I wanted to offer a critique of the via media especially in regards to the current state of affairs in the United Methodist Church.
On some issues in the United Methodist Church, we feel free to agree to disagree and still be in covenant with one another. I call these things nonessentials. Think about the issue of Abortion. I am pro-life, but I know many of my colleagues are pro-choice. I do not feel threatened by their pro-choice stance. I don’t think that they are threatened by my pro-life stance. We can agree to disagree and still be in the same church together. It doesn’t affect our ability to be in the same denomination because the United Methodist Church’s stance on abortion can be viewed as a pro-life position with minor exceptions or as a pro-choice position with minor exceptions depending on who you talk to. It is a great example of a via media thought process. The issue of abortion is not something we are going to split over.
War is another nonessential issue in regards to unity in the United Methodist Church. We have people who have a variety of views on war from pacifism to just war theorists. The United Methodist Church has clergy who are military chaplains and clergy who are peace protestors. Again this is not something that the church is going to split over. We are committed to staying together and continuing to discuss these things together.
Now some things in the church are what I call essential things for us to be a united denomination. Most Methodists would agree on these essentials to define what it means to be a United Methodist. Think an emphasis on God’s grace(Prevenient Grace), repentance and transformation(Sanctifying Grace), a movement toward holiness(Perfecting Grace), and Wesley’s Rules. I would call these things essentials. These things define us as a people called Methodist.
Over the past year, I have examined the issue of human sexuality with my colleagues on this blog and in the church. I have talked to people who are progressive and I have talked to people who are traditionalists. It has become increasingly clear to me that we have come to understand the issue of human sexuality as an essential issue. People on both sides of this issue see human sexuality this way. It is an essential issue to progressives. It won’t work for some churches to be open while some churches remain closed. It is an essential issue to traditionalists.
Some moderates or centrists might argue that Adam Hamilton’s A Way Forward seems to be a compromise, but does either side really want a compromise? If this is a justice issue for progressives this compromise of some churches can be inclusive while others are not should be a slap in the face. It fails to radically change the denomination in any real meaningful way. Annual Conferences can still ban practicing LGBTQ people from being ordained. It creates more division between traditionalists churches and reconciling churches. Traditionalists see these plans as future fights with congregations and annual conferences becoming battlegrounds for the foreseeable future. Every year votes would have to be taken to see if the church or the annual conference decides it wants to be on the other side of the issue. They can imagine heated charge conferences every year or Annual Conferences where there are winners and losers.
Christopher Ritter’s plan makes the division even more apparent with a two-tier system that would have churches grouped by this one issue. Does separate but equal ever work? Is there confusion over the divisions? So now you would wind up with even more segregation in church on Sunday morning. A progressive Methodist Church, a conservative Methodist Church, and an African American Methodist Church all within three blocks of one another?
The problem with the via media is that we cannot make something nonessential that has already been deemed essential. As a person who tries to think via media, I am at a loss on this one. I would love your thoughts about how human sexuality could be a nonessential issue.