I have characterized the split in our denomination as between two theologies, Calvinism and Arminianism. Others have used phrases like Modernists v. Literalists, liberals v. conservatives, One Churchers v. Traditionalists. I have found these inadequate because they point only to some of the characteristics of the two sides. And in the case of the term “traditionalists,” I’m an Arminian traditionalist and my friends on the other side are Calvinist traditionalists and we have lived and served God side by side since the time of John Wesley. But let me offer the one key trait among the differences that distinguishes the two theologies for you to ponder: Arminians are necessarily self-critical and Calvinists are not. And that makes all the difference.
To summarize these two sessions of the Council, it is clear to me that the Council settled everything by careful adherence to law, both precedent and written law. They were, as I said several times, “by-the-book.” As much as people may have been unsatisfied with the overall results, no matter what their respective viewpoints, the high court did its job. It took its pieces of the problem and resolved them in a coherent way (new terminology aside!) that showed its grounds as it went. That is a terribly important responsibility in the time of crisis.
The most common myth about courts is that they are concrete and steel edifices that use vague and clunky processes to tell people what to do or to tell people who is right or wrong.
Let me demythologize that for you (my seminary advisor was a Bultmann scholar). Courts are a form of conflict resolution using techniques intended to slow down and separate out the elements of a conflict so that the involved parties can have a safe and organized way to present their respective arguments and in turn, have an arbitrator (judge or jury – a group of arbitrators) compare all the facts and opinions with the rules (or laws or regulations) and provide an independent decision unbiased toward all of the parties.
Courts are far better than duels or wars or bigger weaponry to resolve conflicts. Courts are far better than vigilantes or KKKs or hip-slung six-shooters to handle personal problems. They keep “an eye for an eye” from turning their society into a bunch of blind people. (I think Mark Twain first said something like that.)
Courts work best when they are respected as having the last word over the conflicted parties.
Courts work best when they have a body of rules (law, regulations) that have been developed in a reasonable way by the whole society (or its representatives), rules open to review and refinement or change as experience shows is in the best interests of the society.
Courts work best when they can show for all to see which of the laws they are depending on to support their decisions.
Courts work best when they pay attention to precedents set by their predecessors, point out openly which they are citing, and only deviate from those precedents if the experience of the society warrants it.
Courts work best when they are consistent and apply the laws even-handedly.
Courts work best when they do not answer questions they are not asked.
You can have whatever opinion about my degree of even-handedness but I hope you share my opinion that the Judicial Council did its job as our high court.
The Way Forward Commission, the Council of Bishops, the Wesleyan Covenant and Good News, MFSA, Church and Society, and all the others have worked for the past decade and more on these issues and the scary prospect of a schism. They dumped all that in the lap of the Council who systematically cleared up some things that were within their jurisdiction and gave hope that, by following the Discipline and its constitution, we and they can better define our future, hopefully together.
Now, if the Council and some of the rest of us can get people to stop asking for a “request for a judicial ruling” and learn how to use questions of law and requests for declaratory decisions properly, that would sure be great.
And find ways to keep bishops from straying from their lanes . . . .