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.

About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. He is the Executive Director of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub North America of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church and an Oklahoma Humanities State Scholar. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University or the United Methodist Church.
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