Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 12th, 2016 by Joel Watts

leaderless churches drift (updated)

leaderlessBy now, most of you have read Scott’s post, chastising our United Methodist bishops.

When the Western Jurisdiction by their authority, rather than the authority of The United Methodist Church, raise an ordained elder who is an avowed homosexual to the office of bishop, separation will happen. At this point, many will have no reason to stay given that the covenant is irretrievably violated. Where is the Council of Bishops and that commission they promised? Further, at least four bishops have allowed their Annual Conferences to issue statements of rebellion while others allow their BOOMs to countermand the voice of the General Conference.

I wonder how long I’ll stay.

Some find this covenant an individualistic enterprise, where we are able to determine to what extent we abide by the covenant. It’s not. Scripture does not assign well the fate of those who practice such maneuvers. Rather, similar crises have erupted and have caused destruction. I have to wonder how different the 4th Century of Christianity might have been had Bishop Alexander dealt as a faithful leader with the Presbyter Arius, who appealed to the day’s political power and current philosophical trends, rather than allow him to exercise his office while matters were settled. Instead, the century nearly tore the world apart and would eventually lead to the sacking of Rome. In fact, I would argue we are still in the aftermath of one Bishop’s leaderlessness.

This constant cycle of a lack of leadership bringing something worse is a historic trend, and one that seems destined to completely undo Protestantism, even of the Anglo-Catholic variety. Maybe this is a good thing. Afterall, what are we protesting against? The Roman Church had become so ingrained in the culture that it no longer stood against some things. Zwingli, Calvin, and Luther challenged that, reorienting the Gospel. Today, Protestantism is doing its best to ingratiate itself into the culture, perhaps a leftover effect of the 1950’s when it was dominant. Those seeking after the culture seek power, control, and self-righteousness because of a fear of loss. Protestantism — and Christianity — has lost its place in the American society. This scares many and we see both extremes doing things that speaks to the worst parts of our Christian Tradition. There are two forms of authority — leadership and force. Because we no longer have leadership, we must now look for ways to force our will upon others.

I would recommend a strong look at 1 Corinthians. St. Paul stands firmly against factionalism and against leaderless churches. In fact, there is no church where there is no working episkope! Further, I would recommend that those who believe the Church is something more than a social organization prepare themselves for the end of The United Methodist Church. It will happen, and unless the Council of Bishops steps in, it will happen in a very ugly way.

The lack of leadership is exactly why we are drifting, why we are coming apart, and why we cannot offer a witness to the world.

On a side note, this feckless leadership is not contained within the UMC, but is exhibited worldwide. In fact, I would offer that the fear-driven reactionary/radical acts exhibited by too many in the UMC mirrors many of the secular tactics driving current secular decisions. 

Update – 12 July 16

The Southeastern Jurisdiction bishops have issued a pastoral letter (pdf). In part, it reads,

We, the Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops, grieve over the deep divisions in our beloved United Methodist Church. We recognize the pain felt both by those advocating for and those opposing change. We also view the acts of nonconformity as a violation of our covenant and as divisive and disruptive.

As a College of Bishops, we are fully committed to keeping the promises we made at our ordinations and consecrations, including:

  • shepherding all persons committed to our care;
  • leading our areas in mission, witness and service;
  • ordering the church, including administering processes for handling complaints about violations of our Book of Discipline that occur within our episcopal areas;
  • and seeking unity in Christ, including the work the General Conference requested the Council of Bishops do in relation to the Commission on Human Sexuality;

I am very glad to see actual leadership emerge.

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 “leaderless churches drift (updated)”
  1. Tom McCann says

    When you talk about ‘leadership’ in the UMC, you are actually describing the structure of the UMC. We don’t have an over-arching, single-headed authority over the UMC; instead, we have a combine of Bishops, who may or may not agree on some issues. And those Bishops lead conferences that may elect to stray away from what they see as injustice.
    So let’s call it what it is – an organizational issue. If an individual Bishop does something that you disagree with, that doesn’t mean he’s a poor leader. In fact, it may be exactly the opposite. He or she may be a very strong leader. They’re just leading their conference onto a different path than the one you believe is correct.
    It may be that we need a different structure – that in fact we do need a powerful head of our federation. But that has ramifications across a lot more things than a single social issue.

    • Scott Fritzsche says

      False. The structure of the UMC is the General Conference as the sole and defining voice. You have your polity wrong here Tom…again.

      • Tom McCann says

        That’s probably not quite as true as you’d like it to be, Scott. The jurisdictions certainly have a LOT of authority, and the Central Conferences even have authority to modify the BoD to local conditions. Besides – I don’t regard a swarm of a 1,000 people to be a ‘strong central leadership figure’. And if somehow, it really were, then we wouldn’t have a ‘leadership crisis’.

    • Tom,

      It is not simply about disagreeing — but about the inability of the bishops to lead according to their vows and offices of the UMC. Yes, I would agree that this may be a structural issue, but that is because it has become populated lately by politically minded office holders.

      We do not need a pope, but we do need bishops that will address the issues head on — rather than stepping aside so that an AC can run amok.

      • Tom McCann says

        Can you give me a specific about what vows have been broken? Ultimately, the vows require the Bishops (and all members, actually) to submit to the discipline of the church. I’m not aware of anyone who has failed to do that.

        • are the vows to submit, or to guard the doctrine, liturgy, and discipline? Are they really guarding it?

          • Tom McCann says

            Submit, guard the doctrine and the liturgy are all things that are subjective in nature. Some of those elements (for example, liturgy) are strongly protected and the penalties are harsh, if not severe. Others, e.g. “guard the doctrine” are more open to interpretation. If a pastor, in the pursuit of bringing people to Jesus, commits a violation that someone else thinks if part of our doctrine, what are we to do?
            Well, that’s where the fourth item comes in. All clergy (and all layity, for that matter) have to ultimately submit to the appropriate disciplinary procedures. In those procedures, the weight of the ‘infraction’ can be measured against the perceived benefit of the action.
            This is where judgement enters the picture. You might think that the system is corrupt if the judgement does not come down the way you require. Another person is probably delighted to have been vindicated by that judgement. But in any case, Bishops or other authorities do not have to become judicial automatons to exercise leadership. The issues we deal with in canon law have a bit more gravitas than parking tickets. One can and should expect that all relevant circumstances will be considered. That’s just good leadership.

          • it would appear “good” is as subjective as “leadership”

            when the BoD says no, to suggest that a bishop can say yes simply because he or she feels otherwise, i don’t buy it.

  2. I think a lot of us (me) use the title Bishop as appropriate shorthand for a more interconnected organization. I usually say, “Bishops, boards, and agencies,” or refer to “General Church” as the collective of our connectional programs and ministry as opposed to “General Conference” when designating that particular group. Sometimes it is efficient and appropriate for the article to just say Bishops.
    Bishops are the primary liaison between one AC and others as well as between one AC and The JC and General Church. Certainly, My Bishop is not responsible for a breach of discipline by a conference board in another AC and has no direct authority over them. In regard to connectional problems that arise from that action, however, the Bishop does have a leadership responsibility of communicating with those who have the responsibility of oversight and reporting to the AC. It could involve asking a conference GCFA to contact the General Church GCFA who might inquire of GBHEM who might inquire of the University Senate who might inquire of a Conference BOOM and then report back.
    “So let’s call it what it is – an organizational issue,” is really pretty close on point. The entire system has been corrupted. Operating contrary to the General Conference has been systematic and commonplace for so long that Bishops don’t even bother to make inquiry. So, referring to the problem of the “Bishops lack of leadership” is specifically accurate and simultaneously a shorthand for a larger problem.

  3. Robert Fulton says

    Being good United Methodists we are dicing this thing up real fine. And honestly I see several good points made. But the bottom line is this , we lack real leadership. The Bishops need to lead us back into covenant with one another as we agreed to at our ordination. Until the BoD changes we need to stay true to it. Certainly work to change what you don’t agree with but stay true to it until such changes can be made. What we have now is a lawlessness which breeds confusion and mistrust, which will lead to fractioning and loss.

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