Today I am going to talk a bit about Matt Berryman. Mr. Berryman is the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network as well as a member of the Commission on a way forward. As the executive director of RMN, I assume that when he publishes a piece, on their blog, for public consumption, it is a policy statement. I do not find this to be a poor assumption. I mention Mr. Berryman for two reasons. First, to establish that he is the executive director of RMN, and as such speaks for them, at least when they release his statements, and second, to point out that he is a member of the commission on a way forward that is currently undertaking the daunting task of trying to find a way forward for the United Methodist Church.
On April 29. RMN posted a statement about the Judicial Council Decision regarding Bishop Oliveto. This statement, along with yet another slogan, is apparently heavily influenced by Galatians 5:22-23, the commonly cited passage on the fruits of the Spirit.
Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith,
Gal 5:23 meekness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
In a strange and unbelievable turn of events that I never could have fathomed, Mr. Berryman and I agree. Against these things there is no law. Luckily the UMC agrees as well, against these things there is no law. Where we start to diverge, unsurprisingly, is that Mr. Berryman claims that ordination standards, specifically the standard that one must be either faithful in heterosexual marriage (the only thing the UMC recognizes as a God ordained marriage) or celibate in singleness. Somehow, in his mind, and consequently the mind of RMN, not being able to marry a member of the same sex and be ordained in the UMC means that one can not exhibit love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, or self-control. Before you jump on the what about love bandwagon, keep in mind that this is agape, not eros. That is to say this is not the love expressed in marriage, but to be as simple as possible, it is the love of God for man, and the love that man is supposed to reflect back to God and to each other. Against these things there is no law, this is true. Thankfully the UMC has no law against these things. Based on this terribly poor understanding of scripture, Mr. Berryman goes on to assert that RMN, and apparently Northern Illinois and New York (I have no idea if he is in a position to speak for them or not) will not abide by the rulings of the Judicial Council.
For a moment here, let’s make sure that we understand what the purpose of the Judicial Council is. “The Judicial Council is the highest judicial body or “court” of The United Methodist Church. Its nine members are elected by the General Conference. The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality of acts or proposed acts of the General, Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conferences. It acts on these either on appeal of lower rulings or through requests for declaratory decisions. It also rules on whether acts of other official bodies of the denomination conform to The Book of Discipline. This is done in accordance with procedures established in The Book of Discipline.” (http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/judicial-council) This is their description. So, in one statement, RMN has said that it will not abide by the constitution of the UMC, the General Conference of the UMC, the Judicial Council of the UMC, or the doctrine of the UMC. RMN, and more importantly Mr. Berryman, have said that, in essence, at any point in time that they do not like something about the UMC, they will simply ignore it and do their own thing. No they did not directly say this of course, but isn’t that the implication? So long as they are convinced in the righteousness of their cause, they will do as they please. In those days, the UMC had no authority, so everyone did as they pleased. I can find no finer sample of latitudinarian thought this side of 18th century England. In an interesting twist, Wesley s[poke against this way of thought often. Before you ask but can’t we love alike keep in mind that arguably his strongest admonishment of latitudinarian thought comes in the very same sermon that oft used quotes comes from. Latitudinarian thought is not a part of catholic spirit.
What really concerns me the most however is that Mr. Berryman sits on the commission for a way forward. While no longer a UMC type, I do keep the commission in my prayers as I know many do. I am concerned because Mr. Berryman has stated several times that the end game of RMN is nothing less than full inclusion. The language that he uses describe a way forward where I, and the majority of Methodists world wide, not to mention the majority of Christians (and let’s not forget the majority of Muslims and Jews) are evil, unjust, oppressors whose beliefs are embedded in disgust, shame, and fear. That is not the language of a way forward. Quite frankly that is not the language of the Fruits of the Spirit. It’s also the type of language that caused me to leave the UMC, and continues to keep me away. RMN claims to have 837 reconciling communities representing 34,953 individuals. (This number is fluid, though accurate at the time of this posting). That means in a very real way that 837 communities that comprise 34,953 individuals find me to be an evil, unjust, oppressor whose beliefs are rooted in disgust, shame, and fear. How is that a way forward? Though not present any longer, I love the UMC dearly. As much as it pains me to say it however, Mr. Berryman, as well as those he represents, seem to be guiding the basket somewhere, but it is certainly not a way forward.