Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Do We Want World-Wide Movement?

Three things I've heard lately have been coming together in my mind.

First, the Lambeth conference of the Anglican Church recently concluded. A major issue of the conference was the ordination of a gay bishop a few years ago. From reports I've heard, it seems that while the Americans and British are divided over the issue, they tend to lean more to the left than Anglicans in other parts of the world. It seems some churches under the Bishop of New Hampshire have been pulling out to be under African bishops.

Second, a local Methodist colleague remarked to me that the United Methodists would have a very different policy about homosexuality if they weren't part of a world-wide communion. But the African churches again were specifically named as some who band with the Southeastern U.S. and other conservatives in other parts of the world, and their votes dominate on the issue.

Third, I'm thinking about what people have often mused about American Catholics versus the entire Catholic church, and how we're much more ready to ordain women and married men.

So I'm putting these thoughts together and thinking, is it a good thing that we're as small a denomination as we are? Does it enable us to have a clearer voice? Does the fact that we're more homogenous in culture mean that we can take more liberal, open positions? These things would argue yes.

The other side of it, of course, is the gains one gets by being part of a world-wide movement, beyond just numbers and power. Perhaps we are too quick to act on things because we're a small group of people who agree on issues, and not because they're really grounded in our faith. Perhaps we vote ourselves into a corner where we're limiting who can feel comfortable in our churches. We run the risk of being so fringe we're irrelevant at times.

But, as for me, I'm proud of the stances we take as a denomination, and I cherish our ability to do so. And, at the same time, I'm glad that we as a denomination, and as a district as well, have been encouraging emerging churches in Africa and other parts of the globe, and I love our connection with our Transylvanian and Hungarian brothers and sisters, even if we don't agree on everything as far as politics may be concerned. Perhaps we have the best situation--a small denomination, with an ever-increasing network of related denominations around the globe.

But we have one thing that none of those denominations I mentioned have: congregational polity. And that gives us the individual ability, as churches, to call ministers of every sexual orientation, gender, marital status, and more. We have polyamorous ministers, transgender ministers, and straight married (to one person) ministers. What a wonderful thing our ability to hold this diversity is! Perhaps, with congregational polity intact, we could grow to the size of the Catholic church and not have the problem of these divisions. The trick is, as always, honoring our diversity. If we can in one small church here that I serve have Republicans and Democrats, Christians and Pagans, gay and straight together, then at least we know it's possible. We only need to sustain it and strengthen it as we grow.

4 comments:

Bill Baar said...

I question how wonderful is our diversity that allows use to call polyamorous ministers. I think equal partnerships tough enough to maintain. Equal triads or more harder... they inevitably involve a dominant member and tend towards exploitation of another.

Anonymous said...

Polyamorous ministers is a step too far in my opinion - it shouldn't be liberalism at any cost.

Bill Baar said...

Polyamoury isn't liberal (my opinion). I think someone inevitably subordinate in these relationships. Same reason I'm opposed to Polygamy. And the reason why I diskike the term marriage equality. Marriage like much in human relationships is very much about power and how people negoitate and decide.

We d--n well should discriminate and be careful what kind of marriages we bless because we're saying something about power exercised by one person over another.

Diversity of opinion shouldn't mean agreeing at the lowest common denominator.

It means respecting another's freedom to at times be very very badly wrong about what they believe and preach. That doesn't mean we don't tell them or vote against calling them to ones Church as minister in the case of they polyamourist preacher.

Cynthia Landrum said...

I personally don't have a stance on polyamory. But part of my point is that congregational polity allows each church to make this decision independently, and we don't, as a whole body of churches, have to agree or disagree with their decision. Individual churches can also make prejudicial decisions against women ministers, married ministers, gay ministers, whatever. Sometimes the majority of us may be upset by that decision, and we can provide "Beyond Categorical Thinking" training to help churches muddle through these kinds of decisions, but congregational polity allows for this diversity of viewpoints to come together in one religious association.