Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
October 7th, 2016 by Joel Watts

The past is not your bully pulpit

The episcopal office holder of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, Sally Dyck, preached at General Conference. Some considered it a great sermon. Those who understand the Book of Discipline and Wesleyan theology saw straight through it. As Scott has recently pointed out, it contained several instances of false information.

On 11 September, the same office holder posted on her personal blog a rather factless rant that merits a response. I usually choose not to respond to everything wrong on the internet, but given this office holder’s penchant for leading schism, I will this time.

She begins by saying,

Repeatedly I thought of the Wesleyan quadrilateral: scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Through the eyes of various characters in the novel, one sees how unconsciously and subjectively the quadrilateral was used in justifying slavery.

Alright, well I guess… but the Wesleyan Quad is not really Wesleyan, but is a product of Albert Outler and essentially formulated in 1968. As other Wesleyan scholars have pointed out, it is not directly tied to Wesley who would have rather used the 3-legged stool of the Anglicans, dating back to Richard Hooker.

The Quad would have been foreign to 19th century Methodists because it was invented in 1968, 103 years after slavery legally ended in the United States.

Indeed, for someone who is supposed to know the doctrine and liturgy, order and discipline of The United Methodist Church, her abuse of the various aspects of the Quad in this prolonged exercise of obfuscation is without comparison.

For instance, rather than turning to Scripture (such as Deuteronomy which promised war to protect escaped slaves), she recites a distinctly European tradition with the Curse of Ham. Scripture has been shown time and time again to refute such a thing, which makes sense since for 1500 Christian years, it didn’t really exist as an excuse to enslave Africans. In fact, before it was used to justify the slave trade, such a curse was used to justify serfdom in medieval Europe.

After butchering Scripture and the use of it in the abolition/slavery arguments, she moves on to Tradition. She writes,

Same for the tradition of slavery. Tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation.

In the Quad, Tradition would be the Christian Tradition — that is, divine revelation of a different sort than Scripture. It is the collection of works, liturgies, and other canons that have been vouched for by the Holy Spirit. Slavery, to be honest, was not unknown to Christians. However, since the very beginning of Christianity, it has been treated as something worldly. Many theologians, clerics, and laity, fought against it, especially as the world became Christian. American Slavery was something else. In Dyck’s use of it, she ignores the science of the time that promoted slavery — and seems to ignore the science until recently that promoted segregation. How odd that Church Tradition would condemn slavery while science would support it.

It is important to note that it was also the scientific community—including anthropologists, psychologists, and others—that played perhaps the most prominent role in the justification of the concept of race and its associated ideologies of White superiority and the inferiority of all other “races” through self-serving theories and research motivated by social and political agendas (Smedley, 2006; Smedley & Smedley, 2005).

Reason isn’t excuses; rather, Reason is the human intellect that allows us to understand Scripture. Wesley writes, “Now, of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles.” The episcopal office holder writes,

Then there is reason. The narrative of the book doesn’t address this head-on but history does. There was every reason to continue slavery because it was a free labor source. Free in the sense that slave owners didn’t pay much more for it than you would a good workhorse.

I’m afraid that she doesn’t understand either the history of the economics of slavery in the South. Yes, there is a debate about whether or not slavery was economically sustainable and if it was actually declining before the War. No, I am not defending slavery. I will point out that all ships that carried slaves to the South before it was banned were owned by the North along with those ships (and brokers) who carried cotton to European ports. Honestly, though, trudging through this history and how simply bloody every part of the country was is not part of the discussion, but it rather important to point out that Dyck doesn’t know her history. Rather, let me state again, that she massacres reason as she does Scripture and Tradition.

Is her experience with the fourth leg any better?

But it’s experience that makes it interesting. There are those who worked in the underground railroad whose experience somehow has caused them to challenge the slavery economy. These are white persons; sometimes from the north but mostly from the south. Something happened in their lives that caused them to challenge the economy and system of slavery and they literally put their lives on the line to help people find freedom. The slave trade and system didn’t regard blacks as people but these folks who challenged the system did.

The answer is a loud no. She doesn’t understand experience. As Dr. Kevin Watson points out, experience is often misused. Experience is not something that happens “in our life” but is the blessed assurance that we are indeed saved. As with before, her use of history is as baffling untrue as her use of the quad. The Underground Railroad was made of up escaped slaves, free-born, Native Americans and finally, after a while, whites. The whites, rather than some experience with slaves, usually came to work on the UGRR because of their church — Quakers, Wesleyans, etc… In fact, according to one scholar, the free-born black actually led the railroad to success. Not whites. Perhaps she could experience some myth-busting, which may actually cause her some white fragility.

Next, she as a white, attempts to use this history (most of which she appears to have made up) to lambast those who hold traditionalist views on marriage. She writes,

One can’t read this narrative about slavery without thinking about the way in which many Christians (including United Methodists) view the quadrilateral (consciously or unconsciously) regarding LGBTQ persons.

Well, you can. See, the UMC’s prohibitions on LGBT marriage wasn’t created because of the Quad; nor did it come into existence in 1972. Rather, the history of Christian marriage supports the idea of a man and a woman. There is no evidence that same sex marriage was given any consideration as a legitimate expression of Christian marriage in the early church. Further, she is attempting to unite the two issues — which is a detriment to both. This is an intellectually dishonest means of arguing and, as a white person, she should be wary of misappropriating narrative for her own use.

She goes on,

Really, slavery is embedded in the scriptures, unlike homosexuality.

Slavery, as an enterprise, was not invented by Israel or the Church, but is often challenged by it. Further, as Israel and the Church existed (and still does) in an hostile world, the prohibitions and rules on slavery must be understood in that context. For instance, slavery in Deuteronomy takes on a whole different approach, promising to protect escaped slaves. During this time, that could have caused war. Philemon does not expressly condemn slavery, but if you read it with 1st century eyes, you will understand the message. In regards to human sexuality, I’m not sure Scripture spoke to the plethora of combinations we have now — except to show you a design. Yes, we can argue based on Scripture for SSM, because we are Protestants; however, the traditional view of human sexuality is based on Scripture and Tradition (which, as a Christian, includes the writings of the Christian experience).

This is part of her continued misuse of the Quad. She readily ignores Scripture and assigns to tradition the usual -phobias. In the end, what Dyck wants is a complete abandonment of Christianity in favor of her own vision of the Quad. She writes,

I believe that there have been people throughout the ages who have interpreted scripture about slavery and women and now LGBTQ persons differently than the prevailing tradition because of deep and faithful scholarship. I believe that there are people who have jettisoned tradition, recognizing that individual and institutional racism and sexism as well as bias against LGBTQ persons are attitudes and practices passed on from generation. Finally someone scratches their head and realizes it doesn’t and shouldn’t need to be that way! And there are those who have resisted the reasons—often economic—to stop prejudice against others, even at their own expense.

She can believes what she wants, but that doesn’t make it correct. While we can turn to Scholarship to cause us to reexamine our views, this is still rooted in Scripture. Her notions of “jettisoning” tradition doesn’t even actually deal with what the Great Tradition is. It sounds nice, and provides a feel-good moment, but given that she fails to comprehend the difference between tradition and Tradition, that’s all it is — fluff. Finally, to this part, her use of reason fails to actually identify what Reason is in the Quad and in the Christian Tradition. It is something like illumination of the Scriptures, mixed with a bit of natural law.

She brings her distortion to a close with,

I don’t think those who would call for a schism in the church over an unwillingness to live under a big tent have any idea how much experience the ordinary person in the pew has with LGBTQ persons because LGBTQ people R us!

How… progressive. She blames those who actually understand the Quad, who follow Scripture, Tradition, and Reason for the schism before us. Perhaps if she would read Wesley she’d understand her own part in the coming separation. Those who intend to abide by the covenant, those who stick to history, those who are open to change but require a sure foundation aren’t calling for schism. Those who ignore the covenant, insult their covenant holders, lie, and who insist that unity is one side doing what they want are those who have forced this separation upon us.

Yes, God does love the LGBT brothers and sisters. The UMC affirms this. Most Christian denominations affirm this. In all of my reading of Scripture, in all of my understanding as a theologian and scholar, I have not yet read where God hates the LGBT.

But God does hate.

There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers. (Proverbs 6.16-19)

This novel deserves to be read; however, I do question why a white cleric would use a book by a black author about an enslaved black woman to bash one of the most segregated American denominations, especially when the same black author uses the Methodist church positively in the book. I would encourage you to read this book, but if not, feel free to use the “Search Inside” feature, looking for the word “Methodist.”

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

3 Responses to “The past is not your bully pulpit”
  1. “For instance, slavery in Deuteronomy takes on a whole different approach, promising to protect escaped slaves”.

    This is off subject (nothing to do with gays), but is related to using Deuteronomy today, without reason and experience. I mention this only to get a discussion.

    David Jeremiah yesterday had a talk on immigration – he is currently hot and bothered about the usually things, the end times, our current world is terrible, let’s impact the election – tirade.

    He uses Deuteronomy to show that Israelites where actually protective and accepting of strangers (immigrants). But points out that Deuteronomy also wanted to make sure immigrants assimilated (his words). Follow the laws in Deuteronomy, or else. He points this out as our current problem. Immigrants don’t assimilate (with his obvious example of Shiria Law). Probably not a bad idea today to assimilate better. However, in his nice discussion, he seemed to forget that the Israelites, in their welcoming of strangers in Deuteronomy, also killed those that didn’t eventually follow Yahweh. And all their neighbors who didn’t follow Yahweh. And any stranger that, heaven forbid, married an Israelite, and didn’t follow Yahweh.

    So the conclusion, following scripture without both reason and experience can be hazardous to your neighbors health, if they don’t follow our particular favorite doctrine.

    • Gary, here’s the thing about using Deuteronomy… it has a great message for immigrants AND assimilation. However, this should be focused on pluralism and democracy (the American way, so to speak) rather than language, culture, or religion.

  2. Glen Connoley says

    Excellent article, Joel. I find myself agreeing with most of what you say. Right up until, “are those who have forced this separation upon us”… As someone who still opposes the option of schism, I have to vehemently disagree with the idea that either side is FORCING separation on the other. Separation is CHOSEN by those who do the separating. Any other explanation is an excuse to make ourselves feel better about our part in dividing the Body. Please understand I’m not saying one side is right more than the other, just that both sides would be guilty in what you refer to as “the coming schism”–by the standard I lay out, guilty equally. Thanks, again, for educating me on a topic.

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