This is a post on the (lack of) discussion that took place at our annual conference session this year in regard to a few proposed amendments to the Book of Discipline. I don’t tend to look for all possible concealed motives or confusion within the language of General Conference voices, which means I was rather caught off guard by the way the discussion went with regard to Amendment 1 copied here in its entirety):
“As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of women’s and girl’s equality and well-being.”
General Conference-approved rationale for the amendment notes that the constitution contains a paragraph on racial justice but not one on gender justice.
“The language of this petition is parallel to the language of Article 5 on racial justice already in our constitution,” the rationale states. “It is an affirmation that, as part of our core foundational beliefs, this church will forever stand against any actions, organizations or individuals that discriminate or dehumanize women and girls anywhere on this planet.”
Perhaps it should not have surprised me that the variety of speeches against the amendment all revolved around the “confusion” and “ambiguity” regarding God’s gender. Jesus is a man, the arguments went, thereby it is at least confusing if not outright wrong to say that “it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female…” At least one argument dove fully into complementarian thought and proof texting literalism, which have their own problems that I’ve commented on at the links.
I stated previously that infidelity is the only analogy through which I can make sense out of where we’ve arrived; seen here in our ability to take such an important and needed statement about rejecting the abuse of women and girls and turn it into a referendum on human sexuality and all gender related disagreements. I don’t know that any argument would be helpful/convincing in our present climate, but I feel compelled to offer below what I would have liked to say in response to what I heard on the floor of conference.
I can respect that it may seem to be a troubling matter of “confusion” or “ambiguity” to assert that God is not male or female given what we believe about Jesus. Anytime I try to speak directly about the nature of Trinity, confusion and ambiguity are close at hand. But even granting the necessity of saying that Jesus is male in no way suggests the sufficiency of that label in reference to God. This may seem to be quibbling over words that are unrelated or irrelevant to the amendment, as one speech against it suggested, but our language about God deeply affects the actual lives of actual people every day. There may exist a world in which we could assert that God is a man in such a way that did not directly result in the abuse of women and girls throughout the world, but we do not live in that world.
Assertions of God’s exclusive masculinity and the correlative assertions of male authority/headship/gender roles lead very directly to the dehumanization, discrimination, and abuse of women and girls. If speaking of God as a man did not lead to the dehumanization, discrimination, and abuse of women, there would be no need to concretely remind the church that male and female are not sufficient categories for God. The wording of the amendment does not come to us in a vacuum – it comes to us in a world in which our fallen, inadequate, and misunderstood labels for God are weaponized against women and girls all over the world.
Making a clear and concise statement that no one should be discriminated against or dehumanized on the basis of gender is FAR more important than stealing yet another stage to hash out our incoherent yelling matches regarding sexuality, gender, and biblical authority/interpretation. I am deeply ashamed that we cannot even set aside our talking points, soap boxes, and mistrust to remind the world that dehumanization and discrimination against women and girls is never OK and never justifiable on the basis of the Christian faith or the nature of God.
The fight we keep having is not the fight we need to have and if we don’t even trust each other enough to make a clear statement against abuse, we have little hope of making the substantive changes needed to ensure a vital and fruitful future for our church.
2 thoughts on “On txac17 and the GC Amendments”
Hi Jeremy. Interesting comments from you as usual. Did the annual conference have to vote on the amendment and if so, how did that turn out? I think you are right on target and I agree with your point of view on this issue. I am afraid that us men can’t let go of being in charge very easily. It was interesting to tour Italy and it’s history particularly from a Roman Catholic point of view. It was pretty much a history of Catholicism through time. Some beautiful works of art and buildings but at what cost to people and human dignity? We went to Assisi and saw the small church to St. Francis had rebuilt in the woods below the city just after he felt called an converted. Interestingly, he gave up his worldly possessions to serve the call of God but now that small church (the one there is supposed to be the actual little building) is located inside an enormous and magnificently decorated cathedral. I just wonder what St. Francis thinks about that? Did people completely miss his message? It was interesting for sure and I can’t deny that St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel are magnificent and the works of art are inspiring and I felt a twinge of closeness to a higher being when looking up at the magnificent work of Michelangelo. That being said, maybe that work should be shared freely with all instead of being a great draw to bring some 20,000 people a day to see it and pay a fee (a large fee for a lot of people). Anyway, the trip was thought provoking and I think it somehow fits in with what you are saying here in terms of how we tend to view the world. Among some inspiring works of art, there is a commercial aspect that almost mutes the closeness one can feel in the presence of true genius. In the same way, our holding on to traditional views of male and female and even of sexual orientation make us unable to celebrate fully what it means to be human and to realize and celebrate the amazing human creative gifts that God has given us and wants us to share. I think that if we could learn to celebrate what it means to be fully human (and man and woman equally) and fully created by God, we could leave a lot of the baggage and commercialism of the past behind and move toward what God intended for humanity. Sorry about my little sermonette, the trip was pretty meaningful to me as are your comments. I hope you are having a great day today and look forward to seeing you and Sallie sometime soon. I would appreciate you thoughts on my thoughts as expressed above.
Love you, Dad
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Appreciate the comment and thoughts! The conference voted, but results aren’t shared until all annual conferences have turned in their votes – it’ll be at least a month or two before a result is announced. I’m not sure if they’ll ever break out the vote per conference, but we’ll find out what the global church voted eventually.
To your comments – there are far too many themes in your description of the tour to do justice to them all, but one interesting thing to me – Americans both seem to be the most gung-ho capitalist, wealthy, commercially friendly people in the world and at the same time carry a deep disdain for wealth, ostentation, and adornment. Most american churches are sparsely decorated, maybe a few stain glass windows, and a very minimalist aesthetic. The grand cathedrals are far different, but if you go even further east, especially in Orthodox churches, the amount of gold and color and dramatic sense-overload is hard to take in. There’s a profound sense in which we breed the kind of culture that we think we should disdain in America, but that kind of tension, if present at all, is not felt in nearly the same way in other countries.
I’m not suggesting other countries aren’t commercialized (far from it actually); but I would suggest that Americans have a deep sense of shame and guilt about the tension between how we believe God calls us to live (and adorn our churches) versus the actual way we live (and the kinds of church cultures that are appealing and popular). The easiest thing to do in the face of shame and guilt is revert back to a black and white fundamentalism and pretend like we can root out all the sin and evil in our lives – whether ‘evil’ comes in the form of church ostentation or the kinds of actions and practices we condemn or condone. Starting with shame and guilt, there is no where to go but toward an unresolvable conflict between who we are and who we think we should be.
The way forward is not to find THE answer about how life has to look. The way forward is to lean on the grace and forgiveness of God in the recognition that we both cannot live perfect lives and cannot separate ourselves from God’s love by any wrong choice or action. I believe this is my way of getting toward what you mean by ‘celebrate what it means to be fully human.’ It is, in part, a reminder not to take ourselves too seriously because we are not going to ‘get it right,’ whatever that might mean. It’s sort of like the sense in which you’ll still hurt each other’s feelings from time to time in any relationship – in a healthy relationship, you trust the other person’s intentions and move to forgiveness; in an unhealthy relationship, you assume the worst and build resentment.
All of that is to say – if our assumption is the love of God that cannot fail and never ends and then we work to embody that love with our lives; things look a lot different than our present reality in which we tend to assume sin and evil affect our lives the most and operate on the basis of fear and mistrust of ourselves and others. Even if every practical reality is the same, life looks and feels very different if we operate based on fear and shame as opposed to love and acceptance.
I don’t really know how I’d run things if I were in charge of a cathedral nor do I think there is one right and eternal answer to that question – but I definitely agree that touring the buildings brings up a lot of existential questions that are not easy to resolve (and are probably not resolvable). That’s why I come back to the question of our foundation – should we foster shame and guilt when we fall short, or embrace the love and acceptance that empower us to keep growing and learning and trying? I’m more and more convinced of the answer all the time.