Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 26th, 2016 by Joel Watts

Misplaced anger and the Council of Bishops

cross-flameRev. Chris Ritter has preemptly posted a response, somewhat, to the latest statement by Bishop Ough, the president of the Council of Bishops. Ritter still has his plans on the table — and so I’m going to take this moment to reshow mine, although I’m still working to update it.

I have a few issues with Bishop Ough’s statement released yesterday. I believe it does not do justice to what is actually happening in the UMC and in fact does more damage than good. Here are some quick thoughts I had yesterday.

First, the Wesleyan Covenant Association has yet to meet, but seems to the target of the Bishop’s ire as he has erroneously placed it next to official bodies of The United Methodist Church. It is irresponsible to suggest that this unconvened group is equal in blame to those ACs and the WJ who violate the BoD intentionally and with malice. Again, this group has not met and has gone further — insisting that the vows are upheld. It is hurtful and does nothing but deepen the fissure between those who will join the WCA, the COB, and the progressives. Where are the mentions of the myriad of progressive groups that openly insist people break their vows?

Dr Kevin Watson has written a piece on this very issue that you need to read

Rather than allowing the commission to develop the way forward organically, what Bishop Ough’s statement presents is a guideline for what the Commission will do — and it seems to insist that the Commission will only recommend a progressive denomination. Since the very beginning of the “plan,” the plan has taken shape to force change rather than see what is working and how to make it work better. I am not a fan of social engineering.

I do not see in this document an honest appreciation of the views of those who hold to the current view in regards to human sexuality, or an assumption that there may be any outcome other than a progressive denomination.

While I commend him for attempting to find unity in the Trinity, this sentiment completely ignores those progressive leaders who openly detest Christian doctrine and Tradition as archaic and harmful, even suggesting the Trinity is mere interpretation, or poetry, or outdated assumptions of Empire. How can we find unity in the Triune God when so many deny the Trinity’s reality?

Bishop Ough’s statement, “will redefine our present connectionality” troubles me most, I think, because he seems to say in this line that he is willing to dispense with Wesleyan connexionalism in order to achieve unity — which is a deeply ironic statement. What is unity anyway? Is it found in redefining our connexion to fit those who don’t want to live in it? It would appear unity is for unity’s sake, regardless of where it is drawn from either in our Wesleyan Tradition or the Great Tradition.

In regards to the definition of the connexion, what is what with the one Wesley laid down? Indeed, this version grew the church, and in fact shaped this country in many progressive ways. And unity? I want unity, but unity has at its heart commonality and with commonality, there is accountability. The problem is, we have unity, but we lack enforcement.

There are a several ways to achieve unity, either as an ecumenical gathering or in sectarian mission; however, the unity proposed by Bishop Ough is not the unity that is healthy for a people. And I think both sides, largely so, are seeing that.

I am happy to see the hard dates for the selection of commission members. I am happy to see that there is now an effort to move this on faster.

Friends, I’ll see you Chicago for the first meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

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

6 Responses to “Misplaced anger and the Council of Bishops”
  1. Joseph Tognetti says

    Amen! I’m torn regarding whether to attend the WCA gathering or not. I’m primarily concerned that my attendance would be interpreted as overt support, rather than a desire to observe (which is why I would go if I choose to do so).

  2. Randy Myers says

    I, too, cannot see why the WCA (which has even yet to meet) is listed as a source of further wounding for the UMC. I know one of the reasons they list is the presenting issue in the sexuality debate, but they are after far more: depth of theological integrity for the church. Doctrine is good medicine for the church and is one of the ingredients of evangelism/discipleship from a canonical approach. My non-Christian friends and family look at our waffling on truth and think we’re pretty silly (nothing to live or die for).

  3. Shirley Groom says

    You nailed a point that I had shared after reading the Bishop’s statement, where the WCA gets mentioned – a group who hasn’t even met yet, but Reconciling Ministries, who has been a pot-stirrer for years is not mentioned. I also agree that the tone of the language points to a progressive denomination with just rhetoric thrown in the orthodox direction. I keep praying. It is God’s church. #SeeYouInChicago.

  4. Mark W. Flynn says

    Thank you for your observations, Joel. The Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference voted by a significant margin to ask all of their annual conferences and all of their bishops to disregard a whole list of provisions in The Book of Discipline, and that action did not even make Bishop Ough’s list, but the formation of a group which advocates for maintaining our covenant did make his list. There is definitely something wrong with this picture.

  5. I do a fair amount of cruising the internet, reading different perspectives and there is most certainly a perception that those who feel free to disregard the decisions of General Conference are just as credible a voice as those who agree with/are willing to abide by/trust in the decision made by General Conference. Furthermore, starting around the time of General Conference, attempts have been made by some major voices to rally some “super majority middle” that does not care either way; in this context then both progressives and traditionalists combined are portrayed as being a small, intractable minority that are equally responsible for the mess the church is in. You will find that sentiment expressed in one of the responses to the article by Kevin Watson that you referenced. I apologize for not having any other specific references to back up my observation. I don’t even know why I checked out this blog tonight–overall I am very weary of this insanity. I have spent an inordinate amount of time monitoring a myriad of voices across the denomination and my impression of The United Methodist Church is a large non-descript gray area because collectively we believe absolutely nothing in particular. Bishop Ough’s statement referenced a “United Methodist witness”; there is none; that is why we are in the mess we are in and that is why there is no effective leadership.

    • Actually, that is a great observation about a super majority middle that doesn’t care one way or the other.
      I exist in that. I do not know if it is a super majority, though. I always assumed that. Both from close votes at conferences, and the non-volatile interest in my congregation. But also, the conferences just represent a small number of individuals, from each congregation.

      So, I have no idea if it is indeed true or not. I would be VERY interested in finding out – since it would define the positions on both sides as either small minority, or big majority. And help define the best way forward. The only way to really, honestly, find out, would to actually have a vote at each congregation, tabulate the results, and publish them openly. Probably not possible. But with all the controversy, it would certainly help establish an honest position on both sides.

      I can’t help but think revolutions were indeed established by minority opinions (the most vocal minority wins!). Supposedly, the American revolution involved 1/3 for revolution, 1/3 for the king, and 1/3 who didn’t care, one way or the other.

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