I Have Examined the “Third Way”

Last night, July 31st, was a great day – it was not only JK Rowling’s birthday, it was Harry Potter’s. To celebrate the hero who struck down the dark Lord Voldemort Reconciling Ministries Network posted a picture of Harry Potter with a quote, a harmless way to celebrate the greatest literary figure of modern times, but Reverend Drew McIntrye cried foul (as shown in the picture to the right).IMG_3131
Drew is a person who claims to be a moderate, in the middle, and to listen to all sides; yet rather than asking RMN about why they were celebrating Harry Potter with a quote…on his birthday, Drew knew what their motivations were and called them out on their malicious act of aggression. And I, in the same manner, called him out for instigating and jumping to conclusions. Which lead to Drew asking me to read some of his articles, so I examined his writings and found exactly what I hoped not to.

His blog is not his own, but a shared collective of heterosexual White men “in the middle”, called Via Media Methodists (VMM) see here. This groups claims to “offer an alternative beyond the current polarization in The United Methodist Church” and “to raise the level of discourse within The United Methodist Church”, which sounds nice, but I wonder how they are doing that without any minority groups represented. From the 4-6 articles I read, none of the authors actually engage the arguments of RMN or Good News, they reduce both “sides” to stereotypes, and then elevate their third way as being the best option. But the third way has no solution to end LGBT suffering, no fix for the polarization besides “relationships”, no plan for how to fix the division in the church, in other words – the third way so far is just more privileged people talking to each other about how they have the answers.

My friend Benjamin Moberg recently wrote an amazing post about the problems within this rising “third way” movement, his post addresses same-sex marriage specifically, but can be applied to the overall problem of the third way, that it is all talk and no walk. One thing the Good News & Renewal Movement people have in common with the people of Reconciling & Love Prevails is this: they are doing things. RMN & Good News are writing legislation and meeting in churches, doing the work that leads to change (or to staying the same; the third way, so far, is only offering a new and creative of way of sitting still and doing nothing.

I wonder if the VMM have any desire to aptly reflect the theological views and beliefs of the “polarized” groups they condemn. I have yet to see on their blog participate in a genuine engagement with any of the authors of the RMN blog or any of the writers of Good News; I have seen that they do take the time to insult and criticize both sides which I guess is fair enough. But what the UMC needs now is leaders, not people who only have the ability to sit still and nay-say. What the UMC needs now is people with power and privilege to humble themselves in the sight of the Lord.

Back to LGBT inclusion, Drew explained to me why the VMM does not address a solution to the current exclusionary laws in the Book of Discipline in a tweet which was promptly replied to by  another tweeter.
IMG_3129IMG_3127It amazed me that Reverend McIntyredid not see the debate around LGBT inclusions to be doctrinal or ecclesiastic, when it is concretely about the doctrine of human sexuality/creation and the way the Church functions. How then does this “issue” (one of the most talked about in our global connection) not elicit concern for the ordained elder in the UMC? I cannot presume to know, but perhapsit could be because the heterosexual, cisgendered, White, male, married, middle-class, already ordained elder – has no need to be concerned except when it comes to the issue of schism. I am a queer, cisgender, Black, male, single (non-practicing for you BoD nerds), seminarian, the way these debates go determine whether or not the UMC has a place for me in it. It is through that lens I see these “secondary” arguments, they are very real for me because they determine for me if Christianity is what we are looking for, or if we need to look for another (see Matthew 11:3).

Someone asked me recently if I was willing to change my mind on the “issue” of LGBT inclusion, and I said yes, but I should have elaborated. I am not willing to change my mind if that means believing that LGBT persons are not fully loved by God, as they are, but I am willing to change my mind on whether or not the UMC has the ability to join with God in loving my LGBT siblings. Despite my snarky tweets and sarcasm, I am an optimist, I believe the UMC is capable of being the Church, of being that community of love Christ prayed for; but new evidence is being presented daily that is changing my mind about that. The VMM is just another example of how little God’s LGBT children matter to the powers that be. My mind is changing about whether or not the UMC is capable of being like Christ, but my spirit…my spirit calls to my remembrance that in God all things are possible. Even the third way can stop stagnation and start moving somewhere, even Good News and RMN can come together and live into the reality that they are one in Christ, and that even the UMC, the giant bureaucracy it is, can fix its eyes on Jesus and become His hands and feet in the world today.

I have examined the third way, and like my friend Ben I found it lacking, but I also found another way on December 31st, 1995 – that way is called Jesus and following His example I plan to love and include all who seek to be reconciled to God, because I do believe that Jesus is the One we have all been looking for.

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9 thoughts on “I Have Examined the “Third Way”

  1. As somebody who used to describe himself as a moderate in this vein, I’ve come to a conclusion that most moderates (not all, most) think along the lines of “You know, maybe the current state of things isn’t great, but, hey that’s our polity. Whatcha gonna do?”

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  2. Jarell,

    As an advocate of a kind of Middle Position (although not officially associated with VMM), I would like to thank you for your engagement and critique. Your strongest point, as I see it, is the need for greater diversity of various kinds represented within the via media. I don’t like it when identity markers become devices for ad hominem attacks, but attention to diverse perspective which grows from our identities is necessary to any search for justice in the world. It is here that I think you are certainly right.

    You are also right that the middle is not simply a position in favor of moderation. Though such terms are always contested, most of us who identify with the middle are advocating for (1) a way to move forward that maintains the Order of the UMC – though there is a great deal of disagreement on how to construe Order (2) a way to allow greater freedom within the church for disagreements about the ethics of homosexuality, and (3) a traditionally orthodox and Wesleyan theology. (I don’t mean the numbers to represent a ranking). So, you are right that those in the middle are advocating for something, and not just looking for compromise.

    However, on several other points, I think you may be reacting in ways that don’t adequately recognize the breadth or fecundity of the Methodist Middle. For one, I do thin that VMM has done a good job at several points of engaging with arguments from the extremes. Their podcast (in its short life) has included an interview with Matt O’Reilly, who is a critic of middle positions from the right. VMM has also hosted a set of criticisms of the A&W plan, which is proposed from the right. Now, it may be true that they have not engaged as much with the left, but it is also true that the left has not (to my knowledge) produced a realistic proposal for legislative action at the next GC.

    Another point at which I think you over-draw your critique concerns your charge that middle position Methodists have not been active. “A Way Forward,” the proposal by Revs. Hamilton and Slaughter, and the “Agree to Disagree” proposal associated with the same figures at the last conference were broadly middle position proposals. This does not mean that all advocates of middle positions supported or support them. But it does suggest that those in the middle have been at the forefront of presenting realistic proposals for changing our current polity. Even those of us who advocate not to change the current language of the Discipline (I have come close to supporting such a position) are not in favor of standing still. Rather, we are seeking, as I suggested before, a position that allows whatever freedom is possible on the issue of homosexual ethics within the Church.

    Finally, although related to the above, you underestimate the breadth and diversity of the middle. Drew and the VMM are not the only people who represent this kind of position. People like Joel Watts and myself also embrace middle positions. Those who advocate for the middle, I think, do not necessarily share any one position on the issues of homosexual ethics. Rather we overlap in agreeing that we ought to be free to disagree (and upon the other issues above).

    Again, I appreciate your critique, and I thank you for your engagement. I hope that you will continue to engage as we continue prayerful discernment of the future of our tradition together.

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    • Hello, thanks for stopping by and for your respectful comment. I am really glad you brought up the Way Forward, I have read it and was actually one of the first 3,000 people to sign it, my signature can be found on the webpage for it. I would argue that Adam Hamilton stopped being in “the middle” when he made an argument for full-inclusion, not only in a sermon, but then again in his most recent book. He used Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Personal Experience to come to the conclusion that full-inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the Church is of God. But I do see how many still attribute him to being in the middle, because his Way Forward statement still fails to include minority voices, or to address the harm being done to LGBT Methodists.

      I do see how many in “the middle” argue for more room for disagreement on the issue of inclusion within the Church, but if that room does not allow everyone to come to the table, what is the point? Keeping the current laws in place creates no room for disagreement, because currently anyone who disagrees gets banned from church membership (ie Joey Heath), defrocked (ie Frank Schaeffer, Jimmy Creech), sued (ie Amy DeLong), or stopped from being ordained (ie Mary Ann Barclay).

      I do thank you for your time, and hope to continue in discussion with you in the future.

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      • Thanks for your kind response. I think there may be some confusion here. Middle positions do not necessarily keep the current laws in place, in fact most middle proposals would change Church law to allow for disagreement on these issues. Those in the middle do tend to want an enforceable order in the Church, but also want an order that reflects the possibility of disagreement. This is why I include A Way Forward as a middle position. It allows for practices of homosexual ordination and weddings, but does not force participation in those practices. This is, on my understanding, quintessentially what the middle position desires. We don’t all agree on the particular means to get there (should churches vote? Should we create different jurisdictions?), but we do all tend to agree that we need to maintain unity while structuring our institution to allow for disagreement in practice.

        You can see this in a bit more detail in a post of mine that VMM re-blogged at http://viamediamethodists.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/reblogged-what-does-the-methodist-middle-look-like/

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  3. FWIW, I think McIntyre is correct in assuming the stereotypes of how progressives and conservatives view the Third Way–the “other side” in sheep’s clothing.

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    • My point was not that the people in this alleged “third way” are wolves in sheep’s’ clothing, but rather they have refused to put on clothes at all.Thanks for reading.

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  4. Jarell,

    Thanks for reading some of our material. Here are a few thoughts on this post and, by extension, the twitter exchange that you reference.

    “Rather than asking RMN…” I actually have several friends affiliated with RMN, because I do in fact listen to people on all sides (not just that, I try to befriend them). I asked an RMN staff person about this picture on FB before I tweeted about it. The first time I asked the question it was deleted; i put it up again, and it it was never answered.

    As Kevin pointed out, folks in the middle have offered and discussed a variety of proposals. Several of us were actually working on one of our own, but Hamilton’s proposal got released first. Moreover, VMM and even the idea in the church of associating with a third or middle way are fairly new, so we are still just getting started in many ways. If you don’t think we or I have engaged the arguments of Good News and RMN, I suggest you read Evan’s post on social holiness vs. social justice and my own (multiple) critiques of the conservatives’ schismatic statements on my personal blog. My twin posts with questions for the UMC schismatics were attempting to ask serious questions of both the left and right caucuses. And if we are caricaturing the left and right, I’m not sure dismissing all third way folk as “all talk and no walk” is any better.

    I find it unfortunate you seem to think you know so much about me from one twitter exchange and a few articles. It is even more unfortunate that you have you chosen my tweets selectively to build your case against me, VMM, and (somehow) the entire, diffuse thing loosely identified as the middle or third way. For instance:

    I explained why I am not interested in the LGBT discussion on social media here – and our interaction unfortunately confirmed for me the near impossibility of mature exchanges in this medium: https://twitter.com/DrewBMcIntyre/status/495047239229001728

    I agreed doctrine, ecclesiology, and LGBT matters are related here: https://twitter.com/DrewBMcIntyre/status/495046963638050817

    Moreover, I was genuinely appreciative that you were reading our material (and despite that, you continued to passive-aggressively critique myself and my colleagues): https://twitter.com/DrewBMcIntyre/status/495042982060761088

    It is absurd to suggest that I am not “concerned” about the matters that divide us. But, as I said, I would rather deal with root issues (such as: what does ordination mean? what is a Wesleyan view of marriage? can our polity hold together divergent views without losing something critical to our polity?). If everything is reduced to a yes or no on gay ordination and gay marriage, we aren’t going to get very far because the conservatives in our denomination have the votes.

    Your reference to Matthew 11:3 makes little sense.

    I found this conclusion particularly troubling: “The VMM is just another example of how little God’s LGBT children matter to the powers that be.” Firstly, how are we “the powers that be”? We are three young clergy of little importance. Secondly, you don’t know me, and you don’t know us at all. You don’t know if or how much we care for LGBT persons. You don’t know who our friends and family members are. You don’t know who our church members and staff people are. You certainly haven’t read enough of our materials to know that some of us have openly expressed our desire to see church policy changed, or that some of us have expressed an openness to a change in polity that would allow more flexibility on questions of marriage and ordination.

    On the whole, Jarell, I find this all pretty disappointing. I have previously engaged your writing with much appreciation. I even shared one of your pieces on the VMM Facebook page back on May 29. So I believe we are not so far apart as you think. But whether or not you are interested in hearing that is up to you.

    Unfortunately, this strikes me as yet another, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” argument – and frankly I think the church has seen enough of that on both sides.

    Peace to you as you study and discern your calling. Thanks.

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    • I am glad to see you did try to engage the RMN people before you tweeted that accusation.

      I don’t recall claiming to have an encompassing knowledge about you from the tweets, but I apologize if it appears that I made that claim. About my “passive-aggressive critiques”, I was under the impression that they were neither passive or aggressive, they were simply me tweeting my opinions about the middle. Not everything I tweet is specifically about you or your friends.

      We are in agreement that root issues are what need to be dealt with, but I would assert that the root issue is not ordination or marriage; but that some in our connection are reading the Bible (or 6-9 verses of it) in a fundamentalist manner and calling their Scriptural approach Wesleyan. But that’s another conversation.

      My reference to Matthew 11:3 was a Biblical allusion.

      You are the powers that be in that you enjoy the authority that comes with be fully vested in the governmental authority of the UMC, as an ordained elder you are now a part of the system. Even more so as a person asked by a bishop (outside of your own annual conference) to take place in a forum on human sexuality. And as a person in the majority group who is protected and upheld by the BoD rather than oppressed by it you do indeed count as one of “the powers”. You are right, I do not know your family members or their stories, but were they something you wanted me to know, I am sure you would have informed me about them – since they were not written about I left them out of my analysis of your blog posts, much like you did not include the stories of my parents or my siblings in your comments. “You don’t know if or how much we care for LGBT persons.” You are right I don’t know if you care for LGBT persons or how much you do if you do at all, because you fail to state it.

      We are also in agreement about our disappointment, just as you were disappointed in my blog post, I was also disappointed by your reply, and your original tweets. Mainly because it seems as you have come not to learn or to even seek if I have any issues that can be addressed, but merely to defend yourself and your own agenda. Does this article sound like an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” argument, yes probably because it seems you are not with me in my genuine commitment to make sure all voices (even minority groups) are heard.

      “But whether or not you are interested in hearing that is up to you.” I am interested in hearing, I am interested in hearing and seeing the blind see, the lame walk, and the lepers walk away cleansed. (That’s another Biblical allusion to Matthew 11) My problem is I am hearing and seeing less and less of those things and more and more exclusive hatred, bigotry, and blatant refusal to listen to minority voices. I do hear and see a lot of groups claiming to listen to both sides and seek solutions, but all too often those groups fail to address their own issues of exclusionary practices and divisive rhetoric.

      Thank you for your time.

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  5. Pingback: Examining the #UMC #viamedia in #UMCSchism – the Faithless extremes | Unsettled Christianity

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