Connectionalism When It Suits Us

I confess I’m puzzled about the “Statement of Gospel Obedience” recently issued by the UMC’s Western Jurisdiction (basically the mountain time zone and parts west).

From the news report, the statement emphasizes that the UMC is in error on the subject of “homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.” I think I understand that. I probably disagree. I mean, I probably agree with the UMC as a whole and not with the Western Jurisdiction. Probably. I need to become more familiar with the UMC’s doctrine to see what they mean by “incompatible.” (Jesus demonstrated how being paralyzed or blind and even robbery and adultery are compatible with Christian teaching.)

What I don’t understand is this part:

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert was asked to oversee a Western Jurisdiction grassroots movement that challenges bishops, clergy, laity and local churches and ministry settings to operate as if the statement printed in the denomination’s law book—Paragraph 161F—“does not exist.”

That’s the part I don’t get. I understand freedom of conscience. But that freedom should mean the freedom to disagree and leave. Or to disagree but advocate for change and only leave when you despair of succeeding — but obeying in the meantime.

The problem with connectionalism is that too many people use it as a club to tell churches how to behave, but they aren’t willing to let the same club be used on them. Sauce for the goose.

Sigh. It’s probably for the best. I think post-Christendom means post-denominational as well.

(Notice the response of the Western Jurisdiction is to come out in favor of “Extravagant Hospitality.” It’s outmoded thinking: all about getting people to come (back) to church. It would be a lot more effective to think about the problem missionally: how to get the church to go out where the people are.)

Anyway, as denominations wind down in North America, the only “connectionalism” will be looser associations of truly like-minded churches in flexible networks. (And no, I don’t have a clue how churches with an episcopal ecclesiology will survive that.)

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