Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
January 27th, 2016 by Joel Watts

The Commission on the General Conference’s Totalitarianism of Narrative

proposed new logo for umc

Proposed New Logo for the UMC

When I first explored joining the United Methodist Church, I was told that the United Methodist Church does not require one to think a certain way — but only to think. This high intellectualism attracted me because it allowed me to explore my Christian faith through the power of the mind, something lacking in fundamentalism.

Recently, while I was away in Cuba — a communist country full of observers, monitors, thought police, and even tone police employed by the government to control the actions in narratives of citizens — I discovered that the United Methodist Church is now more totalitarian than Fidel Castro. No longer does it require us to think, but now it insist we think and behave in a certain way monitored by observers who are controlled by their own agenda, often times in direct opposition to both Scripture and the Book of Discipline.

Updated to move DCA and Rule 44 first:

DCA…where is the Christian part?

The second case is the release of the DCA (especially proposed rule no.44) by the same commission that would create a system of control that would make Mao, Castro, and Lenin proud. Not only do they get to rewrite the English language and completely abuse John Wesley’s Three General Rules — they seem to want to rewrite history as well — but also included in this plan is a means to shut down all debate and opposition to changing the position of the United Methodist Church on human sexuality. It purports to create so-called safe-spaces monitored by outside observers that can declare without appeal that someone is offensive.

[bctt tweet=”Is #Rule44 really about face-to-face convos?.”]

At no point do I think it speaks well of the Spirit we have in us to use the language I’ve heard used in discussing this issues — from either side — but we are compounding wrongs in this instance, and destroying the freedom needed to get to the right answer here.

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Some, mainly those ignorant of anything having to do with John Wesley and the tradition of holy conferencing, regardless of all of the resources expert so they can’t and have consulted, have lied to the entire church and the world by declaring that what the DCA sets up is actually holy conferencing. The DCA is not holy conferencing but sets up a way to control the narrative so that only one side may present their view. Rule 44 even includes its own version of the политрук.

(5) Monitors—During this group process, monitors from the Commission on the Status and

1136 Role of Women (COSROW), General Commission on Religion and Race (GCRR), and

1137 JustPeace are empowered to observe the process and signal the group leader if they observe

1138 harmful behavior as determined according to the Guidelines for Conversation.

It gets worse. The guidelines for conversation (p.96-101) essentially says anyone who says they are hurt, must be  apologized to without qualification. There’s no acknowledgement that people — and it happens regularly — use their “hurt” as a weapon. Further, there is no design so as to preserve this “boundary” for all sides of the conversation. Rather, what we see is a power structure protecting only one narrative – and doing so by destroying the freedom and liberty of other narrators. What we see is coercion. What we see if a police state masquerading as a Church. What we see is simply the privilege of Americans, isolated from reality, imposing their values upon each other and the rest of the world — again.

Not only do they get the Quad wrong (1968 does not mean it is historic; nor is it Wesleyan), but Scripture is a weapon (it is meant to cut away those things not worthy in us as Children of God). Further, experience is not a collection of personal experiences but the one experience central of the individual Christian — the warming of the heart, in Wesleyan parlance.

Neither Jesus (who accused his own friends of being satan) or Paul (who suggested those who abused the Gospel allow their knives to slip and thereby make eunuchs of themselves) or John Wesley (who had choice words for apathetic Christians, Calvinists, and sinners) would be able to speak at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church.

If I were still as angry as I was when I first read this, I would suggest that any United Methodist who had a hand in drafting the DCA should be charged for teaching something counter to Methodist doctrine for the amount of sheer stupidity of what they allowed to be placed under under the name of holy conferencing. It is shameful that such a document could be released under the name of the United Methodist Church and that someone not pay the price for the high amounts of lies and sin it holds within its pages. How can something so counter to the teaching and tradition of the United Methodist Church — and Wesleyanism in general — come to be an official document?

These new rules must be voted down at General Conference, or simply ignored. No Christian should support them, regardless of how you fall of the issues.

I sat in a Cuban airport for 24 hours praying that a plane would be able to take us home soon. When it was first announced that our airplane was not coming to get us, we were told by several people who had been through this before that we should never appear to complain or to have any negative feelings to the situation whatsoever because we were going to be monitored for these very actions.  If we were discovered having negative actions or comments to the situation, it would be offensive to the Cuban government. These observers who walked among us had full discretion to determine what was offensive. They could easily report back to either the officer standing guard or later to those with authority to issue visas and luckily the only thing we would suffer is that we would never be allowed to return to Cuba. It could even touch those who had invited us.

It is nice that the United Methodist Church is trying to become more open and adoptive of other cultural practices, but did they have to chose communist overlords?

What is so scary about ID?

In the first case, intelligent design — a theory I personally do not support — seems to be forbidden to be discussed at General Conference, or at least there is no way to discuss it. The United Methodist Church through some of our boards and agencies have signed onto the clergy statement of support of evolution. I am personally OK with evolution and oppose ID because I believe scripture does not tell us how God created but why God created and centrally, that God is Creator.

“[The program] states that exhibits are not to provide a platform to survey or test ideas but to provide products, services and resources which are credible and proven to help local church ministries), and, in their opinion, it conflicted with our social principles.” – Diane Degnan, spokeswoman for the UMC.

This denial of an exhibitor table, is in my opinion, a direct attack not only on the social principles but on the idea that we should be exposed to new ideas.1 They can claim it is not provable, but they can hardly claim that it is not credible. After all, Christian people actually believe that God in human flesh died and rose again to fulfill prophecies made hundreds of years before so as to effect salvation for humankind across the millennia. Further, we purport believe in afterlife that is neither provable nor credible in scientific studies — and do these things help in local ministries? If they do, then why aren’t we preaching more of that instead of, as the WVAC has called for, 2400 new confessions of faith? And if this is really about credibility to local church ministries, since when is combining faith and science not helpful?

My goodness, if you think about it, it is almost like you have to take the sum total of the Christian religion on faith and let others worry about the credibility of a man who was born and died 2,000 years ago saying he was divine and would bring salvation to the world.

In denying this exhibitor table, but in allowing tables from a cross areas of thought in direct conflict to the Book of Discipline, what we have is a destructive and embarrassing undertaking to control the narrative of the United Methodist Church. The Commission on the General Conference has declared that their voice and their view on matters such as God and science is the only one that United Methodist will be exposed to. It hurts my soul to take the side of Discovery Institute, but in this case they are correct.

  1. You can find a link here to some stories and even correspondence to see just how far the Commission had to reach to deny them a table.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

10 Responses to “The Commission on the General Conference’s Totalitarianism of Narrative”
  1. I have no problems with anyone setting up a booth at a conference. Never been to a religious conference. But I’ve been to plenty of DoD/Military Conferences. And every exhibit is set up with one goal in mind. To sell their product, either literally, or figuratively. Plus, (I love this part), they always give away free stuff. How can I not like a THAT!

    But, clearly, the statement:
    “[The program] states that exhibits are not to provide a platform to survey or test ideas but to provide products, services and resources which are credible and proven to help local church ministries), and, in their opinion, it conflicted with our social principles.” – Diane Degnan, spokeswoman for the UMC.

    The Discovery Institute is clearly a very politically driven organization, meant to change school policies. And clearly an exhibit booth set up by the Discovery Institute would be trying to provide “services and resources which are credible and proven to help local church ministries.”

    So, if UMC thinks that the Discovery Institute has services and resources which are credible and proven, they should allow their exhibit. However, I personally think the Discovery Institute, in a rather devious way, is trying to throw cow manure on Dawin evolution, while claiming they are secular, to inject ID into the public and private school systems. Even though they claim the opposite. Might as well have a booth for the Jehovah’s Witnesses (which I see at airports and parks all the time) at the UMC conference, as well.
    Of course, if the Discovery Institute has a lot of free stuff to give away at their booth, like key chains, refrigerator magnet calendars, or carry-all bags with “DI” on it, for Discovery Institute; which I might note, is ID spelled backwards, I might actually want them to be at the UMC conference. Might be worth a laugh or two.

    But nothing to get “Che” upset over. Should have had a Cuba Libre while waiting at the airport. Would have minimized the aggravation.

    • When I used the word devious, I had just read the Discovery Institute’s own FAQ website at

      http://www.discovery.org/id/faqs/

      A careful reading should present the reader with enough inconsistency to question their truthfulness, or their intelligence.

      The obvious question when reading:

      “3. Is Discovery Institute a religious organization?
      Discovery Institute is a secular think tank,…”

      So, why the interest in a UMC Conference???

      http://www.discovery.org/id/umc/

      As Judge Judy would say, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!” “If you lie about the small stuff, why should I believe you about the big stuff!”

  2. I’m not disturbed by the denial of the request by the Discovery Institute. Exhibition space is limited. In 2012, I was asked by the Florida Conference to set up a field trip for international delegates to visit a near-by Global Demonstration Farm. ECHO is an agricultural research center that also trains missionaries, peace corps volunteers and others in agricultural techniques to fight hunger–especially in challenging climate situations. It is an ecumenical organization, but it is an authorized advance special of The United Methodist Church. I encouraged ECHO to apply for a demonstration/information table at the General Conference. I was quite shocked when the request was denied.

    I see no reason for our church to give precious exhibition space to groups that endorse heresy, or ideas that are not in conformity with United Methodist beliefs and practices. When I was an active pastor, I was the gatekeeper of the church. I had to make some difficult decisions about who could and could not teach in the church, who could and could not preach in my pulpit. I made some mistakes as I made these decisions–usually by allowing the wrong people to have a voice.

    On the other matter, “rule 44”, I am in TOTAL agreement with you. Following the procedures in this rule will not facilitate “holy conferencing”. It is a distortion of our history to call it such. It is one more way the church is moving AWAY from Methodist spiritual discipline and practice. Rule 44 is probably some person or committees’ honest effort to modernize holy conferencing; but it fails miserably. God help us.

    • Creationism/ID is not necessarily a heresy.

      • U would say it is a distortion of Christian teaching. I see no reason for the church to make such ideas available. Curious people may easily seek them out on their own. There is no reason to designate precious exhibit space to the DI.

      • I find that the Discovery Institute, as a “secular” organization, is certainly finding their ban as “heresy”. Which seems to be an oxymoron. I would expect a “secular” organization, once banned, would say, “life goes on, no big deal”. They seem to be making it a modern crusade.

        http://www.evolutionnews.org/faith_and_science/united_methodis/

        The best web site description I found, was someone said the Discovery Institute is throwing a “hissy fit”.

        Most offensive, is using the UMC motto of “open hearts, open minds, etc”, against the UMC. As if, such a motto, applies to a conference table, at a private meeting. Gee, why not have the NRA have a table with AR-15’s displayed. After all, the 2nd amendment should guarantee their participation. The Discovery Institute is embarrassing themselves as total jerks, considering the volume of web traffic they are self-generating, to invite themselves to a private party, to push a clearly political issue. I certainly hope the UMC big shots, do not cave in. And ignore the “hissy fit”, as a Discovery Institute “terrible two’s” child-like fit of immaturity.

  3. You know, Joel, I am with some others that the first topic of this piece is a weaker argument. Is it too late to edit it and maybe just flip them around? (Pardon me; I am that guy who suggests edits in other people’s blog posts.) What you have to say here about Rule 44 is vitally important and I hope that many will see it. It’s not that I disagree with you about the Discovery Institute necessarily, it’s just that: 1) I don’t know enough (do you?) about other decisions the GC commission has made to know if they are really being inconsistent compared to other groups; and 2) you might turn off some more left-leaning readers with that part who might otherwise at least sort of see the logic in the other discussion.

    • Oh, my!!!
      I think I will now cease commenting on this particular subject. I looked at the DCA for the first time. 1,488 pages?! I don’t have the energy to look up rule 44. I’ll leave it to the lawyers.

      As Joel said, “These new rules must be voted down at General Conference”…

      Just require all delegates to read the full document before any vote. That way, no one will actual want to go to the conference.

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