Wednesday, June 06, 2012

On Memorial 50

As the Wesleyan General Conference wraps up, I thought I'd share a few reflections on some of the major decisions that were made (or not made) by the delegates in Kentucky. Memorial 50 was an attempt to add a new section to our Articles of Religion specifically covering the doctrine of sin.

Now, you might think it weird that something so important as the doctrine of sin is not ALREADY in the Articles of Religion. That would be a good thought, but let me put your mind at ease a bit. Article 8 (on 'Personal Choice') currently includes mention of original and personalized sin and our utter dependence on God's grace to be saved. Indeed, one could well argue that this new memorial is quite redundant.

Apart from this potential redundancy, there were some positive aspects of this memorial. I like that it (unlike Article 8) talked about how The Fall and sin impacted all of creation (not just humanity). I liked the distinction b/w original and personal sin. I also liked the distinction b/w voluntary and involuntary sin. I like theology, and I believe these distinctions are important to make in my opinion.

But do I like these particularized distinctions to be included in a denominations Articles of Religion? That is a slightly different question. Some would question the wisdom of inserting such a particularized statement on sin at a denominational level. One delegate wondered if we were painting ourselves into a corner by taking so many controversial positions in what is supposed to be a statement many can agree about.

And, of course, any time you say a lot of theological stuff in a short about of space, you open yourself up to much critique. Many delegates objected to some of the wording of Memorial 50. The main debate had to do with the line that involuntary sins 'do not incur divine condemnation and judgment' and yet 'still need the merits of the atonement.' In the absence of mention of prevenient grace, this seemed to many like an internal contradiction.

A number of amendments were suggested to improve the statement, but basically just created more disagreement. In the end, Bud Bence (who apparently was part of the team that put the statement together) stood up and said even he was going to vote against the memorial since it seemed like there was more work to do to make it less objectionable. I think that sealed the deal. It needed a 2/3's majority to pass, and it didn't even get a majority (215 NO, 105 YES).

In my opinion, memorial 50 was pretty redundant. If anything, I'd rather see a slightly improved Article 8 than the addition of a completely new article. I would have voted NO simply because I don't think the addition was necessary. I fear, however, that the majority of the NO votes were not motivated by redundancy, but by dissatisfaction with the wording. So I expect that we'll have the denominations theologians write up a more carefully nuanced statement on sin and it'll be proposed again 4 years from now (though I'm still hoping they'll simply propose an amended Article 8 instead).

But voting on doctrine is definitely a strange thing. For instance, I would have voted no even though I didn't really have any problem with the way it was worded (b/c I don't think ANY statement was necessary). But by voting NO I would have been voting the same as a large group of people that wanted a statement but had trouble with the wording as written. In a sense, I had more in common with those that voted YES than NO. Maybe that explains why about 40 delegates apparently didn't even vote on this issue!

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