Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘Society and Religion’ Category

November 18th, 2018 by Joel Watts

Uh… here I am.

Have you seen this?

 

I left the UMC in October of 2016. We attended for the remainder of the school year/church year (because churches close in May) but I did not take communion. For a variety of reasons I have detailed elsewhere, but namely because the UMC failed to hold any marks of a Church, either by Protestantism or the universal standards.

Recently, we have begun the search to find a new congregational home. It is difficult because I am still dealing with hurt over separating from the UMC — and the ongoing… uh…. issues.

Anyway, for the past few weeks, I have attended a local ACNA congregation. Thus far, the sermons have been thoroughly Wesleyan. Eucharist has been served. No church fights. No declining population. The Creeds without crossing fingers. I feel as if I can tolerate some large amount of differences, but when it comes down to it… I am a Creedal guy. I believe the Creeds for some pretty particular reasons.

Anyway, I am also doing some different type of work. Working as an Substance Use Therapist. Scott has maintained the blog for a while, by himself, but I’m back. I’ve updated the search issues, taken care of the 403 issues (I hope!) and will commit to writing at least one post every two weeks. I am going to try to get to writing more posts, but… I am mentally exhausted. Plus, I have a book to finish.

In regards to finding out home of faith, I will keep you informed along the way.

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)
November 10th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

How the WCA Can Reach Me.

More than one person has asked me what it would take for the Wesleyan covenant Association to reach me and to have me join. To be truthful, I have mostly dodged the question, but it has been asked often enough that it deserves an answer, however unpopular it may be. I am going to address what it would take in a series of points, in no particular order, so that when asked in the future, I can simply refer people here, but also so that those who have asked get a well deserved answer.  Going into this I want to admit freely that I am cynical of pretty much any UMC group like this no matter it’s theological “side”. I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of a UMC advocacy group. I mention this so that it is known upfront, taken into account when reading, and perhaps it will illuminate some of my concerns somehow.
1. The WCA, as would be expected, has issued statements about what they believe about the Bible. Those statements can be found through their website. (https://wesleyancovenant.org/about-page/#1533314242168-c269fe11-86cb) I completely agree with their statement on Biblical authority, and also on their statement of faith introduction which reads: “We affirm classical Wesleyan doctrine and the historic faith, which the church has used to define the parameters of Christian teaching. Doctrine, properly understood, unifies the church and gives direction to its life. ” This is a beautiful and powerful statement. Other beliefs are listed, but there is nothing about how scripture is to be viewed. I understand that much of what is said alludes to what is known as infallibility, there is nothing that says so succinctly. The literal inerrant view of the Bible is a distinctly modern view of scripture (the last 100 years or so), that says the Bible contains no errors whatsoever. The history of this is easy to find, so I will not delve into it here. The infallible understanding of scripture affirms that the Bible is true in faith and practice, but does recognize that while it contains history, it is not a history book, and while it contains things scientific, it is not a science text. Yes, matters of faith and practice are trustworthy and true, without a doubt, but other items may not be.
What is the big deal you ask? Part of the big deal is history. What history has shown in, both within this denomination, and in the church catholic, is that when there are two competing views of scripture, there will inevitably be conflict, and often severe conflict. We are seeing this in the UMC now. Part of it is my step son. IF his pastor or Sunday school teacher is teaching from a modern literal inerrant view point, it creates potential conflict with what is being taught to him at home. I have already had to many instances of having to unteach what he has been taught at church.  Sooner or later, this disagreement on how the Bible is to be viewed will bubble over into needless argument and disagreement. To reach me, the WCA needs to decide if the scriptures are literally inerrant, infallible, etc.  There needs to be some understanding of how the Bible is to be viewed and at least some basic guidance on how it is to be best interpreted.
2. The WCA affirms the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith of the EUB. This is good. What I think is needed is some attached commentary, much like Asbury and Coke did with the first MEC Discipline, that explains what they mean. Again, in the UMC right now, we have lots of people who affirm these two things. Many of those who affirm them have a drastically different understanding of what they actually mean. We need some clarity to avoid the same problems we have now going forward.
3. In looking at the WCA council, it appears that there are twenty six individuals there. Of that number, only five re not Reverends, Doctors, or Reverend Doctors. That is a concern to me. In a denomination that took over America on the back of it’s laity, I would have expected a more equal representation here. In the future, I think that I would need some assurances that the leadership will include a more equitable breakdown.
4. I am not paying a membership fee, nor am I accepting a grant that would forgive it, or another to pay it for me. This has been offered. The amount is $100. Whether you think that a lot, a little, or somewhere in between, I am not paying. My $100 gives me a vote, and the ability to come to conferences that I can not afford to go to anyway. It seems to me a problem that if the claim is that the WCA is the best expression of Wesleyan faith available, that it would be charged for. I have never had to pay to be a part of the faith, nor have I ever had to pay to have a voice. I am not starting now. There is no mandatory cost to be a part of the Wesleyan faith, so it seems to me there should not be a mandatory cost to be a part of it’s main proponent.
5. As a member, there are obligations. This is true of any group of course. As laity, I have issues with some of the obligations of membership. “2.  Advocating for the WCA in their local church”. I will do no such thing. The local church I am a member of is entrusted, through our appointment system, to an amazing team of two pastors, and I will not advocate for anything that might even remotely damage their ministry in the local church. Should my pastors wish to do this, I trust that the Spirit has moved them to, but I will not. I will advocate Christ and Him crucified, the faith once and for all delivered, etc. but I will not, under any circumstances, advocate for any para-church group within my local church. I find that rather disrespectful to my pastors and the mission of the local church. “3.  Spreading the word about the WCA to neighboring congregations, clergy, and laity, encouraging their participation as appropriate” Much as I would not do this in my own church, I will also not do it in another church for the same reasons. More than this, all individual members are asked to do this, including pastors. It would not take to long before I walked out of a church where my pastor was openly advocating for a para-church group on a regular basis. It would not take me long to leave. I have come to church to be a part of Christian fellowship, not to be recruited for a group outside.
6. This is the tough one, and one that there is likely not a hard and fast solution to. When I hear and read the words of many WCA members, I can not tell the difference in vitriol between them and Love Prevails or Reconcilling Ministries. The language is different of course, as are many of the theological issues, but I can not tell the difference. I want to be a part of something better, not something that is so anger and hate filled. I want to be a part of a church that is political, there is no choice really as we are a kingdom, but not partisan. The only government that we should be endorsing in a Royal Monarchy with Christ on the throne and us as co-heirs. I read people talking about immigration, for example, that seem incapable of actually viewing those fleeing here as human. I read posts on gun control that tell me that I am either a murderer, or hate God and America. I read posts that talk of LGBTQ individuals being the tools of Satan. There is no place for any of this. It is a symptom of our deep spiritual sickness, and frankly I am afraid that it is being built into the foundations of the WCA due to all the vitriolic rhetoric that we see. I don’t know how that is fixed. Maybe strong statements from leadership on issues as they arise not from an earthly kingdom standpoint, but from the standpoint of the only kingdom that matters? I don’t know. I only know that it is concerning.
There are some other things that I think would be beneficial for the WCA to do, but they do not rise to the level of something I actually have an issue with. These are the five main things that concern me and that keep me from the WCA. These, by and large, outline what the WCA needs to address to get to me. I am not saying that the WCA should. I believe that any organization has the right to set their boundaries and policies. I am not saying that the WCA can. I am unsure about how their internal structure works. I am not saying that the WCA will. I hope that those reading this take it into consideration of course, but I am not expecting change just because there are things I am uncomfortable with. The question has been asked often enough that it deserves an answer. That is all this is. Take it then as you will.
October 27th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Pricing Out the Poor

Before I get into the meat of this, I want to make a few things abundantly clear. First, I understand that conferences and the like take money to coordinate and put on. I get it. This is the reality of the world that we live in. I also understand that such conferences are not really aimed at people like me, and that is ok as well. I am not arguing that they should be really. For those who attend such conferences, you should continue to do so. I believe them to be educational and uplifting. I write this not as a criticism so much as simply trying to make anyone who reads this aware of the true cost. The price of religion in dollars, in everything from seminary to Bible Study materials, is rising and to the detriment of the faith I think. I do not have a solution to this, but I also know that I hope someone does. All I am trying to do here is to demonstrate the real cost of one conference to illustrate the problem, not to make a critique of anything in specific, but rather to speak to a larger problem in general.
In Dayton, next year, there will be a conference called Spirit and Truth. You should go if you are able. The speaker list is great, and it promises to be an amazing time of fellowship and learning. I want to make perfectly clear that is going to be a great thing in my estimation. I went through and calculated the cost, at the cheapest I could make it, including the gas from my location to there, and came up with the number of $250. This includes the gas (an estimate) from Columbus to Dayton, the hotel, a modest allowance of $5 for  lunch and $8 for dinner, and staying at a no frills hotel that serves a continental breakfast. That really is not that much all in all. This price is for me alone. That is really not a terribly high cost all in all. Here is what that cost looks like to my family however.
The items listed are today’s prices at Walmart. I could do more shopping sales, but this should do to demonstrate. The total of this shopping list is $250.18 delivered curbside and packed into the trunk.
122 ounces coffee
4.6 pound boneless pork shoulder roast
50 ounces frozen ravioli
2 pounds spaghetti
48 ounces plain tomato sauce
43.5 ounces diced tomatoes in juice
48 ounces tomato paste
4.5 pounds cabbage
26 ounces instant mashed
2 pounds carrots
2.25 pounds bacon
5.25 pounds smoked sausage
20 ounces tomatoes with green chilies
32 ounces shredded cheddar
8 ounces cream cheese
16 ounces pasta shells
42 ounces cream of chicken soup
2 packets brown gravy mix
10 pound ham
45 ounces bread crumbs
32 ounces sliced cheddar
32 ounces shaved honey ham
8 ounces chicken base
96 ounces vegetable oil
32 ounces brown and serve sausage
16 ounces white rice
4 pounds ground Italian sausage
5 dozen eggs
96 ounces various frozen vegetables
60 ounces bread
15 pounds russet potatoes
3 gallons milk
9 pounds ground beef
21.6 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
2 pounds butter
5 pounds flour
This list contains things that could normally be found in our shopping. I did not include the various seasonings as we generally have them on hand. If I were to buy this right now, it would feed us, and feed us well, for quite some time. Where others see $250 dollars for a conference, I see the above list, or something similar. Mind you, if this were done the way I normally shop, it would be more as I would shop sales and purchase some things in bulk through GFS to save even more.  With just a titch of stretching, we could eat well for a month on this list…with some to spare. That is my family of three of course.
Again, to be clear, I know conferences and such cost money. I understand that. I know materials cost money. I know all of this. I guess what I am asking is when you figure out the price of a thing, you do not look at it in dollars, you look at it in something very practical, like food. How much food will this conference cost a person. How much food will this study cost a person. Maybe it puts things into perspective. Maybe I am crazy and am the only one who thinks like this lol.
This is not a plea for people to sponsor me to go to a conference. I do not want that. This is not an attempt at trying to make anyone feel guilty. I do not want that. This is not a lament of being poor, I am ok with that. I am not trying to say anything negative here at all, but rather to show a different way to look at the cost of religion. What this is, hopefully, is a way to try and show what the cost of religion can look like from a very practical point of view.  One might even call it practical theology, and that should be popular with us Wesleyan types.
October 25th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Initial Thoughts on the Judicial Council Oral Arguments

Theologically, it will come as no surprise to anyone who reads regularly, that my theology is rather traditional. I have made the case for this many times, so I do not feel the need to do so again here. What I am going to comment on here is the oral arguments and some of the observations I have from them. This piece will refer to the oral arguments in the One Church Plan alone.
The first striking thing was to hear the CoB talk about the importance of the creeds and the Great Tradition. Especially when so many of them have made claims outside of the creeds and the Great Tradition. Odd how they invoke it when they ant to somehow make this seem historically valid. Their claim that the Creeds have nothing to say about human sexuality is simply wrong. God is creator, the creeds affirm this. God’s design, as articulated by Christ, was “from the beginning”, which means creation. Claiming God as creator claims something about your view of homosexuality, whatever it is. Sorry, but yes, who we choose to have sex with is rooted in the creeds as the Creator God had a design and plan.
The first thing that I noticed is the different approaches in those who were speaking. Those speaking on the side of the Council of Bishops, including the Bishops, focused heavily on emotion, common progressive slogans and tag lines such as “unity, not uniformity”, a history of the Methodist church that seemed to me to be at worst revisionist,  and at best, implied things that simply are not true, at least in whole. Allow me a couple of examples. The argument was made that removing the language about self avowed practicing homosexuals from the chargeable offenses is simply returning the language to where it was before 1980 or so and that before this, the immorality and crime clauses were relating only to criminal acts. Well, this is partly true. It would restore the language to what is was before 1980 or so. The implication here is that before 1980, there was not any teaching about homosexual activities in the church that could be applied as immorality, and this could not be further from the truth. Don Hand is the individual who first proposed the language regarding homosexuality in the Social Principles. In a statement for the United Methodist News Service, and reprinted by the IRD later, he recounts how this came to be. (https://juicyecumenism.com/2014/07/04/don-hand-homosexuality-and-the-1972-social-principles-did-the-conflict-begin-with-the-language/). I encourage you to read the entire thing as it is interesting and significant. I will quote the relevant section however. “At the first session of this conference, a young pastor who had been charged with heterosexual misconduct, tried and convicted, resulting in the revocation of his ministerial credentials was in attendance.” This alone means that the claim made by the CoB that the immorality clause did not refer to sexual misconduct, but criminal misconduct is false. “The next year, 1971, an ordained minister whose credentials had been revoked on the basis of homosexual behavior, came to the annual conference to protest his discontinuance as an ordained minister.” There you have it ladies and gentlemen, a pastor, in the UMC, credentials revoked, for being a “self avowed, practicing homosexual”, before it was ever specifically chargeable. Now, please do read the entire piece by Mr. Hand as it is historically significant to the church. I also suggest this very good piece by Chris Ritter on how we got the language that we have as it to is informative and historically significant. Removing the language from the chargeable offenses and returning the language to what was before 1980 means that a “self avowed practicing homosexual” can still be charged under the immorality clause of the chargeable offenses of the UMC. In effect, it does nothing if we take history into account as the CoB would have us do. I do not know if they were simply no aware of this, if they rely on us not being aware of it, or simply think it does not matter, but there is precedent.
That rather long exploration brings me to part of the problem with the practicality of the One Church Plan. If a self avowed practicing homosexual is ordained, legally, by the church, then I, or anyone I would think, could, citing precedent, bring charges even if the language were removed. What a mess. It would make the church trials now seem like child’s play. How could such a huge oversight be made when so much work and so many hours were put into this plan? The One Church Plan asks us to ignore the past, it does not embrace it, at least not in this matter. I am actually a little surprised, and disappointed, that the traditionalists did not bring this very point up in rebuttal.

One of the more disturbing quotes was the following: “This is not about doctrine, it is about ‘Our Theological Task'”. This is not about doctrine? Really? Sexual immorality, whatever that is going to be defined as, is not about the doctrine of the church? A Bishop literally just said that this is not about the teaching of the church, so I guess sexual immorality just doesn’t matter? I am very concerned by this statement, especially as this has, up until today, been painted as different views of interpretation, that is to say doctrine (the teaching of the church). This is a large pivot from the previously held arguments. Now it isn’t doctrine, it is “Our Theological Task”. If “Our Theological Task” is not about forming the doctrine of the church, then what the bloody hell is it for? It bothers me that somehow the CoB is trying to separate the theological task of the church from the doctrine of the church…that is…well….sorry, I have no other word for it, stupid.
Another quote: “Wesley was very much a yes and person”. Wesley have very strict doctrine. He expelled members from the Methodist societies for poor doctrine and practice. He affirmed the Articles of Religion that we still follow which are full of doctrine. He preached about a gazillion sermons all full of, you guessed it, doctrine. While I am confident that Wesley would not have said that this or that person is forever outside the grace of God, I am equally sure he would not have called their behavior “holy”. The definition of holy given by the CoB, and attributed to Wesley, was to love God and love neighbor. That is true, but again misleading. Love of God is tied to obedience. It’s all through the OT, and repeated all through the NT. To love God, we must be obedient to His word. The question of what does God’s word say about how I should act, and instruct others to act, is the very basis of the practical Wesleyan theology that the CoB claims this plan is a part of. Just as love of God is tied to obedience to God’s word, so is the Wesleyan practical theology that we all claim to love.  The CoB seems to have forgotten that in their defense of the One Church Plan.
In defending the One Church Plan, the CoB affirmed that a local congregation could continue to not allow SSM in their church building. That is all well and good, but the one church plan does require that those very same people accept SSM as being an acceptable union in the eyes of God, at least in some Methodist churches. There is a required cognitive dissonance here that tries to claim it protects the beliefs of traditionalists, and that part is true, but again, the practical theology of Wesley is mot only orthodoxy, it is also orthopraxy. The CoB is saying that you can believe whatever you want to, but you can not practice it in essence. What confusion that is for me…what confusion that would be for the new believers and those who do not yet believe, that the CoB claims to care about.
At the end of the day, I am more leery of the One Church Plan than when I started It takes an incomplete view of our Wesleyan history and calls it the complete view. It claims that, despite forty years of arguing, that this is not doctrinal. It ignores what has come before. It takes us out of line with the church catholic and places us firmly in the middle of a minority sect of Christianity. For a religion that claims to follow Wesley, who was completely Anglican, and who called the American Methodists thoroughly Anglican, this is well outside those boundaries.
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