In desiring to respond to an open letter to centrists, I am not sure I qualify as a centrist. In some contexts I would appear conservative, in others progressive. Yet, I feel a need to respond to the Reverend Stephen Rankin’s “An Open Letter to Adam Hamilton and Other Centrists: Where Lie the Boundaries?” I really disliked his commentary “It is time to separate.” The more I read it, the less it made sense to me. I could not understand why the United Methodist church would publish it. This new blog post makes even less sense and I would like to respond.
Where does the Reverend Adam Hamilton argue against the Doctrinal Standards of the United Methodist Church? Which centrist is arguing we abandon having doctrinal standards? Until you can prove a centrist is arguing against the Doctrinal Standards of the United Methodist Church, then it is pretty safe to assume that they would be the starting place for any conversation about boundaries.
No one, as far as I can tell, is contending for a church where there are no boundaries and consequences for violating the crossing of boundaries. Let us pretend for a moment this is not really about power and that everyone is disagreeing in good faith. The biggest area of contention is the Social Principles of the UMC and, in particular, the human sexuality section. It is not wrong for United Methodists to disagree with a social principle. Every General Conference we change the Social Principles.
Christians may disagree with each other. If you read the New Testament, we see Christians disagreeing with each other. Paul did not write his famous love chapter because some Corinthians were getting married. While Paul had clear opinions about who was right in the debate about what is acceptable to eat in Romans 14, or which day to hold as sacred, Paul encourages them to honor each other and live out their convictions as an expression of their life lived in Jesus.
Paul would not say anything goes (read Galatians). He also believes that strife/anger/quarrels/dissensions/factions are the works of the flesh, not from God (read Galatians). So we have to hold in tension that there are non-negotiable on the one hand, but also that we may disagree with each other too.
As United Methodists, we have our doctrinal standards. While theoretically changeable, they do not change easily or often. Until the Reverend Adam Hamilton or some other prominent centrist starts arguing otherwise, I think it is safe to assume that they are our boundaries.
The bigger issue might be that the Reverend Stephen Rankin is not a fan of our doctrinal standards. They might not be as “clear and enforceable” as he would like them to be. Perhaps he disagrees with the Book of Disciplines enforcement mechanisms for persons teaching against the Doctrinal Standards of the UMC. The good news is that we may disagree with the Book of Discipline and work to change it. It is disingenuous to argue centrists do not have core doctrines, boundaries, or uncrossable lines.