At GC2008, I got two flyers today: one from a renewal group and one from a caucus group. I was struck by two very similar statement from these very different groups.
From the renewal group regarding abortion:
After the 1972 General Conference narrowly approved legalized abortion…
And from the caucus group regarding gay inclusion:
In the 1970s, General Conference narrowly, and at the last minute, changed the language regarding homosexuality to that we have today.
We all know that General Conference is 50% + 1 for passage into the United Methodist Church. However, why do we use the language “narrowly” when it applies to legislation that we disapprove of? I can think of two reasons:
- Such statements are used to discredit the language that is in the Discipline by emphasizing how narrow the “win” was.
- Such statements are used to nuance that the Discipline is a political document. Most every line is the result of political wrangling.
It is important to emphasize the politics so that people don’t see our polity as sacrosanct. However, to use language like “narrowly” evokes images of people claiming a 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to discredit the decision. While it can be evoked by caucus groups to promote how controversial their issue is when pushing delegates at General Conference, but I feel it has limited benefits outside those contentious times.
But I guess I would question if it is really necessary to continue emphasizing narrow “victories” (see post on militaristic language here) of the other side to give credence to your issue’s viability. Such language is meant to divide and question, not bring unity through diversity.
There has been a movement the past two GCs that I’ve been to that desires to put in “we are not of one mind” into certain areas of contention (abortion, gay rights, etc). That gets shot down by delegates who demand polity to be an instruction book with no nuance. I think this is a mistake because it does not speak to the divides to bring comfort to those who are not of “one mind” with the church. Perhaps by giving language that reflects the “unity in diversity” that so often permeates the Discipline decisions, we would find more cause to discuss them in civil natures, not relying on the language as the final word.
Any thoughts on this? How can we resolve language of “narrow” triumphs with “not of one mind” language…while balancing the need for doctrinal authority?