirm LGBTQ+ relationships (and clergy) as biblical.
Why? After 50 years of debate, both progressives/liberals and traditionalists/conservatives agree that there are irreconcilable differences between the two groups that prevent continuing as a single, united denomination.
Why? Traditionalists and progressives hold contradictory beliefs about human sexuality. Traditionalists want to maintain the wording of the UMC Book of Discipline while progressives reject the current statements in the UMC Book of Discipline. For those not familiar with the language of the Book of Discipline, its language affirms a traditional view about the intrinsic worth of all people:
The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth created in the image of God.
...a traditional view of homosexuality:
The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God's grace is available to all.
...and a traditional view of marriage:
We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God's blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Why? Progressives find the teachings of Scripture, as stated in the language of the Book of Discipline, outdated, offensive, or simply wrong. They believe that as society has progressed to the point of becoming accepting and affirming of newer views that Scripture calls sinful, the Church must follow suit lest we risk being irrelevant, unloving, or intolerant.
Why? A critical understanding/approach to the Bible--which is the prevailing viewpoint of clergy, bishops, and seminary professors in the UMC--believes that the Bible contains the word of God but is not itself to be equated with the word of God. Depending upon the eloquence of one's argument and appeals to human reason (defined differently than John Wesley and his contemporaries defined it), those taking a critical approach to Scripture advocate that some parts of the the Bible are not actually Scripture and may be safely discarded. While they will affirm that all Scripture is God-breathed, they will not affirm that everything in the Bible is Scripture. Put more simply, not all of the Bible is inspired or applicable to the Christian faith or the church. (More on this topic in a future post)
Why? Why do these clergy and professors believe the way they do? To be quite blunt (and without intending to be rude), they reject and disbelieve one of the core tenets of the Christian faith held by all believers in all times and places--with the relatively new exception of their own progressive group. Try as they might, this group can't claim to be faithful to the historic Christian faith or even claim to be faithful Methodists. John Wesley's position is very clear, as he wrote in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament (which is an official source of doctrine for the UMC):
The Scripture, therefore, of the Old and New Testaments is a most solid and precious system of divine truth. Every part thereof is worthy of God; and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess. It is the fountain of heavenly wisdom which they who are able to taste prefer to all writings of men, however wise or learned, or holy.
For Wesley and for Christians in all times and places, Scripture contains no mistakes and contains nothing that God does not desire to be there. It is, in Wesley's words, "a most solid and precious system of divine truth."
Returning to the top and our initial questions, "How did we get here?" and "Why are dividing over human sexuality?" Repeatedly asking 'why?' leads to the root of the problem, which is that the UMC is imploding over the apparent issue of human sexuality because of the sheer number of clergy and professors who reject not only John Wesley's view of Scripture, but the historic understanding that Christians have had for 2,000 years. The banter about human sexuality is a devilish distraction from the real issue that goes much, much deeper and can only be remedied by the grace of God.