Another Inaccurate and Uninformed Letter

Continuing in the newest Methodist tradition, that of writing theologically inaccurate letters that do not actually reflect what the church says, I give you yet another, this one from “Undersigned People of the Virginia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church” (https://anewthingva.com/)

 

Let’s just jump right into the highlights shall we? The letter says “In honor of the ministry we share and in lament over the continued discrimination and exclusion of LGBTQIA+ people from the full life of our church,” A question if I may. Since when does one have to be married, or ordained, to be a part of the full life of the church? Nowhere is that mentioned. The “full life of the church” is best reflected in both our baptism and our membership, which are tied in the UMC, and nothing in the theology of the UMC prevents an LGBTQ individual from baptism or membership. For that matter, nothing prevents an LGBTQ individual from being a pastor, though certain actions they choose to engage in, such as ongoing adultery, would prevent that, as it would for a heterosexual individual, and rightly so. The actual “rights” we all have in the church are communion at the open table, membership in our local church, and Baptism. Those things are available to all the faithful. Why is it that we insist they are not? Why is it that, according to this, I can not be a part of the full life of the church unless I am married and a pastor? Nothing says that, but I will admit it does sound good on paper. To bad scrutiny shows it to be empty rhetoric instead of actual fact.

“Recognizing we have broken Wesley’s first General Rule to “do no harm” There really are not words to describe how annoyed I am to hear people talk about Wesley’s first general rule that apparently have not actually read what he meant by it. Let’s consult the UMC website. First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:
The taking of the name of God in vain.
The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling.
Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity.
Slaveholding; buying or selling slaves.
Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling.
The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty.
The giving or taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest.
Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.
Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.
Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as:
The putting on of gold and costly apparel.
The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.
Softness and needless self-indulgence.
Laying up treasure upon earth.
Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them.” Now I imagine that we do violate the first general rule from time to time both individually and corporately, however, the churches understanding of marriage and standards of ordination do not meet any of these things. I suppose that you could make an argument about the golden rule here, but I do not want the church to ordain me if I am not found to be able to meet the standard, so I want the same for others.

“We reject the notion that the lives of LGBTQIA+ people are “incompatible” with Christian discipleship.” I am glad they reject this, but the church does not, and has not, said this. The church has said the the act of sex between two people of the same gender is inherently sinful. That is the whole “self avowed practicing bit. The church has said that marriage is only blessed by God when it is one man and one woman. This also refers to the “self avowed and practicing” language. Nowhere does the UMC say that anyone’s life is incompatible with Christian discipleship. We do say that the act of sex between two of the same gender is incompatible with Christian teaching. So is telling a lie and if we kicked all the liars out, we wouldn’t have a church. If you are going to stand against what the church says, perhaps it should actually be what the church says and not whatever hyperbolic rhetoric that you can conjure up to make things sound worse and different than they actually are.

“Our love and understanding of scripture, our reliance on the breadth and depth of Christian tradition, our prayerful reflection on our lived experience, and our God-given reason, all conspire with the Holy Spirit to breathe new life and understanding into old debates.” Well, the moment that you interject your “own lived experience” as a means of discerning truth, you are using the quadrilateral incorrectly. I don’t know why anyone would use it at all, but that’s just me. Our lived out experiences do not determine truth, God determines truth. If God is the author of truth yet we claim to decide that we are, that is idolatry of the highest order. The moment you bring understanding that contradicts 1900 years of Christian teaching that remained consistent across all denominations, you are in danger. I am not saying definitively that it is wrong, but that it is in danger of being wrong. What new understanding is there in this matter? No new evidence has arisen after all. The only thing new about this is artificially separating one thing from a list of prohibited actions, and deciding it must be ok, then searching for some sort of justification for that.

“We affirm the diversity of sexual orientations and gender expressions that God has created and called good (Genesis 1:26-31) and we commit ourselves to live faithfully out of this understanding, especially in this uncertain time.” Where to begin with this awful understanding of created order? How about the reality is that there is simply nothing in the text that indicates God has created diverse sexual orientations and gender expressions. That is someone reading into Genesis things that are not indicated by the text. The evidence that we have from the text is that there was Adam and there was Eve. Considering they had children, their orientation seems fairly clear. We also have Jesus’ words in Matthew that call back to the intent at creation which was one man and one woman.

Now one could make the argument that LGBTQ folks were “born this way”. Maybe they were and maybe not, but all evidence points to an interplay between nature and nurture that sets these things before any capacity for honest self evaluation and complete self awareness, so I am fine with the “born this way” school of thought based upon the reality that LGBTQ folks have not chosen to be attracted to whom they are, just like the rest of us. Let us refer back to our evidence. We have Adam and Eve and Christ saying that was the intent and design of God. We have varying expressions of sexual identity that seem to be inherent. How does that work with God calling His creation good? Well, it doesn’t. After the eating of the fruit, all of creation becomes fallen out of the state of perfection that God created it in. The only thing about us that we can definitively say is good regarding our creation is the image of God we are born with. From our birth we are inclined to evil and that continually. We are assuredly in deep need of restoration. The point here is really rather simple. Since the fall from grace, we are not “good” as declared by God, thus sexual identity (which is really a whole rant on it’s own) is not “good” no matter what it is because we are marred and in deep need of restoration.

“We urge our Board of Ordained Ministry, District Committees on Ministry, and local congregations to recommend qualified candidates for ministry, without respect to their gender/gender identity/gender expression or sexual orientation, and to refrain from using criteria that exclude persons solely on this basis.” No matter how many times such things are said, they still are not true. The UMC does not use the above criteria based upon the requirements in the Book of Discipline. Please at least learn what you are talking about before you talk about it.

“We are also called to recognize, affirm, and celebrate the covenant of marriage between any two persons who meet the commitments and standards for marriage, regardless of their gender/gender identity/gender expression or sexual orientation.  We cannot deny the covenant of marriage to committed, same-sex couples.” That all sounds nifty, but the church does not deny marriage to same sex couples, it says that it is impossible because that is not what marriage is in the view of the church. It is difficult to wrap the head around, and I freely admit this, but the church can not extend marriage to same sex couples unless the church changes what marriage is. The truth of what is being asked is not to extend the covenant of marriage to same sex couples, it is to change the covenant of marriage so that same sex couples may participate in a new thing.

The last two points have tried to use the idea that both ordination and marriage flow from baptism, and since we baptize a person, they should then be considered qualified and meeting the criteria fro ordination and marriage. This is just silly. The other idea presented is that this is somehow resisting evil, injustice, etc. This again is not a case of evil, or injustice, or discrimination as is so often said. It is not evil to have standards of behavior for those seeking ordination. It is not evil to hold to a traditional view of marriage. If it is, then the church that has Jesus as her head has been evil since it’s beginning, and the vast majority of the church catholic world wide still is. Seems a bit far fetched to me.

There is of course more, but this is already to long. Thus far, there are over 2,000 signatures to this letter. That means that over 2,000 UMC Pastors, active and retired, as well as laity, are committed to changing what the UMC doesn’t actually say. Over 2,000 have no idea of UMC teachings on the matter, or do, yet refuse to take them at face value and instead assign their own, inaccurate meanings, to them. Frankly, it is difficult to take this seriously since it is so brazenly full of inaccuracies so as to make it useless. People want to wrap this up as simple disagreements over a matter of scripture, but letters like this show that it is far more than that, but rather the ignorance or unwillingness of some to learn what the church actually says and what the rules of the church actually are. There is no solution when we can not even speak the same language to agree upon the problem.

 

 

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5 Replies to “Another Inaccurate and Uninformed Letter”

  1. Scott, I think you hit the theological (if we could dare say it is worth of the word “theological”) difference on the head midway through your essay. A good portion of the denomination (and many U.S. Christians in general) do not believe in the doctrine of Original Sin, or , if a more ecumenical word is required, “fallenness.” Mr. Wesley wrote “believe this [doctrine] and you are so far a Christian, Deny it and you are a heathen still.” Most people I run into in churches believe that people are all “basically good.” Apparently there is no “demonic crack” running across the face of creation (which seems to ignore “natural evil” of natural disasters).

    1. That has been my experience as well. It would seem that church wide, our theology beginning at creation and extending to the fall, is seriously faulty.

  2. https://vaumc.org/page.aspx?pid=2848
    “Virginia United Methodist Center …works to coordinate the work and ministries of 1,143 local churches.” Assuming there are 2,000 people that signed the letter, that means less than 2 people per local church actually signed so far. Assume 100 members per church, that should put the total number of members at 114,300. So, 2,000 out of 114,300 members?
    If they had any integrity, they would poll all members in a church-wide vote, and present the results. This should not be expensive (should actually be free – just ask the members to respond on their comment card/attendance/prayer request card given at the beginning of the meeting). One Sunday, just simply poll all members present. Then report the results up the chain. I suspect the reason no one has actually taken a real poll of all members, is because the activists are afraid what the results will be.
    Political activists are vocal, but not necessarily in the majority.

  3. The acting Bishop of the the Virginia Conference addressed the letter on the VAUMC web page.
    This letter is not really directed at Methodists. The Methodists know what they believe and what they decided (to follow God). This letter is directed to the world. This is the signatories begging the world not to take their gold and baals and high places away. They want the trappings of the Church without the cross bearing that is required to follow Jesus.

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