National and UMC Church Politics

            Although the general election is still eight months away, we’re in the midst of the primary season.  I can’t turn on the TV without some political debate, town hall, political ad, or panel discussion on who’s winning or losing the primaries.  The distinction between the two parties on the issue of homosexuality has never been starker.  The Republicans still use us as the bogeyman, and the Democrats are finally pushing beyond grudging tolerance to full acceptance.  Both parties seem fixated on same-sex marriage and never even mention discrimination in employment and housing.  The federal employment non-discrimination act has been bottled up in the Congress for 20 years.

      My intent is not to tell you to get out and vote Democratic; you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog if you were not already one.  I won’t even argue against the shibboleths of the radical right that seem to make more outrageous statements every day.  Even they can’t out-do Donald Trump.

      The big vote for me this spring will be at the United Methodist Church’s General Conference that is held every four years.  Since 1972 they have been debating homosexuality and the Book of Discipline, the official doctrine of the church.  More and more people, including both clergy and the laity are choosing to ignore that doctrine and to question its relevance and Biblical authority.  The church is in open revolt even though most are not talking about a split such as recently occurred in the Anglican Communion over the issue

      The harangue will go on for a good part of the 2-week conference in Portland, and no one can yet predict the outcome.  It’s church politics mimicking national politics, and the two sides are dug in.  Dialogue, discussion, and discernment have become meaningless phrases as the debate lingers on even longer than the national political campaigns.

      Too many people, both clergy and laity, already have left the United Methodist Church, and most mainline Protestant denominations have gone on to other issues.  Well, some blame it on the differences between the US conferences and the African conferences.  The General Conference is made up of about 1,000 delegates from the regional Annual Conferences.   The fact is that there is just as much division within the US as there is internationally.

      So who cares what the Methodists do or don’t do?  After all, they are declining in membership and are certainly less powerful than the Roman Catholic Church that also hasn’t budged on this issue as a matter of theological doctrine.  It means that immigration, refugees, inequality in basic needs, racism, global warming, and the seemingly eternal war in the Middle East never are even discussed.  If the UMC can’t show leadership on these issues, does it become irrelevant?

      We already face a gulf between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and the ecumenical movement of the 1970’s seems dead, with the exception of the current Pope.  The Protestant churches aren’t even part of the discussion.  The politicians seem to be preoccupied about whether or not we should become a theocracy like Iran. I wish that we had a 3-month duration on elections like the British.

      We’re going to have a press conference in Raleigh Friday by one of the UMC dissident clergy.  Whether the public debate will have any effect on church policy remains to be seen.  After 40 years, I’m getting tired of the whole thing.