Oslo and the One Church Plan

It was 25 years ago last week that they signed the agreement.  And while no one expected the two sides to immediately settle all of their disputes, there was at least a hopeful spirit that the prospects for a peaceful resolution to a seemingly intractable problem might just be at hand.

To give some time to settle into it, however, imbedded in each element of the fabled Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine was the idea of “constructive ambiguity.” But ironically enough–at least as suggested by one former Israeli Knesset member, Einat Wilf, in The Atlantic–the very feature designed to ensure the success of the plan was the same one that eventually sank it.  For instead of building trust, that intentional ambiguity allowed each side to simply persist in the very behaviors which destroyed trust on the other side.

Israel, for instance, not only kept building settlements in the West Bank, but increased the population of those settlements almost four-fold.  And Palestinian leaders continued to push a “Right of Return” demanding Jews vacate everything east of the pre-1967 borders, while still often refusing to concede the right of Israel to even exist. A quarter century later, thus, the problem has now only worsened as that “constructive ambiguity” has become destructive instead.

And it strikes me that there may just be a lesson for The United Methodist Church in all of this, as well. For in trying to resolve our seemingly intractable sexuality questions, the One Church Plan would appear to employ the same strategy of creating “constructive ambiguity” over what we as a denomination actually teach and believe. It allows regions of the church to determine moral qualifications for ministry, for example, as well as individuals to define the church’s understanding of marriage.  In the end, however, that makes as much sense as G.K. Chesterton’s observation that “You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays.”  Or in one state or country, but not in another one.

What’s more, the One Church Plan is plainly meant to be a transitional one.  For even those who find our current position morally wrong have acknowledged that though it does not go far enough, the OCP is a necessary “first step” towards the eventual goal of “full inclusion.”  To put it as one bishop has, it doesn’t change everything for everyone everywhere…yet… but it does set our whole denomination on a trajectory that is different than the one we have long followed.  Only as John Richard Neuhas has warned, “where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed,” or prohibited.

The words of that Knesset member Einat Wilf may therefore be worth noting by United Methodists in the days ahead.  For as he has written, “If we have learnt anything over the past twenty-five years, it is that being ambiguous… does no one any favors…the sooner both sides hear and internalize these simple, cold, hard truths, the sooner we will be able to speak of hope again.”

So could it be that therein lies the hope for the people called Methodists—in all of our varied expressions–as well?  To speak the truth…in love…no matter where it leads us?

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8 Responses to Oslo and the One Church Plan

  1. Wes whiddon says:

    Revelation 3:16
    So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. http://esv.to/Rev3.16

  2. Dale Sigler says:

    Sooner or later orthodoxy will be proscribed…this is the revisionists end goal. It is the same in politics, the academy and every aspect of the church. Let us graciously part ways and become hot again.

  3. Keith A. Jenkins says:

    Chap, I can’t argue with much about this entry (beyond perhaps a bit of hyperbole in your implied analogy–the fate of the UMC being not quite as significant as peace in the Middle East) except for your quotation of John Richard Neuhaus’ “warning” about optional orthodoxy. Up to that point, you had been describing a difference of opinion among brothers and sisters in Christ over a matter some consider definitive while others do not. I wholeheartedly agree that, in such differences of opinion, as much clarity as possible in defining one’s terms and assumptions is desirable. And if you recall much about me personally, you will remember that clarity is something I always strive for (some might say to an excessive degree).

    But, when you brought orthodoxy into the discussion, you drew a proverbial line in the sand, bisecting the Body of Christ. You divided what had been brothers and sisters in Christ in disagreement into two antithetical groups: the Orthodox and the Would-Be Proscribers (as in Denouncers) of Orthodoxy. And since you and I disagree on the question at hand in both substance and degree (i.e. we hold different opinions on the question itself and on its relative importance in the life and ministry of the church), I can only assume you are placing me among the Would-Be Proscribers of Orthodoxy. I don’t take this personally (because, as you have probably figured out by now, I think orthodoxy is over-rated), but I do regret that you chose to couch your call for clarity in these terms.

    If you wish to sever the UMC, or at least see its division as inevitable and no longer wish to strive for unity (as opposed to uniformity), that is your prerogative. But I plead with you to at least have the charity not to label your brothers and sisters in Christ who view the situation differently as denouncers of the faith.

    • Brother Keith… and I do call you brother… we do indeed disagree on both the significance and the solution to the sexuality questions which have consumed our church’s conversation. But I do not consider those disagreements to put either of us outside of the channels of grace that God has so freely given. Orthodoxy is defined by most as inclusive of beliefs, doctrines, and practices (though orthopraxy is a more precise term for the latter.) As you know, Greek uses “ortho” metaphorically to refer to something which is true, or literally straight. It’s the other half of the word, “doxa,” which has a more interesting etymology, however, for it can mean both “opinion” and “glory.” It is in that sense that I think the Neuhas quote can find application to our polity questions. If it helps, I would be comfortable saying simply that “where practices or opinions are optional, practices or opinions will sooner or later be proscribed,” though I am never comfortable simply editing someone else’s quote. You may be correct that Neuhas indeed used the term with reference to core doctrinal beliefs. I used it, however, to simply illustrate a point that as several progressive friends have shared with me directly, the allowance for pastors to follow their convictions with regard to same-sex issues may be a part of the One Church Plan for now, but that will change within a decade or less, just as it has for other denominations which went down this road. That doesn’t mean I have put you or anyone else outside of the faith, just on the other side of what is now the orthopraxy of our church. I likewise do not WISH to sever the church that has been my home for all of my life, including the forty plus years we’ve both spent in ordained ministry serving it. But I similarly do not believe we can continue to live with this level of unresolved (and maybe unresolvable) pressure, disagreement, and incivility and still be effective–any of us–in that service to the Lord. Should a division occur, however, I will no more think of my progressive UM friends as denouncers of the faith as I do my friends in other denominations which have made a similar shift in their thinking on this issue. I hope this indeed brings some clarity to the point I was trying to make and perhaps make your plea for charity an unnecessary one, at least from my perspective.

  4. janniepants says:

    An excellent article, Chap. The Bible is certainly not ambiguous. Neither were the Wesleys. God will have his church. People can choose with their feet, if it comes to that. But it will make me very sad if it comes to that. –Jan Rogers

  5. Hey Chap,

    I am not (nor will I ever be) as articulate as you and Keith but I feel the need to respond to your blog. Read my credo from so many years ago, you will see that my faith is orthodox. But it is orthodox as Hans Frei understands orthodoxy. My faith begins with and encompasses what he calls, “generous orthodoxy.” My orthodoxy has been shaped by elements from many different theological understandings. I was raised Catholic, ordained United Methodist but also deeply affected by progressive as well as moderate teachings.

    But at the heart of all that I believe is the idea of grace and unity. Grace which is that underserved, unearned and unconditional gift given to all of us from a generous and gracious God. It is a gift that runs deep and plentiful. It is a gift that is somehow larger than whatever might divide us. It is a gift that is greater than all our sin.

    For me generous orthodoxy calls us to live the words David writes, “How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” (Psalm 133 NIV). Generous orthodoxy means we are not closed off from one another.

    Paul in his letters to the Romans and Philippians, seems to acknowledge that there will be areas of faith we will not agree on. And he pleads with those churches to be of one mind, one love, one spirit and one love. He implores them to not pass judgement. He calls them to seek unity and pursue peace. I, for one, am weary from being told that God is on one side or the other. I am tired of the demonization of the other and the venom being spewed. A generous orthodoxy understands that God not choose one or the other. I heard one person describe it in these words, “God can never be tribal.”

    Chap, you have been and always will be my brother and my friend. You were one the first in our Conference to welcome and embrace me. Thank you for that. I pray now for grace and peace to flow from us and between us.

    Breathe Peace,

    Marty

    • Thanks for your comments, Marty, and I am grateful to call you a brother and dear friend in Christ as well. Like yourself, I hope to always embody a gracious orthodoxy, even when there may be places of disagreement between believers. I also highly value unity, though I don’t believe that denominational cohesion is the only valid expression of that idea. For along with striving for unity I am compelled to strive even harder for fidelity. Please understand that I don’t presume to judge that for others; I just know that for myself I have to follow what I think is the counsel of God wherever I can. I’m praying for grace and peace to prevail and will do my best as a delegate to work towards that goal. Your prayers and love for all of us who will be at St. Louis means all the world, old friend.

  6. Ron Floyd says:

    My experience in negotiating labor agreements was that if you didn’t nail down the details, taking all ambiguity out of the memorandum of understanding, you continued to “renegotiate” every single day for the life of the contract. That is not an exact analogy to what this plan represents but I fear the result will be the same…..continual “renegotiation” of the matter. I for one would hate to see this turmoil continue.

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