Hermeneutics and Schism


The image is taken from here.


In November of 2009, I became a United Methodist. My wife and I had been members of Southern Baptist Churches for most of our faith lives and had spent most of that time trying to figure out why we didn’t fit in. I had a conversation one day with Kevin Lobello, pastor at FUMC Griffin (GA), where my daughter was going to kindergarten. After the conversation, he gave me a copy of the Book of Discipline and asked me to read the doctrinal statements section. I came back a week or so later and said, “That makes more sense than anything I’ve read up until now.” Kevin replied, “Then, I know what your problem is: you’re a Methodist, not a Baptist.”

Since then, I’m a Methodist.

As I came into the world of United Methodism, I had no idea how divided they actually were. The issue of LGBTQ ordination had been a longstanding issue (going back to 1972 and before) and being in a suburban, southern locale, the issue was a non-issue. The majority, not all, were against it but didn’t seem to talk much about the subject. Year by year, the conversation became more frequent and honestly, more contentious so that by the time I left seminary, it was a regular part of the conversation among my peers. The after graduation, I was serving in a suburb of northern Colorado Springs when the news came to us that the Western Jurisdiction had elected the first LGBTQ bishop. Since then, the din around the issue has been a nonstop noise in the background of UMC church ministry.

I realize that the issue of hermeneutics (the way we interpret what we read and hear) has been discussed regarding this subject for some time and by more accomplished and educated individuals than myself. Nevertheless, the issue seems to come down to two basic methods of interpretation – the Bible is fact, or the Bible is truth. I think a bit definition might be in order and one of my favorite movies provides a basic definition of both terms. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Doctor Jones is lecturing to his class about what archaeology is. It goes something like,

Archeology is the search for fact, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s Philosophy class is right down the hall. So, forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever marks the spot.[1]

Of course, Jones goes to exotic locales, digs up tombs and treasures, and finds one of them under the Roman numeral for ten (X) in a library. The bigger point, however, is the definitions of fact and truth. Fact, by this estimation, is that which is empirical, provable, measurable. It is that which can be observed and experimented on to produce results that are beyond (for the most part) doubt. Truth, on the other hand, is a philosophical construct, something that revolves largely around interpretation and perspective, something that would be defined as subjective.

The problem with the argument in United Methodism regarding the LGBTQ issue is that both extremes are claiming truth as fact. Both sides are simultaneous calling out the other for misinterpreting the issue while claiming to be on the side of the facts. The truth is there are no facts, nothing that is absolute about either position biblically, historically, sociologically, or otherwise. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in this discussion can be regarded as anything other than perspective for either side in the argument.

If we are to come to a solution, this is the first step. Maybe we’ve already taken it and I missed it. If so, we’re doing a lot of arguing and wringing our hands about the issue instead of being about the work of the church. If we haven’t, maybe we should.

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097576/quotes/?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu

2 thoughts on “Hermeneutics and Schism

  1. MJ,
    Something struck me as i read your musing; I’m not sure i agree with your understanding of hermeneutics. I was taught that hermeneutics was the analysis of a text to discern its falsity or truth. Meaning, does it represent a trustworthy account of God’s interaction with people/world. Hermeneutics cannot prove facts; for instance, whether there was a place called Jerusalem or a people called the Hebrews. I believe the discussions about ordination are strictly speaking hermeneutical ones and that’s why people disagree.

    1. I think that leads into the discussion as well. The definition I am using is the simple definition of hermeneutics being “the science of interpretation using written, verbal, and non-verbal communication.” The fact that hermeneutics can have a range of definition underscores the point. I think.

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