Saturday, June 9, 2012
Paternalistic inclusivity of so-called progressive mainliners
I wish that I could say that I am amazed at the blind paternalism of those who call for inclusivity in the whole church body, but fail time and again to actually be inclusive if that inclusivity includes the acceptance of non-progressive views. I am speaking, of course, of mainline churches like the United Methodist Church (UMC) that just had its General Conference. For those who do not know, this conference includes bishops and others in the church from all over the world. This body makes the rules for the entire UMC. It only meets every few years. One of this year's complaints about the Conference was the lack of progress made. Now I am not saying that there is not important work to be done by the Conference, but it was apparently deadlocked on some controversial issues. (Sounds a bit like Congress, doesn't it?) Many bemoaned this fact, but I do not. It is better to be deadlocked than to mess things up. No legislation is better than bad legislation. One of the big issues once again was the issue of homosexuality. The UMC book of discipline says that the homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching" and that those who practice it should not be ministers in the church. To me, this is weak language that ought to be strengthened to state that homosexuality is sin at least on the level of adultery (perhaps worse) and that any member of the church who falls into such sin and refuses to repent will be subject to church discipline. The discussion, however, is not going in that direction. Rather, the progressives are pushing the homosexual agenda in the church and trying to get the Conference to normalize homosexual relations of some kind and to allow practicing homosexuals to be ordained, etc., so deadlock here is a good thing. Our District Superintendent (DS) does not seem too happy with this deadlock, though. She expressed disappointment in the "lack of progress" of the Conference. She did, however, speak of how great it was that she got to room with two female ministers from Africa. And she also implied that the African branch of the UMC needs to appreciate it female ministers more. On this we agree. But she said nothing about how two things - presence of ministers from Africa and the deadlock over things like the lack of "progress" of the homosexual agenda - actually relate. Even as mainline churches in the US become more attuned to culture rather than the Bible and accept things like homosexuality, they are losing members by the droves. (Theologically conservative denominations and independent churches are growing.) But mainline churches are growing in third world countries faster than the US branches are declining. The Christians in third world countries have traditional cultures that largely reject the liberal progressive agenda, especially homosexuality. In the last General Conference, 20% of attendees came from Africa, in this year's conference it was 30%. This is the cause of the deadlock. Africans almost universally reject as sinful the homosexual lifestyle. They are preventing the UMC from overturning its wise decision made 40 years ago to include in the Book of Discipline (the UMC "constitution") the words I quoted above stating that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching. Some so-called progressives, knowing this, wanted to have a conference of only US ministers to assure their victory in overturning this statement. And they have the gall to call themselves "inclusive". Their idea of inclusivity is to accept anyone, but to marginalize the views of those who disagree with them. If the "conservatives" had made such a suggestion, they almost certainly would have been called racist. Our DS spoke of how the African branch of the UMC needs to learn from the American church about how to accept female ministers. I agree. I also think that we ought to listen to our African brethren when it comes to some matters like homosexuality. To refuse to listen to them while expecting them to listen to us is nothing but paternalism and arrogance. It looks like the Africans and other third world Christians may save the mainline churches from themselves. Who knew? We thought that conservative scholarship might save us, but I think that that has only kept the American branches of the mainline churches from even more apostasy. Rather it is the missionaries who are saving us. This reminds me of the early church. In the first ten years of the church, all Christians were Jewish. Then the gospel began to be taken to the Gentiles. It took a lot of arguing by Paul (a missionary) to get the church to accept the Gentiles as true equals. Some Jewish believers had the attitude that progressives have with third world Christians. That attitude is basically: "Nice to have you on board, but you cannot be truly equal because you do not have the privileged background that we do. Just listen to us and everything will be fine." After the first century, the church became dominated by Gentiles. Today, the church is becoming less of a thing of Western culture and more of a church of the global south. This is turning out to be a good thing. That does not mean that we have nothing to teach them. The Gentile church had much to learn from the Jews (and we are still learning from them). But the Jewish Christians needed to learn some things from the Gentiles as well. Likewise, those who have a Christian background of many centuries can keep newly minted believers and churches from making certain errors. (Errors that we have had to correct through long experience.) But God will teach us through them as well. "Out of the mouth of babes, You have ordained wisdom."