An article posted on the website of the Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church proclaims, “New Tone Set for Conversation, Debate at 2008 Methodist General Conference.” In preparation for the upcoming conference (the denomination’s chief policy-making body, scheduled to meet in Fort Worth April 23-May 2), a task force has prepared a brief set of rules entitled “Guidelines for Holy Conferencing: What God Expects of Us.” I suspect that fears of a devastating schism over homosexuality, magnified by the continuing state of affairs in the Episcopal Church in America and the Anglican Communion, motivated this course of action. So… will it succeed? Only time will tell, but at the moment I have doubts. While it is certainly worthwhile to urge all parties to “listen patiently before formulating responses” and “avoid using inflammatory words, derogatory names, or an excited and angry voice,” the biblical text has an uncanny way of igniting people’s passions, particularly when they feel that basic theological tenets are at stake. Furthermore, the rules could lead to the conclusion that the maintenance of denominational decorum, however improbable, is more important than action… in any direction. (And for what it’s worth, the historical Jesus seems to have been much more interested in action than decorum!) Nevertheless, we can all benefit from timely reminders to “strive to understand the experience out of which others have arrived at their views” and “remember that people are defined, ultimately, by their relationship with God–not by the flaws we discover, or think we discover, in their views and actions.”
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