According to Urban Dictionary a hot mess is: “When ones thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty.” This seems a good way to characterize David Watson’s recent post on United Methodist Unity.
In his post, Watson begins by saying that “Acts of intentional and public disobedience to the Discipline by those who have taken vows to uphold it have caused many in our denomination to ask whether a unified future is possible.” He then goes on to state that his discussion of unity will show why Maxie Dunnam, Rob Renfroe and others who have explicitly called for schism are not to be labeled schismatics.
It is a high bar Watson has set for himself, and he proceeds on to run directly through it, without even jumping. The rest of his discussion shows that Christian unity rests in two trinitarian sets: 1) Faith, Hope, and Love, and 2) Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The problem is connecting the thing he says he is going to do with the thing he does. Unfortunately, Watson has provided us no connecting tissue to do so. In order to make the connection, he would have to show that Dunnam et. al. are affirming the Trinity, while those who disagree with them are denying it. But this is manifestly NOT the issue on which they are disagreeing. They are disagreeing about the ethics of homosexuality. Watson’s thoughts are clearly in disarray.
This is not to say that he is, however, wrong. His account of Christian unity is spot on. Christian unity is to be found in the essential teachings and praxis of the Christian tradition. Without faith, hope, and (most essentially) love, there is no Church, even if the General Conference owns all the property. Without Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is no Christianity, even if we all hang out and sing hymns together.
The trick is separating these essentials from non-essentials, on which Christians should be allowed to disagree. Unfortunately, Watson has succeeded in confusing these two royally here. But he has also set out a model that could take us beyond the mess of his own thought, and toward a true Christian unity that could carry us past the current talk of schism. This is undeniably attractive.
So, a hot mess.