Why There Can’t Be Unity in the UMC, Parts III and IV

III.   We differ in our understanding of sin, salvation, and the will of God.

The Good News perspective on religion is fear-based. For example, The prosecution at the Frank Shaefer trial stated, “The penalty should be severe enough so that other clergy fear breaking the covenant.”

The view of God presented in this view of justice, whether consciously or not, is one of punishment. Those who engage in “Biblical obedience” to minister to GLBTQ  people are not motivated by fear. They are well aware of the risks they are taking. The more they are accused of violating the denominational covenant, the more inspired they will be to do so.

The Reconciling perspective on religion is to do no harm and to defend the marginalized.  They believe in God’s unconditional love for all of God’s people. The more they witness the Good News perspective judging GLBTQ folks, the more motivated they will be to ally with them. This is already evident as a result of the Schafer trial.

Since there is no transcript of the trial available at this time, in the Rev. Morgan Guyton’s words, “The judge, retired bishop Al Gwinn, ruled out as inadmissible any defense arguments based on scripture or other sections of the Book of Discipline, reasoning that only “the facts” of what Schaefer did were relevant to determining the verdict.” (http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/justice-of-the-heart-and-frank-schaefer/)

The most narrow definition of sin and justice is typical of the Good News perspective. The idea that God’s holiness is offended by our sin and Christ’s crucifixion was necessary to appease God is an extreme but not uncommon understanding of the Good News folks. Guyton goes on to say:

“The basic game that God’s people have been playing since the beginning is to find a way to leverage their meticulous devotion to the letter of the law to their advantage. Doctrinal and moral purity are pursued ferociously as a means for dominating others. As Jesus says about the Pharisees of His day, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,and lay them on the shoulders of others” (Matthew 23:4). Their zeal for moral purity was more about being able to lay heavy burdens on others than it was about devotion to God.” (Ibid.)

IV. We Have Different Values Systems

Recently an article outlining Jonathan Haidt’s five foundations of morality was circulated on Facebook. Haidt is a social psychologist who authored Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divide by Politics and Religion (2012). It was an interesting analysis of the value system differences between liberals and conservatives and it is easy to see it played out in the divisive of homosexuality in the United Methodist Church. As explained by Catherine Caldwell-Harris in “How a Liberal Learned to Respect conservative thinking (and accept the fact that, yes, the right is happier than the left) in Boston University’s Bostonia magazine, fall 2013, p. 49:

“Haidt proposes that the moral worldview of liberals focuses on justice and fairness, with equal treatment for all, and on care vs. harm, which involves having compassion for others. Political conservatives also have these values, says Haidt, but they are influenced by three other moral systems: respect for hierarchy, favoring one’s in-group over the out-group, and valuing purity (a complex concept that involves sexual propriety, nobility, and avoiding disgusting objects).”

You can test yourself via a Moral Foundations Questionnaire at http://personality-testing.info/tests/MFQ.php .

“The Moral Foundations Questionnaire has been studied extensively in relation to politics. It has been found that liberals score highest for the harm and care and fairness and reciprocity foundation, and quite a bit lower for the other three. Conservatives score slightly lower than liberals on harm and care and fairness and reciprocity but much higher on the other three.”

In keeping with the study, my scores were:

  • Your score for the harm and care basis of morality is 4.8. This foundation is related to a desire to care for others and try to eliminate their pain.
  • Your score on the fairness and reciprocity foundation is 4.2. This foundation is related to making sure everyone gets a fair deal and is not cheated.
  • Your score on the loyalty foundation is 3.2. This foundation is related to not doing anything to hard groups you are a part of.
  • Your score on the authority and respect foundation is 2.5. This foundation is related to maintaing social order.
  • You score on the purity and sanctity foundation is 1.7. This foundation is related to abiding by abstract philosophical or religious principles.

See also Graham, J.; Haidt, J.; Nosek, B. (2009). “Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(5), 1029-1046.

This clearly describes the differences between the orthodox or fundamentalist United Methodists for whom maintaining the organizational covenant ranks high and for whom purity and sanctity (as well as a category of disgust) are also very high. For those standing for inclusion of LGBTQ folks, the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity values are very high and the other three are much lower than they are for conservatives.

Conclusion

I may know you deeply, love you strongly, and still believe with all my heart that you are completely wrong. But if at the denominational level, your wrongness harms others, then I must stand for those who are harmed. For me, I stand for love and inclusiveness and will continue to resist the legalism imposed by the Good News folks.

Likewise, because they hold to a very different set of values, the Good News folks must in good conscience continue to stand for law, authority, and purity, and thus resist the Reconciling folks.

As the Reconciling United Methodists plan strategies and next steps, I hope we will consider these reasons why changing the current system is likely to fail. What can we do to witness, as so many are doing – risking trials in spite of the high emotional and financial costs, demonstrating, etc. – without expecting that the current lose-win situation will switch to a win-lose one?

What outcome do we expect if we continue doing what we are doing now, including another effort to get the next General Conference to change? Shall we try yet again? If we try and are successful, what should we expect from the “losing” side?

Is an equitable division into two formerly-United Methodist Churches a good option? Not seeking a win-lose solution but a win-win potential? What do you think?

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About Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith has 20 years’ experience in technical writing and management in software companies. She also has more than 20 years in Christian ministry as an educator, course designer, retreat leader, spiritual director, pastor, and coach. A United Methodist Deacon, Smith has her M.Div. from Boston University. She is a graduate of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance, and is certified in Spiritual Direction and Retreat Leadership from Boston College.
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One Response to Why There Can’t Be Unity in the UMC, Parts III and IV

  1. Sleepyjoe says:

    We are increasingly become less United and more Untied.

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