Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 22nd, 2014 by Joel Watts

It may help the #UMC if we stopped lying about one another, a response

English:

I’ve got your “good news” right here.

I cannot decide if the “press release” by Good News Magazine, the official organ of an unofficial group of United Methodists, was brought on by Kevin’s approach or Bishop Coyner’s. Regardless, they purposely misstate basic concepts and precepts of those who disagree with them on the topic of inclusion.

Both recent approaches advocate a “flattened polity” aimed at respecting the various viewpoints without the different conferences. Anyone who has paid attention to the UMC for any amount of time knows that there are differences. This is not merely cultural or nationalist — African conferences v. conferences in North America; it is not merely a holdover of the previous schism between North and South (the ME and the ME-South). Rather, this this comes down to the regional level. Thus, it may be time for a flattened polity as suggested by Bishop Coyner, an official representative of the United Methodist Church, unlike “Good News.”1

But, to the point of their “press release.” They note that for “six weeks” (place that in the context of nearly 2,000 years of Church history, or the length of time the UMC has existed, or the time we’ve spent discussing women’s ordination) “80 pastors and theologians have been involved in conversations about the future of The United Methodist Church.” I was unaware of such an official group. Perhaps they could show us where they received such an invitation in the Book of Discipline? They note they had representatives of 30 annual conferences. Again, were they selected as representatives of their annual conferences? As a delegate to our annual conference last year, I do not remember such a nomination taking place. For a group determined to bind everyone to the Book of Discipline, where is their allegiance to it? (For that matter…)

Note, because some cannot understand… this group of pastors (with the names released, it looks to be the same as usual) met to destroy the UMC. This is strictly against the membership vow of the UMC as found in the BoD: “To be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries.” So… again, who appointed them?

While their language is couched in nuance, it becomes clear they are seeking to shore up their side as the one true faith and dismiss those who argue for inclusion as unbiblical. For instance, in comparing the use of Scripture to speak about this, they write of the progressives as “being unfaithful to the Bible as the ultimate authority for determining spiritual and moral truth” and suggest “they hold that the teachings of Scripture are compatible with their views.” Yet, isn’t that really what the “Traditionalists” are doing – suggesting they have the domain of Scriptural interpretation on their side, that Scripture says what they believe?

Then they make the rather unusual statement, a lie — something clearly demonstrated in Scripture as antithetical – anti-ethical: “Progressives will not be satisfied with a denomination where openly gay clergy and same-sex marriage are affirmed in some congregations but not in others. They will continue to work until all UM pastors are expected to preside at same sex weddings and practicing homosexual persons are fully accepted for ordained ministry. Justice would demand no less.” No, no this is not the case. Rather, justice would demand the opposite. Justice is not about force. Neither of the above approaches suggest this and in fact suggest the exact opposite — that we must be aware of our brothers and sisters in Christ and respect them.

By the way, as one who argues for inclusion, I do not believe we can do so without Scripture. Scripture, as a Christian, is my first authority. Thus, I consider myself a conservative, a traditionalist.

At SBLAAR 2013, I had the pleasure of speaking with Bishop Tom Wright, a long time advocate of women in the ministry, about the then-new rules allowing such a thing in the Anglican Church. His answer included the allowance for those who do not believe women should be in the ministry. This model is based on Christian charity and is even used, for now, in the Anglican Church in North America. Let us not forget that the Anglican Church is much more structured “top to bottom” than the United Methodist Church.

Finally, I want to address two specific points. The first is this notion that we “laity, clergy and even the Council of Bishops – are divided and will remain divided.” This is an arbitrary statement superimposing schism. If we mapped out our congregations, how many are really divided? How many would feel the need to leave, beyond the ordinary (such as those who leave because of, say, women’s ordination), if a flattened polity approach was employed? If we believe the UMC is a conventing people, with each other and with God, then we cannot be divided because God has not rent us asunder just yet. And let’s remember the last time the Methodist peoples were and what quickly followed.

Why is the division so prevalent? I maintain it is because of the chattering classes. We bloggers and such speak about it, but are we going back to our congregations to incite schism? Further, we have to define division as well as the allowance for division. I’ve been to UMC churches in the South and they are “divided” from mine here in West Virginia – if by divided we mean different in style, liturgy, and focus. There are UMC Christians in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, not to mention the wayward souls on the libertarian wing. There are United Methodists who want the Catholic Canon, a place for the rosary and Mary, and higher liturgy just as there are United Methodists who want the KJV, no liturgy, no women’s ordination, and the end of divorced-and-remarried-clergy. And I can take you to all of these within the same annual conference – mine!

The second point is “Talk of a “middle-way” or of “agreeing to disagree” is comforting and sounds Christ-like.” If it “sounds Christ-like,” then perhaps we should explore this further. Yet, “Good News” places a line in the sand and flatly refuses to speak.

From there, “Good News” goes on to call for schism. Let this sink in. This is an outside group of self-appointed leaders who are calling for the destruction of another group, and not just any group, but a group that identifies itself as ordained by God. Further, this outside group demands that the Book of Discipline be followed and yet, after months of searching, I have yet to find anything in the BoD that would allow schism. Further, the Annual Conference, and not the local congregation, is the basic unit of our Church, as Bishop Coyner reminds us. If a vote on Schism was to take place, wouldn’t it require a complete shelving of the BoD in order for the vote to take place on a congregation by congregation level? Or, if it was to remain on a conference by conference level, what if the conference voted to stay? Would the “Traditionalist” congregations then leave?

“Good News” makes noise about caring for the hurt that is sure to come from schism, and yet they are pushing tirelessly, even purposely misstating facts, for it rather than seeking other available avenues for union.

Schism makes hypocrites.

(for some responses, see here, here, and here.)

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  1. To be fair, I agree more with Kevin’s approach than I do Bishop Coyner’s. I find Bishop Coyner’s approach too much of a confederacy that will simply allow everyone to drift away. There are allowances for Annual Conferences to already make decisions for themselves on items deemed issues of morality, such as divorced-and-remarried-clergy.
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

14 Responses to “It may help the #UMC if we stopped lying about one another, a response”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    One of the grander lessons of history – not just church history, but ALL institutional history – is: Politics negates reform. In other words, once politics becomes involved, reform becomes impossible! This is why, for example, Martin Luther could not reform the Catholic Church.

    Politics is about winning. In a nutshell, that is the story of the Southern Baptist Convention’s demise at the hands of conservatives. They won the battle against the moderates, but lost the war for the souls of men. Some variation of this story has played out in various denominations since then. To think that the United Methodist Church should be exempt from this theological disaster is naive.

    It is also quite possible that the current round of church schisms is indicative of a broader loss of faith in the system. Just as people are no longer attend church, they no longer vote. Likewise, young men – or women for that matter – are not standing in line to sign up for military service.

    Nor is the problem merely limited to politics and religion. Public opinion polling shows a loss of trust in every major social institution since the mid-1960s. Before his death in 1975, British economic historian Arnold Toynbee observed, “Of the twenty-two civilizations that have appeared in history, nineteen of them collapsed when they reached the moral state the United States is in now.”

    One reason for the country’s demise is that the church sold it’s soul for a mess of political pottage.

  2. Gary Holdeman says

    Some really misleading statements and arguments here. Doesn’t help in the least the discussion. Basically an anti-Good News statement with no real discussion of the issues involved or the merits or disagreements with the Good News report.

    • Oh? care to tell me how?

      • Gary Holdeman says

        “they purposely misstate basic concepts and precepts of those who disagree with them on the topic of inclusion.” A statement that is not supported by the evidence…and he gives no evidence to support the “purposely”. He is judging the motives without any ability to do so.
        “Thus, it may be time for a flattened polity as suggested by Bishop Coyner, an official representative of the United Methodist Church, unlike “Good News.”1 Even Bishop Coyner cannot speak as an “Official voice” for the UMC….only the General Conference. This statement also ignores the fact that while the “organization of Good News” in not an “official representative” of the UMC….yet the 80 plus pastors involved in the discussion are pastors of many largest and growing churches in the UMC. The implication is that the Good News organization has nothing of substance to say since they are not “Official”. This is a kind of Ad hominem argument assuming that a because they are not “official” they shouldn’t be listened to. It is a character attack on Good News and does nothing to deal with the arguments they present. Therefore does not contribute anything to the debate.
        “But, to the point of their “press release.” They note that for “six weeks” (place that in the context of nearly 2,000 years of Church history, or the length of time the UMC has existed, or the time we’ve spent discussing women’s ordination) “80 pastors and theologians have been involved in conversations about the future of The United Methodist Church.” I was unaware of such an official group. Perhaps they could show us where they received such an invitation in the Book of Discipline? They note they had representatives of 30 annual conferences. Again, were they selected as representatives of their annual conferences? As a delegate to our annual conference last year, I do not remember such a nomination taking place. For a group determined to bind everyone to the Book of Discipline, where is their allegiance to it? (For that matter…)” The same argument under # 2….applies here as well. I.e. because they are not elected or official…therefore their statements should be disregarded….or the implication that they have not right to express their opinion at all! (So much for inclusiveness!)
        From there, “Good News” goes on to call for schism. Let this sink in. This is an outside group of self-appointed leaders who are calling for the destruction of another group, and not just any group, but a group that identifies itself as ordained by God. Further, this outside group demands that the Book of Discipline be followed and yet, after months of searching, I have yet to find anything in the BoD that would allow schism. Further, the Annual Conference, and not the local congregation, is the basic unit of our Church, as Bishop Coyner reminds us. If a vote on Schism was to take place, wouldn’t it require a complete shelving of the BoD in order for the vote to take place on a congregation by congregation level? Or, if it was to remain on a conference by conference level, what if the conference voted to stay? Would the “Traditionalist” congregations then leave? AGAIN….another slam on Good News. The author’s concern is that there is nothing in the BOD regarding schism…..BUT THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE BOOK OF DISCIPLINE REGARDING THE HOMOSEXUAL ISSUE AND THE AUTHOR SEEMINGLY WANTS TO IGNORE THAT AND GIVE A PASS TO THE PROGRESSIVES! If the author’s concern is doing everything by the BOD…..then maybe he needs to start with the current one we have.
        There are other faulty arguments….but time and space prevent me from doing more.

        • Gary, dialogue is easier if you break your comment down into segments.

          First, “.BUT THERE IS SOMETHING IN THE BOOK OF DISCIPLINE REGARDING THE HOMOSEXUAL ISSUE AND THE AUTHOR SEEMINGLY WANTS TO IGNORE THAT AND GIVE A PASS TO THE PROGRESSIVES!”

          And yet, that is false. In other posts I have written about my desire to uphold the BoD until it can be changed through proper methods. I have written before against breaking the BoD and do not advocate it. You assume much because you’ve read only a little.

          You suggest I did not provide evidence of their misstatements and yet I did. Kevin and Bishop Coyner both suggested ways of allowing people to follow their conscience.

          You write, “yet the 80 plus pastors involved in the discussion are pastors of many largest and growing churches in the UMC.” Prove it. Then prove that this matters. The BoD is not a popularity contest nor is it about numbers. Did they follow the BoD and the vows they took? “”To be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries;””

          I didn’t say they shouldn’t be listened too. I said they were an outside group. Would you listen to, say, UKIP, on how to hand the American Political System?

          Again, are these 80 pastors obeying their own vows? “”To be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries;””

          In rushing to defend the BoD, they are breaking it.

          • Gary Holdeman says

            Sorry….you are correct…..I have not read all your blog statements. Sorry to misrepresent you. However, I do disagree that the 80 some pastors are an “outside group”. They are faithful pastors who pastor large and growing UM churches and many of them have been clergy delegates to General Conference. Their conversations were reported by Good News….but that does not mean necessarily that they are all members of Good News. They are all clergy in good standing in their representative annual conferences which ARE official representatives of the UMC.
            As far as obeying the BOD on schism…..the BOD is silent on that subject. Therefore to accuse them of violating the BOD…..is the equivalent to an argument from silence. If they sincerely believe that a division in the UMC is in the long run a healthy decision for the conflicted church…..then they are NOT in violatio of their vows as long as they seek to go through the proper channels of change. (The same thing you encourage others to do.)

          • “They are faithful pastors who pastor large and growing UM churches and many of them have been clergy delegates to General Conference.”

            How do you know this? As of yet, we know of about 4 or 5 names.

            The BoD is not silent on the issue of loyalty to Christ through the UMC and our vow to support it and its ministries.

            “as long as they seek to go through the proper channels of change” <- there is no proper channel for schism.

  3. Gary Holdeman says

    The proper channels for change are the legislative process of General Conference. NOT the withholding of apportionments, or withdrawl from the denomination, or purposeful disobedience by commiting a chargeable offense.

    The 4 or 5 names we know are leaders in our denomination…..I am assuming there are many other evangelical leaders as well.

    • I agree with the proper channels – and thus far, that is keeping the BoD unchanged from the “traditionalist” position.

      I wouldn’t assume until they have presented those names.

  4. Scott Fritzsche says

    Since I have been away for a bit, here we go again lol. While I would most likely agree with these 80 or so pastors theologically, I disagree with the methods that they are using. While I am simply a humble lay person, I do know a small amount aout leaders…they lead. The statement made by these gentlemen by way of Good News was not leading, it was basically a statement from something like love prevails only it read the opposite. That is the problem really, two polar opposites throwing poo at each other. All of us need to be better than that. As for the BoD being silent on schism, it is not. “2503 in the Book of Discipline requires that all written instruments conveying property held or hereafter acquired for use as a place of worship or other church activities, except in conveyances that require property ownership to revert to the grantor if and when it’s used as a place of worship terminates, shall contain the following trust clause: ‘In trust, that said premises shall be used, kept, and maintained as a place of divine worship of the United Methodist ministry and members of The United Methodist Church; subject to the Discipline, usage, and ministerial appointments of said Church as from time to time authorized and declared by the General Conference and by the annual conference within whose bounds the said premises are situated. This provision is solely for the benefit of the grantee, and the grantor reserves no right or interest in said premises.’ ” Further more “Occasionally, there might not be a trust clause in the written instrument of conveyance. But civil and church law have both concluded that the absence of the trust clause does not change the right or interest of the denomination in succeeding to the title of local church property or the obligation of the local church to hold the property in trust for the denomination. When the required trust clause is not included in the instrument of conveyance, there is an implied trust clause imposed by ¶2503.6 in the Book of Discipline.”
    That is a fairly loud voice on schism…and the voice screams ‘no’.
    Information regarding the trust clause obtained from http://www.bwcumc.org/intrust but I would assume it can be found in several places other than this.

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