Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘Controversial’ Category

November 14th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Crossing Swords

I have, according to many, committed the unforgivable sin. I dared to have concerns about  the Wesleyan covenant Association. Have no fear however, dear reader, I have been firmly chastised for my mistake by members of the WCA, including ordained elders in the UMC, across a variety of forums and in personal messages. The chastisement did not take, but it happened. Oddly enough, some of these concerns were the same ones I voiced two years ago.  These concerns are also those I have voiced about the UMC in general over the past four years of writing. The point being these are not new. In fact, when I voiced these very same concerns about the UMC, many in the WCA applauded me for doing so and pointed to them as a sign of the problems in the denomination. Whatever concerns I had about the Wesleyan Covenant Association are all overshadowed by this chastisement however, and really the behavior of the rank and file of the WCA.
I have a deep and abiding respect for pastors. When a pastor says something, I take it seriously, I examine it, mull it over, contemplate and meditate upon it. I do this because I believe in the call. I believe that pastors have been called by God to lead the church that Christ started. So, when a pastor, whether it is mine or not, explains to me that I do not care enough about doctrine, that I do not care about the direction of the UMC, that I am unwilling to use my resources, including monetary ones, for the advancement of the church, and thus the Kingdom of God, that I would refuse to “cross swords with” (their words) my pastor over the WCA if it came to it, and that every concern that I have is frivolous and amounts to nothing, I take that seriously. When it is more than one pastor that says it, I take it more seriously. I also have a long memory. In grade school, I was the quiet kid. I was smaller than everyone else, and that, combined with my being the quiet one (I know it is difficult to believe that I was ever quiet lol), led to the predictable childhood bullying. These things happen, and kids can be cruel, I understand all of that, and do not feel as if I was overly victimized, but I do remember what that felt like, even now some decades later. It feels a lot like pastors in the WCA levying personal and slanderous statements designed to discredit concerns instead of addressing them.
I hear and read pastors and laity in the WCA commenting on a variety of topics, like we all do from time to time. All to often, I hear them comment in dehumanizing ways about people. Most recently, it has been about the migrants coming from Central America. Let me be perfectly clear here, Christians can, and do, differ on what we feel are the best immigration policies for the nation. That is not only perfectly normal, I think it is healthy as it demonstrates individual thoughts and ideas that can be brought to the table to find solutions. I am not talking about conversations about political policy, I am talking about the abject failure to recognize these sojourners as bearers of the Imago Dei, and as such, human beings, just like us. It is not just the migrants however, it is pretty much anyone that is remotely “undesirable”. Gang members are animals, drug addicts, most specifically those using opioids, should be left to die instead of receiving life saving treatment, women who have had abortions being consigned to hell for eternity because of that choice, those who experienced same sex attraction being beyond redemption, no matter if they act upon it or not, women abused physically, emotionally, and sexually, that are living in perpetual adultery because they left their husbands due to such abuse and had the audacity to get married again as their husbands may have done horrible things, but they did not cheat on them after all, and really, the list goes on. Your members seem to take a perverse enjoyment of consigning people to hell, and frankly, that job is way above any of our pay grades. I myself have been told that I am assisting Satan in leading people to hell through the LGBTQ agenda because I was not troubled that the Rockefeller Christmas tree was from a farm that happened to be owned by a married lesbian couple. I have been told that I am serving the adversary because I do not blindly support the current president in all of his policies. I mean really? I serve Satan because I do not blindly follow an earthly king? I will put that in my list of things Jesus never said. This is what I hear from all to many of the rank and file in the WCA, pastors and laity alike. This is the message they are spreading and this is the way they are recruiting others like them to join. That is certainly not anything resembling a Wesleyan view of scripture.
There is the pressure of the false dichotomy that it is the WCA, or it is nothing. This is how the rank and file often presents things. It is a fear based bullying tactic that tries to convince people that this is their only option for faithful witness to the historic faith as understood by Wesleyans. If you care about, and really insert whatever you would like here, then you have to join the WCA because that is the only way to protect that. Let me take just a moment to remind you that the faith will not disappear as the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Pragmatic action is not always faithful action after all.  Our choice is not the WCA or nothing, it is faithful witness or nothing, and one can live a faithful life outside of the WCA, but to listen to many of the rank and file, that is not so. I know that you are the big bully on the block and that I am just a little guy, but I learned to stand up to the bully. My personal favorite is the offers to pay for my membership for a year. Just try it, if you don’t like it, don’t renew. It reminds me a lot of my old drug dealer. First taste is always free.
I mention things like this and I am reminded of the leadership, and how good it is. This is true. Many of the best theological minds in Methodism are part of the leadership. I can accept that the leadership is amazing, but that is not the problem. The problem is who they lead. The best shepherd can lead a diseased flock, but the disease will remain. It’s not all of us I hear, and that is correct. I personally know many wonderful pastors and laity that are in the WCA. The problem is that for every one wonderful and faithful follower in the WCA I know, I meet three more that reflect the above. The abyss has stared back and you have become the monster that you fought. When a group reflects more of  Nitzsche’s paradox than it does a wesleyan view of scripture, then it does not deserve the title it claims. Your rank and file does this. I get it. There is very real pain and hurt from this thing, but that is no excuse. We need to be better and rise above it, not to fuel it.
You can say all the right things about theology, and by and large, the WCA does. The problem is that it has not become practical and lived out. If your theology causes you to treat people as anything less than those who have been created with the Imago Dei, it is wrong. If your theology leads to to consign people to hell assuming the role of God, then it is wrong. If your theology causes you to look at those who agree with it, but won’t pay the membership fee, as agents of Satan, then it is wrong. To many of your rank and file are wrong and the vast majority of experiences that I have had over the past two years shows me that, even if my experiences with the WCA membership is unique, that even if I have had the misfortune of meeting the worst that the WCA has to offer, it has outnumbered the best. False teaching in the church is always  struggle, and the WCA was formed to counter that. That is a noble endeavor. False teaching is more than the scripture we quote or how we understand it however, it is also how we live it. This was one of the central points that Christ was trying to point out to in the admonishment of the Pharisees. Earlier I mentioned the pastor who had specifically accused me of not being willing to “cross swords”.  I mulled over that as much as I did everything else, and he likely had a point. I have been largely unwilling to cross swords, though not with my pastor, or any pastor, but with the WCA, over the rank and file of it’s membership, how they treat people who disagree, or have concerns, the way they speak about the least and the lost. Consider my sword drawn. Here’s my thrust.
“Woe to them! For they went the way of Cain, and gave themselves up to the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah. These are sunken rocks in your love feasts, feasting together with you; feeding themselves without fear; waterless clouds being carried about by winds; fruitless autumn trees, having died twice, having been plucked up by the roots; wild waves of the sea foaming up their shames; wandering stars for whom blackness of darkness has been kept forever.” (Jude 1:11-13)
September 26th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Augustine, Addiction, and Asses

At my church, we recently had a Narcan training session. For those who might be unaware, this is the treatment used as an immediate counter to opioid overdose in an attempt to save a life. As is my habit, I took some time to reflect upon these things, fully cognizant that as a recovered addict who yet remains in recovery, I have a different view than some. As a quick aside, I have always been interested in the nonpracticing Catholic phenomena. It’s similar to addiction really…yeah I am an addict, but I am not really doing anything related to it…that is what I mean by recovered and yet in recovery. I am not doing anything that involves my actively being addicted, but there is also the reality that it is a part of who I am and what has transpired, but I digress. As I was considering the spiritual implications of this training, I found my thoughts drawn to three interesting places, Saint Augustine, The Articles of Religion, and Balaam’s ass.
The story of Balaam is fascinating really. The Biblical account is fanciful (and in truth, since Shrek came out, I always read the ass’s words in the voice of ‘Donkey’), carries deep meaning, and inspiring in many ways. You can find the story in Numbers 22-25. A very short summary of the story is that Balaam has been summoned by a pagan king to curse the Jews and to guarantee a Moabite victory. God instructs Balaam not to go, Balaam says he won’t, then goes anyway, and God sends an angel to stop him which only the ass sees, and, having God opened it’s mouth, tells Balaam off for it. In fact, the ass veers off the road three times, getting beat each time, all because it saw the angel of God and was trying to save Balaam. Keep this story in mind as we move forward here.
Saint Augustine of Hippo had this really interesting idea. He would write “Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Your power, and of Your wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Your creation, desires to praise You — man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that You resist the proud, — yet man, this part of Your creation, desires to praise You. You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” I want to focus on the thought in bold face type. Our hearts are indeed restless until the rest in God. What then will man do to find rest for his heart? Will we throw ourselves into a job giving all of ourselves to it for the praise that comes with worldly success? Perhaps we will throw ourselves into sex, finding multiple partners, or some form of serial monogamy? Perhaps it is pornography, finding rest in the release of fantasy? Maybe it is an obsessive quest for knowledge? Perhaps it is gambling seeking the rush of winning on speculation?  Maybe it is the local church, doing so much trying to find God that you manage to miss His rest? It can be nearly anything really, and I believe that all of us have at various points in time tried to replace the rest that God will provide our hearts with any number of things. As the community of the faithful, we should understand this better than anyone else. We should also understand that it is not always a matter of sin or moral failing, but rather a side affect of the condition that we are born into that only God can provide true rest from.
The Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church has this to say: “Article VII — Of Original or Birth Sin Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.” This is the condition that all of us are born into. This is the very condition that causes us to seek rest for our hearts in all manner of things that are not God. This is the condition that causes Balaam to beat his ass for veering off the road when the angel is seen. This condition is what causes Balaam to not see the angel in the road. This condition is what causes us to seek that which is not of God.

This corruption of our nature is the very thing that causes some to seek the rest that addiction promises, but does not deliver on. Yes, there are genetic predispositions and the like, but I am not speaking of biology here, nor do I deny it, but rather an speaking of the condition of our very nature that is in deep need of restoration. (Biology and the mental disease that addiction matters deeply in treating it. I am cognizant of this and do not deny it, it is simply not in the scope of this piece. You can read more about the physical aspects of addiction and my struggle with it here.)  This condition pushes to us to all manner of things, other than God, to seek rest for our hearts. Like Balaam, we are all on an ass that is veering us off the road to protect us in the form of God’s prevenient grace working in our lives. For an addict, that grace can very easily look like this.

I have heard Narcan compared to everything from EpiPens, to cancer treatments. I have heard every argument why it is that it should not be easily obtained, should not be distributed widely, and should not be openly available to those who need it. All those arguments amount to one thing…man trying to prevent the grace that God has extended to all of us from taking hold. We all have an ass that has veered us off the road we were on for our own benefit. In many circumstances, we have the chance to be the ass that veers someone off the road for their own good. In administering Narcan, for the sake of this piece, we are doing just that. We are willingly and knowingly becoming the ass that veers our rider off the road so that they may see the angel ahead of them and to allow God to be heard. We have all experienced God speaking in a way, such as through a talking ass, such as through us, that we would have never expected. It is far past the time that we stop stigmatizing another ass because it looks different than ours.
July 30th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Satan the Christian?

My family and I are incredibly lucky that a pastor sought us out. Out faith was solid, we had been attending church, but not any one in particular with regularity. A pastor extended us an invitation, no strings attached, and was never pushy, but remained persistent. It was wonderful. Since being involved in this church, we have been blessed by friendly and faithful people, Wesleyan preaching, and a family that we do not otherwise have for the most part. Most recently, the sermons have been inspired by a fairly famous quote from John Wesley. “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”  Imagine that, pastors who are not only committed to trying to do this, but is not trying to do this second hand, or as a result of something else, but is challenging and leading his congregation to become those 100 preachers. It is amazing. I know that other pastors do this, but it seems less and less are trying and that to often those who do try are sort of attempting it on the sly and not as the primary goal. To be fair, that may just be my impression however. I certainly mean no offense to pastors and their individual styles of course, I am simply trying to explain how much I appreciate my pastors and their willingness to take this head on. As always, my opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the church that I attend, or the source material that inspired these thoughts.
So on Sunday, in a service where baptisms were performed, and the special music was amazing (my wife sang, so of course it was), an incredibly profound sentence was spoken by the pastor during the sermon. I do not remember the quote directly, but it went something like this. If the only thing that you need to do to be a Christian is believe that Jesus is the son of God, then even Satan can be called a Christian. There is a trend toward the belief that one does not need to go to church to be a Christian, yet scripture, the book of Hebrews specifically, seems to disagree fairly strongly. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful who promised),  and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) 
Looking at verse 23, we find the instruction to hold fast to our baptism. I am not going to reprint my thoughts on that here, but I encourage you to take a moment to read them. Wesley would comment in his New Testament notes, “The profession of our hope – The hope which we professed at our baptism.” An important part of our Christian faith is then rooted in baptism, but not simply the act of baptism, the profession of what we believe that called for baptism in the first place. Yes, all should be baptized of course, but yes, all should know what they are professing at baptism either as the one being baptized, or as those entrusted with raising the child being baptized. By the way, the congregation participates too, so you have a part in this. The congregation needs to remember these things and live up to their vows made at baptism as well.
Verse 24 is pretty straight forward on the surface of it. Provoke one another to love. Seems easy enough all in all, save that we rarely seem to understand or agree on what ‘love’ means these days. We have lost the understanding that the audience of Hebrews had about love. (More on love here. ) Consistently throughout both the Old and New testaments, love is tethered to obedience to ordinances and commands of God. We should provoke each other to follow the commands of God, to communion, to baptism, to the instructions of Christ (which are the commands of God of course), etc. Also, we should provoke each other to good works. This is also the message of James, though I dare say James puts it more bluntly. “My brothers, what profit is it if a man says he has faith and does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,   and if one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them those things which are needful to the body, what good is it?  Even so, if it does not have works, faith is dead, being by itself.   But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith from my works.  You believe that there is one God, you do well; even the demons believe and tremble.  But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:14-20) No, this is not works based salvation, but that is a different discussion for a different day. Here James makes very clear that good works are a vital part of the Christian faith.
Finally we come to verse 25, and really the crux of all of this I do believe. Wesley would say: “Not forsaking the assembling ourselves – In public or private worship. As the manner of some is – Either through fear of persecution, or from a vain imagination that they were above external ordinances. But exhorting one another – To faith, love, and good works. And so much the more, as ye see the day approaching – The great day is ever in your eye.” Yes, Christians assemble together for public and/or private worship. It isn’t an option.
Christianity is not always easy. If someone told you it was, I am sorry. It’s easy to know what to believe above Christianity really, but it is not easy to live the life of faith that we are called to. We are called to a faith that is better than that of the demons and Satan, their master. We are called to the faith of Jesus Christ and His Bride, the church. Simple logic says that we can not wait upon Christ, the Bridegroom, if we are not a part of the Bride. In truth, if we are not devoting our time to the Bride, then we are in effect guilty of the same adultery that God divorced himself from Israel for. (see Jeremiah chapter 3) Brothers and sisters, I would have us all live the faith the God, through Christ, has called us to, and not the faith of the adversary. It may not be a pleasant truth, but it is a truth none the less: If we are not living the faith of Christ, through the church, then we are serving the faith of Satan.
July 16th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

The US/Russia Summit

This morning, as I am having my coffee, and after my reading and prayer time, I have been reflecting on the meeting between two of the most powerful leaders in the country. I wanted to take a couple of minutes and record those thoughts here as well as reflect on the more recent things that have occurred which have damaged US/Russian relations.
  • No, it is not ok that another nation (Russia) interfered in our elections. It’s also not ok that we interfere in other nation’s elections. If we want to get all indignant about it claiming the moral high ground, that starts by example. If we are the leaders of the free world as we like to claim, that leadership starts by example, and in international elections, we have not given a good example. (source)
  • The reality is that there were warnings that a foreign government, specifically Russia, would try to interfere in a US election as early as 2014, but the common perception that nothing was done is not quite so true. Russia was warned by US intelligence officials speaking to their counterparts in Russia not to do this. This is a common way to relay messages in international politics. Former POTUS Obama personally warned Putin not to do this, via the “red phone” that is normally used for nuclear matters, but had previously been agreed could be used for cyber matters as well. This is a very rarely used method of contact. Those warnings did not work. You can say that enough was not done, and I am one of the voices that says this,  but you can not say honestly say that it was ignored. (source)
  • After it became known that Russia was attempting to influence the election, former SCOTUS Obama expelled 35 diplomats and closed two Russian compounds in the US. I am among the voices that say the response was not significant enough both from the US, and from our allies, but there was a response and saying otherwise is not honest. Contrary to the rumors, POTUS Trump did not ease sanctions on Russia, but yes, the sanctions were slightly adjusted in a way that is generally seen as routine so as to not harm American companies. In any other time, it would not even be a news story. Democratic leaders such as Pelosi, were wrong in their assertions. (source)
  • No matter what happens at this summit, there is  sizable group that will not be happy. The Trump tweet, while bombastic as usual, is likely correct regarding this group. He’s correct when asserting that Putin could give up Moscow in reparations for past misdeeds, and many would complain that Trump did not get Saint Petersburg too. There is a large group of people who will not allow Trump to be correct about anything or to have a good idea, even if they supported it previously. That is not loyal opposition, which is vital to this nation, it is just opposition for the sake of gaining power which is how we will fall. It’s most recently seen in the opposition to whomever Trump nominated to the SCOTUS before they were nominated. They hype and partisanship is astounding at this point, and frankly it is dangerous.
  • Until now, I have defended the Muller Probe. I don’t generally like special prosecutors and think it could have been handled a different way, but this is how it was chosen to be handled, so be it. It is vitally important to know what happened in the tampering by Russia so that it can be prevented in the future. It was also important to know if there was collusion, which I feel the need to point out that there is no evidence of such. I no longer support this inquiry because I was not born yesterday. Suddenly, just a day or two before Trump and Putin are to meet, there are conveniently new indictments of Russian hackers.  It is difficult to see this as anything other than an attempt to influence the meeting. There is no reason that the indictments could not wait. Furthermore, there are then the calls by Democrats, and apparently some Republicans,  to now demand extradition of the hackers from Russia. (source) Let’s start with the obvious. Putin is not going to do this. That is just the reality of the situation. Let’s move to another reality, we have no extradition agreement with Russia. Let’s move to the legal, even if they wanted to, Russia could not extradite them due to constitutional restrictions. “Article 61 1. A citizen of the Russian Federation may not be deported from Russia or extradited to another State.” (source) I am not naive. I understand that Putin likely doesn’t care about the constitution. I do however. I would not want our nation to violate our own constitution, so because of that, I can not reasonably expect another nation to violate theirs. Neither should anyone else.  The Democrats demand the impossible and will then blame Trump for not delivering it. That is not good and healthy for the nation. That is not loyal opposition. That is the very type of power play that they frequently deride Trump for. Frankly, there are more important things to worry about anyway. The probe needs to come to an end. We know what was done, we know who did it, and we know that it was not a matter of collusion by Trump, which was the initial claim. Stop spending more and more money on the thing since it’s original purpose is now unfounded and the meddling unmasked.
  • Despite the claims of some, the two most powerful leaders of the world, who collectively control 90% of the world’s nuclear stockpile, sitting down and talking is a good thing. If you are talking, you are not shooting. I imagine that the START II treaty will be discussed and enforced, perhaps even expanded, or at least the framework for an expansion. Less nuclear weapons seems far more important to me than a few hackers that we can not reasonably expect to prosecute anyway.

If all that comes of this summit is that two powerful leaders have a good chat and start to repair damaged relations, then it was a success. Russia is not our friend, again, I am not naive, but we can work with them in some areas. It’s not a bad thing for 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons to be able to have a civil chat. I am so passed the Russia Trump crap. There is not evidence, so at this point, it’s just slander. I am not a Trump supporter, though some policy decisions he has made I do like. I find myself defending him more and more however not because I particularly like his style or all of his policies, but because there is such an irrational opposition and unwillingness to work with him, that it is terrifying. There are those who are hoping that the Russia meeting will fail just so that Trump will look bad. Actively hoping that the leader of your nation fails? Really? Be opposed to Trump all day, but be loyal opposition, and give credit where it is due, otherwise, we have already lost The Republic.  In truth, I fear that we have.

June 8th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

OAKLAND UNITED METHODIST CHURCH In Their Own Words

If you missed it, the story of Oakland UMC, in their own words, started earlier, so feel free to catch up with it if you have not yet had the chance. As before, my words will appear in the bold face type you are now reading, and the words of Oakland will appear in the italic type. Remember, stories are what our leaders are telling us that we should be listening to. Stories are the thing that matters most these days it seems, yet somehow only the stories that neatly fit a preconceived narrative get told. This is the story of Oakland UMC and it’s people. This story does not fit the narrative of unity that some want to put forward, but tells a story of the very real divisions that we have and the very real ways that we are treating our brothers and sisters in the faith poorly through the actions of some of our leadership. Let those who have ears hear.  

The Easter Visit, Legal Letters, and the Vote

On Easter Sunday at Oakland United Methodist Church, our District Superintendent showed up unannounced only minutes before the service started and requested to read a letter from our Bishop, Latrelle Miller Easterling. Pastor Kent Tice allowed him the time, despite our already jam-packed schedule, reasoning that a message delivered on Easter from the Bishop would probably not be bad. However, the timing of this visit – on Easter Sunday, disrupting the flow of what was already a full service and injecting tension into our joyful celebration of the Resurrection – was very poor.

Perhaps this disruption could have been overlooked had the Bishop’s letter shown an understanding of our church’s concerns and provided pertinent responses, and had our District Superintendent’s interactions with our members been more directed to genuine dialogue, answering questions, and learning why we feel our denomination is leaving behind Biblical inspiration and authority. However, the letter did not address our actual concerns but rather refuted caricatures that bore little resemblance to our actual stated goals. Given that the DS and Bishop’s awareness of our meetings came directly from a few Oakland members, rather than mere hearsay, and given the effort required to write the letter and have DS Rivera deliver it, one would have hoped for its contents to be more accurate and relevant. In an irony evident to us in hindsight, the bishop stated that “we are not helped by misinformation, half-truths, coercion, or manipulation,” implying that Oakland’s leadership was guilty of these, but the main points of misinformation the Bishop attempted to respond to in her letter were not, in fact, things we had said.

Additionally, the District Superintendent’s tone and manner were brusque and dismissive, both while reading the letter and after our services when conversing with congregants. One woman wrote of her experience coming to Oakland that morning:

When I arrived to second service Easter Sunday, I could tell immediately something was wrong, there was a feeling that was beyond anything I had ever felt in a church. I am always one of the first to arrive and enjoy sitting in the sanctuary before the service. I was handed a letter by a man I did not know at the door entering the sanctuary. I asked JoAnne what was going on, she said the district superintendent was there and had spoken first service and was going to speak again about some issues. Upon entering the sanctuary, I witnessed Edgardo Rivera speaking to Elijah Tice. I was sitting close enough to observe Rivera speaking with the utmost grandeur and superiority over Elijah. Rivera was obviously a very dramatic and theatrical man as I witnessed him speaking with several other people in the congregation. I also witnessed him speaking with [one of our board members] to which I could attest he was being rude and condescending which sent her to tears. During Rivera’s speech he read the letter from the Bishop and then gave his personal testimony. I thought it was humorous and pathetic that he used his race as if it was some type of propaganda, I too am Puerto Rican and was offended.

Easter, like Christmas is the time visitors attend; the lost, the hopeless, the ones who need a boost back into the faith; the ones we really need to reach out to. Rivera and whomever else is involved took that day away from those of us who wanted to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior and potentially damaged those visitors who really needed Jesus and a church family that day. In my opinion, what the Bishop’s letter said and accused JoAnne and Kent of should have been left to a special meeting of members instead of regular sermon whereas most people didn’t have a clue what was going on. I will add, not once has Joanne or Kent encouraged us to leave the church, never have they lied to us about what is going on within the denomination ever. In fact, Kent has been so gracious and gentle about the entire situation I often think of him when I need to practice those skills.” – Diana Quiles-Kush

Another woman wrote:

“As Mr. Rivera began his letter from the Bishop, his tone to the congregation was in a harsh manner, as if he was reprimanding a child. His voice was loud, and his words were quick. As I listened to the letter, I realized that everything that the Bishop had sent for Mr. Rivera to address with us was completely wrong, nothing that was in that letter was the main issues we had against the United Methodist Church. I even at one-point thought that possibly Mr. Rivera had received a letter meant for another congregation. By the time he was finished, I looked around the congregation and saw many confused and stunned faces…. I was appalled and disappointed in Mr. Rivera’s actions with our congregation on Easter Sunday. To the point of thinking, ‘This is Church and we have guests.’ …. I have been a Methodist since 1977 and Mr. Rivera’s visit to us on Easter Sunday only solidified the decision I made to leave.” – RoseAnna Fisher

Kent and JoAnne also received a letter directly from Bishop Easterling reiterating several of the same points as the public letter. (Letter from Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling) JoAnne wrote a response that she sent to Bishop Easterling and also published as Facebook status and share on Oakland Church page: https://www.facebook.com/joanne.alexander.79/posts/1677532828998099

Unfortunately, the Baltimore-Washington Conference wasn’t done with Oakland UMC that week. That Thursday the members of our Administrative Board received a letter from Tom Starnes, Chancellor of the BWC. (Letter to Oakland UMC Administrative Board) Most of the letter was predicated on the same misunderstandings that had been evident in Bishop Easterling’s letter. The letter appeared essentially irrelevant to our situation. The end, however, contained language that seemed to threaten legal action against Oakland UMC Board members – personally. The letter ended with the heart-warming statement that “the Conference stands ready to take all appropriate steps, including the prosecution of civil judicial proceedings, to ensure that those principles [viz. the “Trust Clause”] are honored by all local church officers.” The wording here seems most plausibly to mean that the Conference would sue individual officers of Oakland UMC to ensure that we honor the Trust Clause. Why the individual officers, and not Oakland UMC itself? Why did the Conference feel the need to threaten legal action to ensure that individuals honor the Trust Clause as if we could steal the building and hide it in our basement? The letter clearly seemed designed to intimidate Oakland Board Members and to impact our vote, which was scheduled for the Sunday after Easter. We already had information indicating that suing individual board members and trustees was in the UMC’s playbook – not just in the BWC’s playbook – so this letter was quite alarming. Even without that information, however, the letter would have had a chilling effect on our vote.

We took the vote on April 8th and, of the 147 ballots that were sent out, we received 97 back by the deadline. Of these, 81 voted in favor of leaving and 16 in favor of staying. Four ballots were returned as undeliverable, and four ballots (two “yes,” two “no”) were not received in time for the official count. Kent and JoAnne notified the Conference through DS Rivera.

On May 4, Kent Tice received a letter from Bishop Easterling demanding his “appearance” before her at 10 a.m. on May 9th, or else he would be removed as Pastor at Oakland UMC. (Meeting with Bishop Easterling) However, none of us were quite prepared for the direction that meeting, or the other events of that day, took.

There you have it, their story continues, and, as of yet, is not any happier. I want to take a moment here and be clear, the Bishop has not, to this point in our story anyway, done anything that is expressly against the Book of Discipline. I do support following the rules and processes outlined in the Book of Discipline. All of the actions taken are within the governance of the United Methodist Church. I also want to point out that the Bishop did not have to do it this way all but ensuring conflict. One can follow all the rules and still act in a manner that is unprofessional and confrontational. All of the events that have happened to this point could have been handled in a much different manner that would not have been confrontational, but been in a spirit of reconciliation. How does interrupting an Easter service where the Resurrection is to be celebrated as the reason that we can become disciples of Christ, help to make disciples of Christ? How does any of this. No, the Bishop did not break any rules in the Book of Discipline, and yes, the Bishop, the District Superintendent, and everyone else on the level above the local church end of this could have acted in a much better manner. For a denomination that is calling for unity, these appear to be actions that guaranteed separation. Stay tuned for more on the story. Let those who have ears, hear.

The story continues. 

 

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