Destroying both Unity and Holiness is the Middle Way #UMC

Dr. Kevin Carnahan is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Central Methodist University and has written a statement of faith of sorts for those Methodists who consider themselves “moderates” on the issue of homosexuality.  The folks at Via Media Methodists, a site dedicated to “raising the level of discourse” and who see it as their task to “prayerfully run the risk of ‘hearing both sides,'” have re-published this statement calling it “brilliant” and a “manifesto of sorts.”   They say of it:  

we in the middle have needed a clear, persuasive, hopeful middle position. We are thankful that Kevin has offered just that.

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I encourage you to read it and determine for yourself just how “clear, persuasive and hopeful” such a position really is.  I have just two points to make about it and will welcome any feedback or clarification on these two points (or others that might be added) that anyone in the “middle way” might have to offer.

1.  It begins with a quote from John Wesley, which reads,

 “Unity and holiness are the two things I want most among Methodists.”

I think it’s safe to say we all want that, but have vastly different ideas about what this means.   When John Wesley wrote this in a letter to John Fletcher it was in the context of preaching the doctrine of Christian Perfection, a distinctive among Methodists and one that is sadly obscured in much of American Methodism today.  Will you who profess to be in the middle affirm that part of moving on towards perfection (sanctification) must include ordering our sexual desires and actions under the authority of God’s word, which declares some desires as holy and others as abominations?    Given the context of the rest of this “manifesto,” I gather the answer is “no.”   It seems that those in the middle do not believe that same-sex sex has any bearing on one’s holiness, which fails to take into serious account those of us who do.   In that same letter to John Fletcher, Wesley asks of the faithful with regards to those who oppose either unity or holiness or both:

Who will rise up with me against all open or secret opposers either of one or the other? Such are in truth all prudent, all delicate, all fashionable, all half-hearted Methodists!

I believe John Wesley would call this middle way a “half-hearted” attempt at being Methodist because it attempts to reduce what holiness entails.  Holiness is important, as we can all agree, but part of being holy includes, but is not limited to, who we sleep with.   Will you who are in the “middle way” rise up with us against all those who would suggest that holiness has nothing to do with same-sex sex?

2. My second point is concerned with this declaration towards the end by Dr. Carnahan, which reads,

We hold that embracing this position is entirely compatible with holding strong views on the morality of homosexual behavior. We do not embrace this position because we hold weak beliefs about the morality of homosexuality, or because we are neutral on the issues involved. We embrace the middle position because we respect those who rationally, and in good faith disagree with us on this issue and recognize ourselves as bound to live together within the body of Christ with them.

I left the following comment on the Via Media blog but it was deleted (twice).  Since those who have presumably dedicated themselves to raising the level of discourse and wish to “hear from both sides” have censored my question on their site, I’ll ask it here:

How can this be? I would like to hear someone explain how a person can have “strong views” on the immorality of homosexuality and yet faithfully remain in covenant with those who have an equally strong, yet opposite view? 1 Cor 5 says one should not associate with anyone who insists on calling themselves a “brother” while being guilty of sexual immorality. I have yet to hear anyone in the middle make a good argument as to why those of us with “strong views” should ignore that command, or that it does not mean what we all think it means.

I do not find the middle way position at all compatible with anyone holding “strong views” about sexual morality.   The only people who might find this remotely persuasive or tenable are those who are already convinced in their own minds that homosexuality is morally neutral and/or to be celebrated.  They are free to dismiss 1 Cor. 5, which reads in part,

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

as irrelevant to the discussion because they have determined that we are not talking about sexual immorality.

Dear “middle way” advocates: The progressives have failed to convince the Church at large that homosexuality is not sexual immorality.  Please do not now patronize the bulk of the Church by assuming that those of us who have strong views about this because we believe the Bible (and tradition) is clear will now ignore other parts of Scripture which are equally clear about what to do when those in the assembly insist on calling evil, good.

Is it not true that what you are calling the “middle” is really just the “left” trying to keep the unity without the holiness?  By doing so I believe you will get neither while destroying what little remains of both.   Unity is about much more than being of the same institution and holiness is about far more than affirming the same creeds.   I believe the only way we can achieve unity and holiness is through massive repentance and reconciliation, neither of which are mentioned in this “brilliant manifesto.”

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8 thoughts on “Destroying both Unity and Holiness is the Middle Way #UMC

  1. Chad, I agree with pretty much all of your points. I think they need to be made. Especially with reference to Mr. Wesley, who has often been co-opted by folks who need to do their homework better. I think your logic is sound, and your witness is worthy. Your tone reflects that you feel a little isolated and perhaps angry that everyone else seems to be taking crazy pills. Just my read of it. Know that there are a lot of folks out there who feel the same as you, and you speak from a position of truth. By virtue of standing in the truth, I think you can be calm in the midst of a crazy situation. That would be good for me and others who need someone other than the IRD to be in the dialogue. Thanks again for your faithful witness.

    • I agree with Jeffrey, Chad. I appreciate your perspective tremendously, but I think it is often mitigated by the tenor of your argument. Mockery of the Discipline, belittling of covenant, dubious and patently eisegetical treatment of Scripture, modern chauvinism toward tradition, sociopolitical agendas paraded as theology, patronization of orthodoxy… all of these are incredibly frustrating. However, when I allow my frustration to shape my response, my response suffers.

      I don’t know you beyond what I read online, but that paints a picture of a very angry person. At the same time, your words bear witness to a commitment to discipleship and holiness. These two seem in conflict to me. Sure, a disciple of Jesus can and often should get angry, but I don’t think a disciple of Jesus can or should have a hardened, angry heart. It simply isn’t Christ like in any understanding I have of the term. My point is that there is a world of difference between a person who is angry and an angry person. Your rhetoric often portrays you as the latter, especially when those who differ with you patronize and prod you (another incredibly unChristlike behavior).

      When those who are caught in the middle on an issue see anger and vitriol from one extreme, I believe it always pushes them toward the other extreme. When someone is angry, it usually signals they are afraid, which in turn often signals they aren’t altogether confident in their position. When those who stand for classical orthodoxy come across as shrill and angry, I believe the cause of orthodoxy suffers. Let us proclaim the truth with boldness and confidence, but also in love and with grace. What do we have to be afraid of? In the end, God’s Truth will always out.

      Grace & peace,
      Billy

      • Hi Billy, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I am in full agreement with you that anger shouldn’t play a part in these discussions, nor vitriol. I do not doubt that I have much to learn in how to write well, and it’s important to me that the message not get lost in the rhetoric. Both your comment and Jeffrey’s are helpful reminders of that.

        Was there something in this post specifically which made you think I was angry? I don’t wish to come across that way, and can assure you I am not. Passionate, yes. But not angry. I’d be happy to try to tone something down if there is something specific you have in mind.

        blessings to you,
        Chad

  2. I would like to suggest that you seriously consider Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. As a young pastor, I used to think that it would be wonderful if all the people (especially the leaders) in my church were deeply committed, born again Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit. It took me a while to realize that I really would NOT want to be preaching every Sunday to a congregation where there were no sinners who needed to be saved. On further reflection, I became aware of my own need to identify the weeds that keep sprouting up in my heart.

    It is a challenge to be in a church where sin is so obviously rampant. But at least it gives us a field to cultivate and work to do.

    • I agree with you for the most part. I don’t want the church emptied of sinners or there would be no one left (self included). But I (and I believe you) hold those who teach and lead to a higher standard (James says not all should teach). I don’t think it’s too much to ask for our pulpits and seminaries to be filled with godly people pursuing holiness and calling others to the same, do you?

      Blessing to you!

  3. Thanks for this post, Chad. I’m an outsider (having left the UMC last year), but I notice how the “middle way” seems to favor the progressive side, while unfairly expecting the more traditional side to fall in line and be quiet.

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