The Epistemological Divide in United Methodism

Religious groups are communities of practice based upon a shared theory of reality and a shared tradition of enquiry. As our shared experience challenges our theory of reality and we face epistemological crises (crises of how and what we know), our tradition of enquiry is challenged to ask new questions and to ask old questions in different ways, all of which leads to changes in our community practices that conform more appropriately to the new answers and new understandings of reality that come from our shared experience. Religious traditions, practices, and theories of reality are not static or absolute, nor are they simply changed without deep community engagement with our shared experiences and values.

Much of the current division in the United Methodist Church is related to members of our churches responding differently to the epistemological crisis brought on by the rise of the scientific method and the Enlightenment. Those who have addressed this epistemological crisis and recognize that revelation does not mean unchanging or absolute truth but rather the best understanding of a faithful community in a particular historical, social, and historical context are able to revise their theories of reality, traditions of enquiry, and community practices in ways that are congruent with new understandings and experiences of our LGBTQIA+ siblings.

Persons and communities who have not worked through or who have denied this epistemological crisis are continuing to avoid the fact there is a crisis by clinging to a view of revelation and its interpretation that is absolute and unchanging. When pressed to include and affirm persons who are LGBTQIA+, they are reminded of the broader epistemological crisis, which they have simply denied is a crisis by holding on to a pre-Enlightenment worldview of faith. From their perspective, to be open and affirming of persons who are LGBTQIA+ becomes a threat to their whole way of seeing the world.

The United Methodist Church will not be able fo bridge the divide over this epistemological crisis before General Conference in May of 2020, and with those who have not worked through the epistemological crisis attempting to force those who have worked through it to comply with a pre-Enlightenment worldview with all the sexism, patriarchy, and anti-LGBTQIA+ attitudes and practices that it entails; it is no longer tenable for United Methodism to exist in its present form. The centrist solution of straddling the fence of this epistemological divide in order to preserve the religious institution cannot hold us together as one denomination any longer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Senator McConnell’s Disqualifying Conflict of Interest

Photo – Shealah Craighead via ZUMA


I have been called to jury duty three times in my life, but I have only served on one jury. The first time I was called for duty, I was seated on a case in which an employee sued a large corporation for not providing appropriate compensation and credit for a process the employee had developed and submitted through the company’s employee innovation program. The employee’s original idea was adopted by the company and saved the company a significant amount of money. The employee won the case easily.

The next two times I was called for jury duty, I was not seated on a jury. One instance of not being seated was likely owing to being a professor of ethics with a public record of writings that one side in that particular case thought might have biased me against them. In the other instance, a criminal case, I recognized that the defendant’s lawyer was a former student of mine, and even though I think I could have been a fair juror in the case, I reported my relationship to the defense attorney to the judge and was removed from the panel.

The point I am attempting to make here is that there are times when being a juror is appropriate, but there are other times when relationships, conflicts of interest, or potential bias make it inappropriate to serve on a particular jury.

One very clear case of a disqualifying conflict of interest would be If my spouse were employed by a person who was on trial. There is no way I would ever be allowed, nor should I ever be allowed, to be on the jury of a trial in such a circumstance of clear conflict of interest and potential bias. No objective observer would consider it appropriate for me to serve as a juror in such a trial, and I would rightly be judged harshly if I did not report this clear conflict of interest.

Being a juror in such a case would simply be wrong, and it would be even more inappropriate to be in a situation where I was not only a juror in such a case but also in a position to influence who testifies and how the proceedings of the trial would take place, yet this is precisely the role Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, will play in Trump’s trial. Senator McConnell’s spouse is employed by and owes her job in the President’s Cabinet directly to Trump. A U.S. Senator in this situation with any integrity would recuse oneself from participating in the trial of the President.

Given the patriarchy of the time in which our Constitution was written, perhaps the founders did not foresee the possibility of the Senate Majority Leader (a position not created by the Constitution), or any U.S. Senator for that matter, having a spouse who is employed in the President’s Cabinet, and thus did not think about the implications this might have for a trial of the President in the United States Senate following impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives. The conflict of interest that Senator McConnell has is glaring, and he must not be allowed to serve as juror and as one who has a position of influence over the proceedings of the upcoming trial of our current president. Senator McConnell clearly does not have the integrity to recuse himself, but the American people must not allow his clear conflict of interest and his inappropriate participation as juror to go unchallenged.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Impeachment and the Threat of Violence

Washington Post – Getty Images

Trump and his allies think they can bully the impeachment process to an end by blocking the proceedings as much as they can and by using propaganda to rile up their base to threaten violence if Trump is removed from office. That may be how white supremacist America does things, but that is not how constitutional America works.

The threat and actual use of political violence have long been tools of white supremacists. This is one of the main reasons they insisted on the right to bear arms to control the millions of persons they enslaved for centuries. They used violence to occupy indigenous persons’ lands, murder indigenous people, and violently remove them from their homes. It is no wonder Trump looks up to Andrew Jackson. They used violence to intimidate, torture, and kill black persons after their use of violence to preserve slavery failed. Violence is the political “go to” button used by white supremacists if they don’t get their way by other means.

In spite of these threats, the impeachment process will continue. No bullying or threats of violence will stop it. In spite of these threats, the president will be impeached and brought before the U.S. Senate for a trial as prescribed by the Constitution of the United States of America, and if Republicans put party and power over country to unjustly acquit the president, he will still be removed from office in 2020 by a vote of the people.

Trump has often used the white supremacist dog whistle that he is a “law and order president,” yet when the enforcement of the law brings him ever closer to justice, he argues that he is above the law and encourages his followers to threaten disorder. Bullying, guns, and threats of civil war cannot win the day. The wheels of justice must keep on turning, and those turning those wheels must take courage no matter what the white supremacists threaten to do.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

If Columbus Had Been a Christian…

If Columbus had been a Jesus follower rather than an Empire Christian, he would have respected that the lands he happened upon were inhabited and he would have engaged the indigenous persons as equal siblings in humanity rather than abuse, torture, murder, and enslave them. He and his shipmates would have conducted themselves as respectful guests in a home not their own rather than cutting off persons’ hands who did not provide them with enough gold and raping and murdering their children.

If Columbus had been a Jesus follower rather than an Empire Christian, upon his return to Europe, he would have made an impassioned plea to only have peaceful contact with his newly found friends rather than conquer them, displace them, and commit genocide against them. He would have argued that the indigenous persons’ land and freedom were not for the taking and their ways and lives should be respected and not molded into a European image.

Good people from good countries would have respected that people already lived in what we now call the Americas and would never have forcefully taken the land. They may have entered into trade agreements and some cross cultural exchange, but they would have gone back to Europe and said that the land they found is inhabited by people and that it was their sacred duty to respect these persons and not invade and destroy them.

If the European countries had been Jesus followers and not Empire Christians, loving rather than conquering the indigenous people would have been the only appropriate response to encountering new siblings on our planet. Imagine what a different world if might have been had Europeans followed the way of Jesus rather than the way of Empire! But they didn’t follow the way of Jesus and left the death and suffering of millions of persons in their wake, and Jesus wept…. uncontrollably and without consolation.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How Low Will They Go?

How low will Republicans allow the current president to take them? Today, the President’s lawyer literally argued in a court of law that the President could murder someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City and would be immune to prosecution.

This alone is horrific, but when you combine this with the President’s over 12,000 demonstrable lies while in office, his use of foreign policy for personal political gain, his obstruction of justice on multiple fronts, his acceptance of emoluments, his betrayal of battlefield allies in Syria, his allowing at least 100 ISIS prisoners to escape and then lie about them being recaptured, his capitulation to nationalist tyrants, and his disdain for our traditional allies; what you have is the most dangerous and immoral presidency in the history of our Republic, and yet Republicans just keep going lower with him as if there is no bottom.

Perhaps there is no bottom. What a tragedy that would be for our country and the world!

Our country was strong enough in the 1970s to reject the horrific argument by Nixon that “if the President does something it cannot be against the law.” Will we be strong enough today to reject the same immoral argument coming from the current president? Will enough Republican senators once again put country and constitution over party as they did in response to Nixon?

When it comes down to it, will enough Republican senators vote to convict the current president when he is impeached for his many offenses and comes before the U.S. Senate for trial, or will they simply mildly rebuke his behavior on twitter and cling to power no matter the costs to the soul of our republic?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Protecting Universities From Their Presidents

No university that values academic integrity and academic freedom should ever allow its sitting president to serve as a paid director of a for-profit company. The risks of conflicts of interest on the part of the president and undue influence on the part of the company are too great. This is especially the case if the CEO/CEOs of the company/companies are members of the board of trustees of the university.

In the case of when the CEOs sit on the university’s board of trustees, how could the university president make fully objective decisions as a paid director for the well-being of the companies, potentially including decisions about the CEOs when the CEOs are effectively serving as the university president’s boss (with the power to give the university president raises and the power to fire the university president)?

How could the CEOs that serve on the university’s board of trustees make fully objective decisions about the university’s president if he or she is serving on their companies’ boards and has a vote on whether they receive raises or whether their contracts are extended or discontinued?

What if the companies for which the university president serves as a paid director want something from the university that will be beneficial to the companies, like research or programs that will help the bottom line of the companies? Given that the university president is likely receiving compensation from the companies in the form of stocks, how can the university president make fully objective decisions about what research or what programs the university should provide for the companies when what is good for the companies will likely lead to an increase in the price of the stocks that the university president has been given by the companies?

What if, for example, one of the companies for which the university president serves as a paid director and from which he or she receives stock as compensation wants to pay the university to provide the company with research that it plans to use to lobby the federal government to keep regulations from being implemented that might hurt the bottom line of the company, which might have a detrimental effect on the company’s stock prices? Any ethical university president would clearly see the glaring conflict of interest and the threat to academic integrity that such a situation would pose, but a university president with a lot of stock in the company has a lot of incentives not to see the conflict or to willingly ignore it or explain it away.

What if one of the companies has a problem with the research, scholarship, or advocacy of one or more of the professors at the university and asks the university president to put some pressure on professors or perhaps even remove programs that the company sees as being problematic or in conflict with the company’s success? A university president being paid large sums of money by the company will more likely comply with such grossly unethical requests.

Clearly any university that values academic integrity and academic freedom and that respects its administrators, faculty, staff, and students would never create such a context in which a university president would be allowed to be in such an overt and obvious circumstance of conflict of interest in which for-profit companies might be allowed such inappropriate influence on the life of the university and on the members of its community.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More Than Human Survival

I often hear sincere climate justice activists say that since it is likely that life on earth will find a way to come back like it has in previous mass extinction events that the real or primary reason to address the climate crisis is for the survival of the human species.

There is some truth in this assertion. Yes, life will likely find a way to come back as it has before, but if we are only addressing the climate crisis to save ourselves and our species then we fail to see the real loss and suffering that we are also causing our nonhuman siblings in life on this planet.

What we are doing to the planet is having and will continue to have a profound impact on non-human life, and the suffering we are causing nonhuman life is wrong in itself even if it did not also threaten the survival of the human species. If we take out ourselves through climate inaction, we will take out much of currently existing nonhuman life with us, and that life matters for its own sake.

The way forward to a deep commitment to climate justice is a recognition that we are all persons in a greater ecological community and the other members of our ecological community also have inherent worth that ought to respected. Yes, we are fighting for the survival of the human species, but we are also fighting for the survival and flourishing of so much more than ourselves.

It is difficult for some of us to think and act in non-anthropocentric ways. Most of us have been conditioned to view the world in dualistic and hierarchical ways with humans separate from and on top of nature. This attitude is one of the primary reasons that our human survival and the survival of other forms of life are now threatened.

The way forward to radical systemic change for a livable climate is to realize that we are not just saving ourselves; we are cooperating with our ecological communities to save as much life, both human and nonhuman, as we possibly can. In this attitude of love for the other members of our ecological community, we might even find a deeper salvation as members of the community of all life than we ever thought possible.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments