Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 18th, 2016 by Joel Watts

the #UMCGC bishops’ “plan”

This is the total of the plan.

Social media is livid. And they should be. This is nothing but kicking the can down the road.

Transcript:

Galatians 3:25-29 (NRSV)

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring,[a] heirs according to the promise.

Your bishops were honored to receive the request of General Conference to help lead our United Methodist Church forward during this time of both great crisis and great opportunity. As far as we can discover, this is the first time that a General Conference has ever made such a request of the Council of Bishops, and we accept this request with humility.

We share with you a deep commitment to the unity of the church in Christ our Lord. Yesterday, our president shared the deep pain we feel. We have all prayed for months and continue to do so. We seek, in this kairos moment, a way forward for profound unity on human sexuality and other matters. This deep unity allows for a variety of expressions to co-exist in one church. Within the Church, we are called to work and pray for more Christ-like unity with each other rather than separation from one another. This is the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21-23.

UNITY

We believe that our unity is found in Jesus Christ; it is not something we achieve but something we receive as a gift from God. We understand that part of our role as bishops is to lead the church toward new behaviors, a new way of being and new forms and structures which allow a unity of our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” while allowing for differing expressions as a global church. Developing such new forms will require a concerted effort by all of us, and we your bishops commit ourselves to lead this effort. We ask you, as a General Conference, to affirm your own commitment to maintaining and strengthening the unity of the church. We will coordinate this work with the various efforts already underway to develop global structures and a new General Book of Discipline for our church. Strengthening the unity of the church is a responsibility for all of us.

PRAYER

We accept our role as spiritual leaders to lead the UMC in a “pause for prayer” – to step back from attempts at legislative solutions and to intentionally seek God’s will for the future. As a Council of Bishops, we will lead the church in every part of the world in times of worship, study, discernment, confession and prayer for God’s guidance. We ask you, as a General Conference, to join us in this effort, beginning this week. We were moved by the sight of delegates praying around the table, and we hope these efforts will continue. As your bishops we are ready to join you and to lead you in these times of prayer.

PROCESSES

We have discussed in depth the processes which might help our church heal and move forward – up to and including the possibility of a called General Conference in 2018 or 2019. We have not finalized our plans for such processes, but we will keep working on options we have heard from many of you, and we will keep reporting to this General Conference and to the whole church.

NEXT STEPS

We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts. We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two- to three-day gathering before the 2020 General Conference. (We will consult with GCFA regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.)

CONTINUING DISCUSSIONS

We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.

Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 1-2 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession and exploration of a creative way forward. The bishops are prepared to provide questions to guide your conversations. Your conversations will be the first step to a way forward.

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

16 Responses to “the #UMCGC bishops’ “plan””
  1. Carl Samans says

    Yup. Conflict avoidance at its finest. Wanting to please everyone should never be a mandate.

  2. Michael Denelsbeck says

    So our solution is no solution at all. Not acceptable. How do we explain to our congregations that our “leaders” can’t even come to a mutual understanding, but we are expected to?

  3. Randy Kiel says

    Prayer is “kicking the can down the road?” This is an issue that will not be decided appropriately while people are”up in arms” over it. Prayer is our best hope (now and always).

  4. David Ashburner says

    Sometimes the prayer is for discernment, and that has been the prayer for several decades. When is the time for prayer for courage to act? Sometimes people, groups and individuals, know the way forward, and it is scary to take that path. When the way forward is discerned, the prayer needs to change for courage: courage to GO in the discerned direction, in the right way, and always with the right heart. For this I pray.

  5. Christabone1 says

    Some of the comments sound like they are a response to this article written by Adam Hamilton
    http://www.adamhamilton.org/blog/five-things-the-general-conference-could-do-regarding-same-gender-marriage-part-two#.VzzHQucrK2w

  6. We are confronted by one of two things. Either this is a clear indication that the Council of Bishops is impotent and unable to give any leadership on the matter (i.e . sticking our head in the sand) OR, this is a manipulation designed to silence and subvert the expressed voice of the General Conference.

    Any moratorium on the enforcement of the Discipline invites and encourages disobedience. Perhaps the Discipline needs to be conscientiously enforced while proposals for our future life are considered? There is no unity to be found in this proposition.

    Unity is only possible when we can agree to live in a mutual covenant. Gerrymandering the Discipline and creating structural loopholes is Fool’s Gold. It sparkles but it ain’t the real thing.

  7. The obvious implication is that we have not already been pointed in the right direction for decades.

  8. Just my opinion, for what it’s worth. The Bishop’s plan passes. Adam Hamilton’s proposals don’t. Ironic that after Hamilton’s proposals fail, there is a presentation about pensions and health care. And adding additional Bishops in Africa, at ? expense.

    In the military, you plan for all contingencies. I remember Fulda Gap War Scenario, that included a massive invasion of Warsaw Pact tanks into Europe, and what the response would be from NATO. Never used, but needed to be planned for.

    So, the Bishop’s plan, must include all scenarios, even the most dire ones. Then, if there is a conference in 2018, they can present a cost/benefit scenario of all options. Prayer only goes so far. If there is a split, the consequences need to be presented. How much money flows from the U.S. to Africa, if the progressives split? What assets do they take? How much assets do the conservatives retain. Africa may provide numbers, but how much funding do they provide themselves. Doctrine is fine to stand by, but what real financial impact is there in a split? All scenarios need to be looked at, including independent decisions by each jurisdiction, total split, and maintaining status quo. Lawyers need to be involved to decide the legal aspects. A Bishop’s plan must include all scenarios, and resulting impacts. Cost/Benefit analysis is necessary, not prayer.

    Like it or not, that’s reality. If the Bishops come up with a “Motherhood and Apple Pie” response in two years, about how we all have to get along, and unity is paramount, and please pray about it, you have just wasted your money, and your time.

    • Randy Kiel says

      “Prayer only goes so far.” Wow. Do you really have so little faith? Through prayer, God enacts miracles. Try praying for one, but praying in faith, believing it will come to pass.

      • At some point, you have to be realistic. If there eventually is a vote on splitting, everyone has to be informed on the consequences. No one, even the bishops, I think, now know what the consequences are. Bishop study, including lawyers, including considering potential lawsuits, must be presented clearly, and in common sense terms, before any vote. So far, most of the votes I have seen, people don’t even know the consequences, especially financial. (Actually, sometimes they don’t even know what they are voting on, in this parliamentary process – I don’t know how many times someone would come up to a microphone and ask “a yes note and a no vote mean what?”

        War scenarios are used, in one sense, to estimate casualties. From what I have seen, this is an ideological war, that may result in financial casualties. I suspect that any split will eventually result in the financial gravy train to collapse. You may have trouble paying the light bill, let alone pensions, health care, and sending money to Africa, after any split. Prayer only goes so far, when it comes to paying bills. At some point, you have to work. The Bishops haven’t done their homework yet, in defining the impact of a split. Hopefully, there would be no split. But from yesterday, I suspect the probability is there. I really think both sides are not realizing the financial impact of a split. I suspect that numbers are on the conservative side, but I also suspect that the liberal donation of funds may lie on the progressive side. As a result, both sides will suffer.

        Maybe I’m wrong. But everyone has been praying and doing nothing, except strutting like peacocks, saying their side is right. I’d say, face reality now (actually in about 2 years). At least know what you may be voting for.

        • Thomas McCann says

          Are you denying the power of God to lead us all in the right direction? What if Moses had just given up when everyone wanted to go back to Egypt?

          • I and sure God has the power, but whether he uses it or not, is questionable. I do not believe in the premise, that everything happens for a reason. You make your own path. God might provide a few corrections on the way. But you do the walking. WW1, WW2, Vietnam, etc, etc. God also “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart. If he didn’t do that, Moses would have been halfway to the promised land before you know it. And the entire first born son’s of Egypt would not have died. Unless, of course, it was just a good excuse to celebrate Passover! Not.

          • Randy Kiel says

            Gary, while I agree that not everything that happens is God’s will, that we live in a fallen world and so are free to act against the Lord’s will if we so choose, I can testify that miracles DO happen in the world, so yes, God IS active in our world.
            That said, I’d advise not trying too hard to figure out “what if” hypotheticals regarding God’s reasoning. (See Isaiah 55:8-9) Hmm, didn’t Job get reprimanded by God Himself for doing just that?

          • Randy, concerning Isaiah, see Matt 13:
            14And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith,
            By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand;
            And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive:
            15For this people’s heart is waxed gross,
            And their ears are dull of hearing,
            And their eyes they have closed;
            Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes,
            And hear with their ears,
            And understand with their heart,
            And should turn again,
            And I should heal them.

            Kind of sums up the 2016 Conference, so far.

  9. A view from the UMC pew from one who was hoping this would be the year this insane argument would turn the corner one way or another: What bothers me the most about this “plan” is the use of the tired phrase “legislation is not working”. The problem is not that the legislation is not working, the problem is those that refuse to be held accountable to the will of General Conference which has consistently come up with the same issue 11 times in 40+ years; and that lack of accountability runs all the way through the bishops who now humbly accept the job to “fix this”; several bishops had a chance to “fix this” when dealing with their own defiant ones! What is going on here? Read your Bible: When the apostles were going to replace Judas, they narrowed the choice down to two and then accepted a roll of the dice as the final decision and moved on. Even Gideon only had to fling that fleece down twice before he accepted God’s request and moved on! Who are we as the church if we do not believe that God is working through our processes and keep beating ourselves up looking for the “right” answer. Why does nobody consider that we had the right answer way back in 1972 and the liberal/progressives have sucked this church down a rabbit trail of insanity! And the answer to that question is we are broken beyond belief and quite possibly beyond repair. How is it going to benefit this church to be bound in 2-4 more years of the swampy morass we have already been experiencing? Maybe the reality is this whole blooming mess with its over abundance of social principles bound in a book needs to come tumbling down!

  10. Randy, since you mentioned Job to me, I’ve been reflecting upon a presentation a Navy Seal gave to my workplace a long time ago. It was about some military activity. But he included a personal story as an aside.

    Northern Iraq tribal society. Paraphrased, since I don’t remember the exact words. He commented to a man of the tribe, “I am sorry that so many of your children have died.” The man replied, “the tragedy is that so many of our old men have died. They represent the knowledge of our culture. We can always have more children.”

    That is why the issue of OT marriage, family, and sexuality is so radioactive. Some take a story like Job as a man loyal to God, in his suffering. But realistically, it is a story from over 2000 years ago that reflect the culture of Job, that family are possessions. It may have been a happy ending for Job, but not so happy for his first family, who were killed in a play game between God and Satan. So OT declarations of biblical marriage and biblical families have to be viewed for what they are – coming from a brutal society, that viewed the entire family as possessions, with the husband as ultimate authority. What happens to him counts. What happens to the family, does not count. So no, I don’t think I will take God’s advice to Job. I don’t want to live in a society based upon either Job’s ethics, or Tribal, Northern Iraq ethics. They seem to be one-in-the-same.

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