The United Methodist News Service sent an article today with the trial judge’s thoughts on the Karen Dammann trial (click here for article).
As I’ve reviewed his comments, the verdict hinged on the word “since” in Paragraph 304.3 in the Discipline. Basically the argument is that the legal portion of the Discipline never declares homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching, so there is no basis for a chargeable offense. This combined with the focus on inclusion throughout the Discipline led to the acquittal.
The funny thing is that conservatives unwittingly contributed to this verdict. At the last General Conference, in response to the supposed liberal leanings of the Social Principles, a statement was added which says (in it’s entirety):
The Social Principles are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions. They are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit; however, they are not church law.
This statement was added when the proscription against officiating at same-sex unions was moved to the legal section because some were saying that if the Social Principles were law, then it would be a chargeable offense to support the death penalty, or the war, or other social policies that we may not agree on. Therefore, the claim that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, found in the Social Principles, is not law, and can’t therefore form the basis of other provisions in the Discipline.
Of course what will happen will be work to somehow place a declaratory sentence in the “legal” part of the Discipline. And this will lead to more legal parsing on the meaning of words, leading to more legislation, leading to more parsing, leading to more legislation, ad infinatum.
I am one of the few that believes in the value of the Discipline. I believe that it represents our discerned life together, addressing the concerns that hae arisen through the past 200 years. I bet you that when Willow Creek gets to be 200 years old, they might have a policy manual as large. And yet, we can carry this too far. Do I think that standards should be up to the individual congregations? No. But legislated mandates on every topic of life seldom are effective. Is it really worth the time, energy and money that some in our church are spending to keep certain folks out? And what do we do with Jesus’ admonition to his disciples (speaking of those casting out demons in his name) “if they aren’t against me, they are for me?”