Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
April 27th, 2015 by Joel Watts

my first United Methodist General Conference Q & A!

Stripped image of John Wesley

“hey Joel, guess you ain’t going to General Conference.”  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been nominated to be a delegate to General Conference from West Virginia Annual Conference. Last week, I was sent a questionnaire by someone who I am sure loves God and The United Methodist Church. I figured that the questions and answers would be passed around so I am going to post them, without the person’s name. I am blunt and honest and would not seek to change my position of the presentation of my position to gain a vote.

Those who know me know I may need to edit some to these later — not for substance, but for the usual writing errors. 

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I want to first thank you for writing to me in regards to these questions. Second, I will answer them; however, I am a little unsure as to why Jesus Christ is missing from them. Where are the questions directly related to the mission of The United Methodist Church as part of the Church Universal? Where is Jesus Christ and our belief in him? You have asked what amounts to the talking points of conservative media, but wherein can be found questions on whether or not I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth — and do I believe that this is the ONLY God? Where is the question on whether or not if I believe in Jesus Christ, His Son our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary? Do I really believe that Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins, died, buried — and arose again on the third day? Where are the questions related to the role of sanctification, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of this body into the life everlasting?

These doctrinal issues strike at the heart of the real problems in The United Methodist Church. There are numerous voices, many claiming to be major, denying these basic doctrinal truths. They would remove us from the foundation of Christianity and instead suggest that all things are relative, that Jesus is like us, and that nothing matters beyond personal gratification. For them, they see American Christianity as the only Christianity that matters, suggesting that only modern, post-liberal American elites get Christianity correct. These things trouble me because they strike at the root of Christianity. Equally troubling are questions that ignore the real problems of The United Methodist Church.

I would like questions on the Creeds, the doctrines of Christianity, where I stand on the Book of Discipline, perfectionism, ecumenical outreach, and a return to the Christianity and Christian Witness John Wesley sought. I would like a question such as, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as the only way to God?”

I do not see these concerns in your questions. I do not see a concern for the mission of The United Methodist Church, which is to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Rather, I see a concern for those things repeated 8 to 11 Monday through Thursday on cable news networks. That troubles me.

Like St. Paul, I would know nothing from anyone but Jesus Christ and him crucified; however, it seems that the message of the Gospel of our Lord is now filled with every bit of political spectacle imaginable. I would rather hear of the goodness of Jesus and the good works of those who faithfully proclaim His name but instead I see nothing but the latest political agenda.

However, I will answer your questions.

  1. Where do you stand on ordaining pastors who believe in same sex marriage and who would perform same sex marriages?

Nothing in the Book of Discipline gives me license, if I were on the Board of Ordained Ministry, to question this belief of the person before me. The Book of Disciplines gives us guidelines as to inquire to the theological and spiritual fitness of candidates. They are found in paragraph 335.

Perhaps we should read together the historic questions asked first by Wesley and now of the Bishops of those seeking ordination. They are found in Paragraph 336 of the Book of Discipline,

  1. Have you faith in Christ?

  2. Are you going on to perfection?

  3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?

  4. Are you earnestly striving after it?

  5. Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?

  6. Do you know the General Rules of our Church?

  7. Will you keep them?

  8. Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?

  9. After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?

  10. Will you preach and maintain them?

  11. Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?

  12. Do you approve our Church government and polity?

  13. Will you support and maintain them?

  14. Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?

  15. Will you visit from house to house?

  16. Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example?

  17. Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God?

  18. Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?

  19. Will you observe the following directions?

    1. Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary.

    2. Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.

The second part of your question, whether or not I would vote to ordain someone who tells me they would, against the Book of Discipline, perform a marriage not endorsed by the Book of Discipline is first asked in questions 10 and 13. If they tell me that they would break the Book of Discipline, I would vote no.

We do not enter into a covenant and hope to remain as an individual. Rather, when these ministers enter into the covenant, they lose their individuality and instead must take up their corporate duties to one another. They are not only in covenant with one another, to support each other and to refrain from harming one another’s ministries, but also in a covenant with us, the laity.

I cannot support anyone who would blatantly break the Book of Discipline. Further, I believe that in many states (such as West Virginia), a United Methodist minister who conducted a same-sex marriage is making a fraudulent claim.

To be honest, I would love to be asked questions about these historic questions (paragraph 336) as well as if a theological position (paragraph 335) are actually important. Do I still think they are vital? Do I think they would, if answered and applied correctly, help undo the damage being done by those who should never have been ordained?

  1. Do you support opposite or same sex living together outside of marriage?

I believe monogamous marriage is the ideal state for two people who wish to be together. However, recognizing that marriage has not always been a sacrament or a political institution (I would recommend reading Luther here), I would suggest that the Church minister to two monogamous people, ministering towards marriage as a commitment to life-long relationship.

  1. Do you support Plan Parent Hood?

I do not support Planned Parenthood. But, I suspect this is not your real question; therefore in the interest of full disclosure, I will go further. In the 1970’s, in the era surrounding what is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of the 20th century (Roe v. Wade), several denominations — including the Southern Baptist Convention and The United Methodist Church, affirmed the women’s right to choose. Likewise, as I have written previously in the West Virginia Gazette, many “pro-choice” people (including President Bill Clinton) would limit choice to abortions in certain and unique instances — but never as a means of birth control (elective abortions).

Our language here has become political, rather than medical — rather than compassionate. Rather than looking to the needs of the individual, we issue blanket condemnations and attacks. I do not support Planned Parenthood. I do not support elective abortion. I am Pro-Life, but I affirm that in instances known to God and the mother, there are times an abortion may be necessary and thus should not be prohibited.

The early Christians were known for their love and compassion of abandoned children. We should be known for the same.

  1. Do you support Israel?

I assume you mean the modern nation-state of Israel, founded in 1948. There are plenty of anti-Zionist Jews who do not, seeing in this creation something other than the Israel of God. I could go further and give you what the sum total of Christian Tradition says about the “real Israel.” But, those are theological answers.

As I am unsure as to your exact meaning, I can offer you the answer that relates to the political world. I support our, American, historic friends and allies as well as the right to self-determination. In that end, there are many Jews in Israel who do not believe that their government is right in acting against the Palestinians. There are reports that many Palestinian groups wage war and provoke the Israeli government.

For my part, I do not support either divestment or boycotts because these actions do nothing but harm the Israeli, rather than the government. The United Methodist Church should not follow the example of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in divesting, but continue to invest in the people of Israel and Palestine, offering ministry to both. If peace and transformation is our mission, then we should seek to do so without force and threats, following well the example of Jesus.

  1. How do you feel about climate change?

I believe climate change is happening around us. There is evidence of having it be human-made while some consider it cyclical. In our short, recorded history, we have seen ice ages, famines, and warming seasons. I also tend to agree with some science out there that the mass of polluted air in China is causing drastic changes to weather here in the United States.

Regardless, we have a duty to be good stewards of the environment.

  1. How do you feel about limiting the chaplain and military personal about talking about their faith? 

I would ask you, would you willingly allow an Islamic chaplain to use his position to force American soldiers to listen to lessons on Islam?

There is a difference between evangelization, which has not been prohibited, and proselytization, which even Jesus was against.

On 2 May 2013, the Pentagon clarified its position on this topic. As summarized by Stars & Stripes:

It’s OK to evangelize. But it’s not OK to proselytize.

That’s what the Pentagon said Thursday, attempting to clarify its position on religious speech in uniform as controversy swirled up around press reports over possible prosecutions of troops for sharing their faith.

What it comes down to, officials said, is that discussing matters of faith and religious practice with a willing audience is allowed, but pushing religious beliefs on those who don’t want to hear it is a form of harassment forbidden under Defense Department policies.

The difference is simple. You cannot have forced meetings, but you can share your faith as a military chaplain.

  1. How do you feel about our 1st amendment rights being taken away?

As I sit here and write to you, I think back about the newspaper articles I have written, the blog posts I have written, and the times I’ve been quoted in the newspaper articles speaking directly against the President of the United States. I am still free to go to my local congregation, one I chose for myself. I am free to hear sermons against various political issues and speak against more in the small groups I’ve led. I am free to pray in public and free to keep my children from being led in prayer by those with whom I strongly disagree. I can wear my cross. I can pray the rosary. I can watch various religious programing and listen to rallies on the Capitol grounds where speakers are almost calling for a revolution. As far as I know, I nor anyone who has spoken against this government or for the cause of Jesus Christ have been arrested. I have done so freely and continue to be free to do so. I do not think our first amendment rights are being removed.

My concern with this question is that it seems to ignore the history of the Church universal, a church that has grown under strong persecution. Even now, we see in many tyrannical countries — where there is absolutely no freedom of religion — that Christianity is exploding. A few years ago, I was able to travel to China. I attended the oldest Protestant church (which at one time was a Methodist congregation) in Beijing. The minister stood up and implored his congregation to pray for people like us. As I was exploring the streets of the city, I noted a Chinese street preacher leading a young Chinese man to Christ. I had never seen such a beautiful act — especially since the Chinese police stood within eyesight. Yet, here was this man standing in the capital city of the largest and most strict Communist country in the world, with his country’s police nearby, showing more freedom than many us believe we have.

I would ask you: who is more free? You and I with our constitutional protections — or the man who, risking life and death, led a soul to Christ?

  1. How do you feel about the way our education is going and teaching common core?

I was unaware that this is either a Scriptural concern or a concern of The United Methodist Church. However, as I said, I will answer your questions.

I think the common core math curriculum is bad at best. I support common goals of learning, but I am usually against standardized testing. Further, I am troubled that common core is teaching against moral facts.

As a Christian — as a Christian theologian and as a Christian scholar — I am troubled when I cannot get my son to answer that cannibalism, slavery, and domestic abuse are wrong, regardless of time and place. I refer you to this op-ed. I would not deviate too far from his opinions on the matter.

  1. Do you support the resolution “Urging Serious Consideration of Jurisdictional Solution as a Means of Achieving Amicable Unity in the United Methodist Church?

I do not believe it is the best plan out there — I have proposed several myself — but it is the best plan likely to pass which is why I have submitted that resolution for vote in June.

  1. How do you see our nation going morally?

We are losing our way socially, institutionally, and historically. Society as a whole has never had the morals we are told they once had “back in the good ole days.” I remember my grandfather telling me stories of the lack of morals back in the 1930’s, while he grew up in a small Louisiana farming community. We simply have more people and such acts of immorality are televised today.

Rather, what concerns me is the inability for people to say what is right and wrong. I am inclined to believe that our lack of trust in institutions is eroding our confidence in ourselves. As a whole, our society has lost trust in history and rather see it as we see ourselves, confused, depraved, and completely abandoned by God. I do not see it this way. Rather, I see history like I see today, situated deeply within the will of God so that God is that force guiding our history. There will always come the end of something. It usually happens when we become too enamored with ourselves and lose trust with those before us.

I am not concerned with those in society who are immoral. I am concerned with those in society who pretend that they are moral but are disconnected from history and God.

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

5 Responses to “my first United Methodist General Conference Q & A!”
  1. “I have been nominated to be a delegate to General Conference from West Virginia Annual Conference. Last week, I was sent a questionnaire by someone…”

    Just so I understand the procedure for nomination and election to your conference…beyond election, is disclosure of any position on your part required? I assume the questionnaire was answered by you because you wanted to answer, not because you had to answer. The reason I ask, is because some of the questions are obviously politically based. In particular, #7 assumes something that by nature immediately identified the person as having a political agenda. So there is a litmus test for your conference? “Litmus” is appropriate, because litmus paper turns either “Red” or “Blue”; and I am not talking about acid or base! Of course, what am I thinking! This was West Virginia. I think I have answered my question, myself. Never mind.

    • nope. there is no requirement — but, Gary, I almost feel a duty to answer the questions asked. Maybe this is why i can’t run for public office

      • Too bad. Honored to be nominated. Grilled like a mackerel. Lucky they don’t do the same thing to take communion. Would take the fun (enjoyment) out of it.

  2. John Meunier says

    I’d vote for you. Can we stuff the ballot some how?

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