Forum 1.4 - Preface & Preamble Reflections
What surprises you in the Preface & Preamble to the Social Principles (pp.17-18)? What would you expect to be covered in the Social Principles based on this opening?
This is a slightly different style forum, with one single thread of discussion, all in response to this question. You are still welcome to reply to specific comments other participants make. Reply and share your thoughts!
I have been using the social Principles for many years, trained other in it, and have had numerous conversations and facilitated study groups in it, so nothing is a surprise or new. My belief system is geared towards seeing the Gospel as a clear roadmap for society to build life practices and social interactions. It describes the way we are required to relate to each other, and how we should create systems and structures that are just, fair and equitable. Justice is the way we love our neighbors collectively. We cannot have a personal relationship with every person in the world, but we can advocate for societal systems and governance structures that uphold the dignity and respect of every person.
Having lived in places where there is institutional discrimination, both in South Africa and the USA, it is critical that the Church stands as a beacon of the most just way we should be dealing with each other. So I expect that the resolutions of the UMC, and the way the Social Principles are created and deployed should reflect the highest ideals and values we can evolve. Sadly there are still areas within UMC polity that discriminate, the Social Principles are not perfect, and we have work to do to fix that.
Brian, as someone who has taught the Social Principles to others, what has surprised people about them or what might folks have commented upon in reading the preface & preamble?
The average lay person in the USA has little knowledge of the reasons for the creation of Methodism, or even John Wesley's comments about Social Holiness. Many like coming to a UMC because they say it does not have dogma they have to adhere to, so they end up with a belief system that panders to the lowest common denominator. It seems it also allows people to infiltrate their personal political beliefs and allow them to override the gospel and of course the positions of the UMC as described in the Social Principles. The result is many people I have helped facilitate come away surprised at the positions taken. They end up resisting many of those positions. There are others who feel that the Social Principles, and the churches constitution don't go far enough, like the position on same sex marriage, or the treatment of LBGT folks who seek ordination. So the Social Principles are not perfect, they often tend to reflect a very American public policy perspective, as opposed to a non country based perspective that a broader population spectrum might adopt. Having travelled the world, and spent a lot of time in Europe, western European ideas about community and the collective deployment of social services that far exceed what America has to offer, I get the feeling that there is resistance to what Wesley had done with poor people, and if they knew more about it, there would be greater resistance to the part Methodism played in the rise of socialism in the UK and the positive effects that has had on the poor there.
I have a vague, general notion about the Social Principals, but didn't really realize that they are detailed and codified the way they are, and I've been a Methodist for about 40 years now. Clearly they are not talked about and shared in our congregations very much.
I think the most surprising thing is the verbiage of the Preamble itself: we will hold the paradox of differing beliefs in unity, we will value every human being as they are, we will peacefully and constructively share our thoughts. I think many folks involved in the LGBTQ debate should read the Preamble.
Trythfully, I'm not sure what to expect. I read the introduction, so I see that there are pretty concrete statements of denominational stands on social issues. I'm looking forward to how these positions translate into our everyday behavior, especially when it has to do with hot button topics like reproductive rights, immigration, and open acceptance of ALL persons.
The preface states that the Social Principles are a call to all members of the United Methodist Church to a prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice. I am familiar with the Social Principles through my studies of UM polity. I do find it interesting that this is a call to all United Methodists, however, as a church we don't "study" them. The preamble is a confession of our shortcomings and a statement of our desire to be all that God calls us to be in this life. The interesting thought is that if we were living our life as God intended, would the Social Principals be necessary?
In an ideal world, perhaps they'd be unnecessary, but I see two main reasons to have them. First, and most importantly, to write out our beliefs or faith story helps us get hold of exactly what we believe. And amending them based on new scientific or cultural issues will help give us direction. Secondly, when someone asks, "What do Methodists believe?" we have a concrete answer. I'm sure that there are plenty of people who identify themselves as Christians who disagree with certain tenets of the Social Principals. Perhaps they'd be more at home in a different church. And that's helpful to recognize.
Jeanne, one thing that can be tricky about the Social Principles is whether we consider them things that United Methodists "believe." In some ways, they are prayerfully written statements that reflect our church's best efforts to articulate faithful living in the contemporary world. But they aren't "essentials" -- throughout the Social Principles there are things upon which Methodists have agreed to disagree. The Book of Discipline includes our constitution and our articles of religion, things the denomination has more historically claimed as "this is what makes us Methodist."
Janet, you make the point I made earlier, and this represents a serious problem. We allow Methodists to believe anything that does not suit them, and these conclusions are drawn lazily, without much study, reflection and discernment, so you end up with shallow perspectives and even warped ideas. I don't believe we should be dogmatic, or certainly not literalist... but we should draw people into a deeper scrutiny of the Gospel in todays world. So many churches are split on issues, like how we deal with the homeless when we have children ministries at the church every day. Fear and concerns about safety dominate the thinking, and we presume every homeless person coming to our door is a potential threat. We don't follow what Jesus said about the poor and outcast. We have a tough road ahead trying to convince people about the full expression of love and justice Jesus articulates.