If I have learned anything from progressives, it is this: correctly interpreting the written word is difficult. A plan reading of the text cannot bring to light what a passage is really saying. The method of interpretation for progressives is fluid and requires buckets so it only makes sense that reading what they write would require similar methods.
For example, saying they appreciate those who “tirelessly worked to preserve unity” while undermining and violating the vows they took at their ordination doesn’t make sense. Unless, of course, unity doesn’t mean what you think it means, or it is culturally bound, or it is in the wrong bucket, or it has evolved to mean something new in the twenty-first century.
I want to help people “realize a diversity of faithful interpretations of the text.” So as I read the Statement of Lament, Confession, and Commitment from several colleagues in the Florida Conference, I thought I would do some interpreting of their written word using some of the same methods they use to interpret the Word of God.
To begin with I’m not so sure I can take their letter at face value. The cultural context surround the timing of its release was right around April Fool’s Day. This could be one big joke. Humor is a great way to diffuse tension and make peace. Like Tom Brady tweeting out that he was going to retire, perhaps this means progressives are communicating they are ready to uphold their ordination vows.
The word “lament” is used several times throughout the letter, but it is an archaic word. It is not used much outside those who read the King James Version of the Bible. Yet, they keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means. If we look to the actions of other progressives at GC 2019 to determine the meaning, we might use “temper-tantrum” to understand what the Spirit is saying to us in the text today.
The signers of the letter asked forgiveness “for too often loving polity more than people.” Polity can be interpreted as “power” and “position”. A look at who signed the statement shows a veritable “Who’s Who” of the Florida Conference. There are district superintendents, Conference staff members, Chairs and members of numerous committees. These are all impressive positions and would be difficult to give up, even for the sake of justice. It must be very difficult for the LGBTQ community to hear progressives promise year after year, not deliver, yet see them hang on to their “polity.” At some point I would think the LBGTQ community would have to ask, “Are they really committed?”
Well, they say they are committed to “discovering and creating a new expression of Methodism.” But if they really meant that, they would be leading an exodus of those harmed by the Discipline out of an institution that is “broken and dying.” The promised land is before them. The Traditionalists tried to provide a gracious exit plan in St. Louis, but progressives were too busy “lamenting” to see the Red Sea parting before them. They have been promising this land of full inclusion for years, but I interpret they prefer to stay in Egypt. I wonder if they really have the courage of their convictions. Their statement didn’t say anything about that so it is left open for us to interpret that they do not.
Each person who took the vows of ordination is expected to “Be accountable to the United Methodist Church, accept its Doctrinal Standards and Discipline and authority, accept the supervision of those appointed to this ministry, and be prepared to live in the covenant of its ordained ministers.” (Paragraph 304.1J, Book of Discipline.)
That’s why it is so difficult interpreting this commitment they have signed onto. It is a commitment that brings them into direct conflict with the vows each of them took. They cannot do both. It is probably a good thing they gave themselves an out by “committing ourselves not to a specific path or plan, but a direction.” And they call themselves progressive? How is vague leadership progress? But I understand why they don’t commit to specifics. Specifics only lead to accountability, both with the LGBTQ community and the church.
While there may be many more “faithful interpretations” of this text, one thing is crystal clear: As long as their names stay on that letter and they remain in the UMC, no one can take progressives at their word.