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.
- 7 Questions for the Potential #UMC Schismatics (pastormack.wordpress.com)
- 6 Questions for the #UMC Schismatics: Progressive Edition (pastormack.wordpress.com)
- Flattening the UMC? (johnmeunier.wordpress.com)
- 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. ↩