OAKLAND UNITED METHODIST CHURCH In Their Own Words

If you missed it, the story of Oakland UMC, in their own words, started earlier, so feel free to catch up with it if you have not yet had the chance. As before, my words will appear in the bold face type you are now reading, and the words of Oakland will appear in the italic type. Remember, stories are what our leaders are telling us that we should be listening to. Stories are the thing that matters most these days it seems, yet somehow only the stories that neatly fit a preconceived narrative get told. This is the story of Oakland UMC and it’s people. This story does not fit the narrative of unity that some want to put forward, but tells a story of the very real divisions that we have and the very real ways that we are treating our brothers and sisters in the faith poorly through the actions of some of our leadership. Let those who have ears hear.  

The Easter Visit, Legal Letters, and the Vote

On Easter Sunday at Oakland United Methodist Church, our District Superintendent showed up unannounced only minutes before the service started and requested to read a letter from our Bishop, Latrelle Miller Easterling. Pastor Kent Tice allowed him the time, despite our already jam-packed schedule, reasoning that a message delivered on Easter from the Bishop would probably not be bad. However, the timing of this visit – on Easter Sunday, disrupting the flow of what was already a full service and injecting tension into our joyful celebration of the Resurrection – was very poor.

Perhaps this disruption could have been overlooked had the Bishop’s letter shown an understanding of our church’s concerns and provided pertinent responses, and had our District Superintendent’s interactions with our members been more directed to genuine dialogue, answering questions, and learning why we feel our denomination is leaving behind Biblical inspiration and authority. However, the letter did not address our actual concerns but rather refuted caricatures that bore little resemblance to our actual stated goals. Given that the DS and Bishop’s awareness of our meetings came directly from a few Oakland members, rather than mere hearsay, and given the effort required to write the letter and have DS Rivera deliver it, one would have hoped for its contents to be more accurate and relevant. In an irony evident to us in hindsight, the bishop stated that “we are not helped by misinformation, half-truths, coercion, or manipulation,” implying that Oakland’s leadership was guilty of these, but the main points of misinformation the Bishop attempted to respond to in her letter were not, in fact, things we had said.

Additionally, the District Superintendent’s tone and manner were brusque and dismissive, both while reading the letter and after our services when conversing with congregants. One woman wrote of her experience coming to Oakland that morning:

When I arrived to second service Easter Sunday, I could tell immediately something was wrong, there was a feeling that was beyond anything I had ever felt in a church. I am always one of the first to arrive and enjoy sitting in the sanctuary before the service. I was handed a letter by a man I did not know at the door entering the sanctuary. I asked JoAnne what was going on, she said the district superintendent was there and had spoken first service and was going to speak again about some issues. Upon entering the sanctuary, I witnessed Edgardo Rivera speaking to Elijah Tice. I was sitting close enough to observe Rivera speaking with the utmost grandeur and superiority over Elijah. Rivera was obviously a very dramatic and theatrical man as I witnessed him speaking with several other people in the congregation. I also witnessed him speaking with to which I could attest he was being rude and condescending which sent her to tears. During Rivera’s speech he read the letter from the Bishop and then gave his personal testimony. I thought it was humorous and pathetic that he used his race as if it was some type of propaganda, I too am Puerto Rican and was offended.

Easter, like Christmas is the time visitors attend; the lost, the hopeless, the ones who need a boost back into the faith; the ones we really need to reach out to. Rivera and whomever else is involved took that day away from those of us who wanted to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior and potentially damaged those visitors who really needed Jesus and a church family that day. In my opinion, what the Bishop’s letter said and accused JoAnne and Kent of should have been left to a special meeting of members instead of regular sermon whereas most people didn’t have a clue what was going on. I will add, not once has Joanne or Kent encouraged us to leave the church, never have they lied to us about what is going on within the denomination ever. In fact, Kent has been so gracious and gentle about the entire situation I often think of him when I need to practice those skills.” – Diana Quiles-Kush

Another woman wrote:

“As Mr. Rivera began his letter from the Bishop, his tone to the congregation was in a harsh manner, as if he was reprimanding a child. His voice was loud, and his words were quick. As I listened to the letter, I realized that everything that the Bishop had sent for Mr. Rivera to address with us was completely wrong, nothing that was in that letter was the main issues we had against the United Methodist Church. I even at one-point thought that possibly Mr. Rivera had received a letter meant for another congregation. By the time he was finished, I looked around the congregation and saw many confused and stunned faces…. I was appalled and disappointed in Mr. Rivera’s actions with our congregation on Easter Sunday. To the point of thinking, ‘This is Church and we have guests.’ …. I have been a Methodist since 1977 and Mr. Rivera’s visit to us on Easter Sunday only solidified the decision I made to leave.” – RoseAnna Fisher

Kent and JoAnne also received a letter directly from Bishop Easterling reiterating several of the same points as the public letter. (Letter from Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling) JoAnne wrote a response that she sent to Bishop Easterling and also published as Facebook status and share on Oakland Church page: https://www.facebook.com/joanne.alexander.79/posts/1677532828998099

Unfortunately, the Baltimore-Washington Conference wasn’t done with Oakland UMC that week. That Thursday the members of our Administrative Board received a letter from Tom Starnes, Chancellor of the BWC. (Letter to Oakland UMC Administrative Board) Most of the letter was predicated on the same misunderstandings that had been evident in Bishop Easterling’s letter. The letter appeared essentially irrelevant to our situation. The end, however, contained language that seemed to threaten legal action against Oakland UMC Board members – personally. The letter ended with the heart-warming statement that “the Conference stands ready to take all appropriate steps, including the prosecution of civil judicial proceedings, to ensure that those principles are honored by all local church officers.” The wording here seems most plausibly to mean that the Conference would sue individual officers of Oakland UMC to ensure that we honor the Trust Clause. Why the individual officers, and not Oakland UMC itself? Why did the Conference feel the need to threaten legal action to ensure that individuals honor the Trust Clause as if we could steal the building and hide it in our basement? The letter clearly seemed designed to intimidate Oakland Board Members and to impact our vote, which was scheduled for the Sunday after Easter. We already had information indicating that suing individual board members and trustees was in the UMC’s playbook – not just in the BWC’s playbook – so this letter was quite alarming. Even without that information, however, the letter would have had a chilling effect on our vote.

We took the vote on April 8th and, of the 147 ballots that were sent out, we received 97 back by the deadline. Of these, 81 voted in favor of leaving and 16 in favor of staying. Four ballots were returned as undeliverable, and four ballots (two “yes,” two “no”) were not received in time for the official count. Kent and JoAnne notified the Conference through DS Rivera.

On May 4, Kent Tice received a letter from Bishop Easterling demanding his “appearance” before her at 10 a.m. on May 9th, or else he would be removed as Pastor at Oakland UMC. (Meeting with Bishop Easterling) However, none of us were quite prepared for the direction that meeting, or the other events of that day, took.

There you have it, their story continues, and, as of yet, is not any happier. I want to take a moment here and be clear, the Bishop has not, to this point in our story anyway, done anything that is expressly against the Book of Discipline. I do support following the rules and processes outlined in the Book of Discipline. All of the actions taken are within the governance of the United Methodist Church. I also want to point out that the Bishop did not have to do it this way all but ensuring conflict. One can follow all the rules and still act in a manner that is unprofessional and confrontational. All of the events that have happened to this point could have been handled in a much different manner that would not have been confrontational, but been in a spirit of reconciliation. How does interrupting an Easter service where the Resurrection is to be celebrated as the reason that we can become disciples of Christ, help to make disciples of Christ? How does any of this. No, the Bishop did not break any rules in the Book of Discipline, and yes, the Bishop, the District Superintendent, and everyone else on the level above the local church end of this could have acted in a much better manner. For a denomination that is calling for unity, these appear to be actions that guaranteed separation. Stay tuned for more on the story. Let those who have ears, hear.

The story continues. 

 

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Pastor as…CEO…Public Theologian… but as prophet?

 For sometime now, there has been an interest in redefining — maybe, reformulating? — the role of pastor. As the mainline churches moved into moral therapeutic deism, pastors became counselors. Now, as churches become overly top heavy, with quotas and diagrams and attendance measures, pastors are told to become something like CEOs. But, in a time of theological and ecclesiastical decay in the West, perhaps we should expect our pastors to become something different.

We overuse the word “prophetic,” insisting that this term is applied to the straight white male fighting perceived oppression — although we bristle if it is used to describe a racial or sexual “minority” fighting for traditional Christian teaching. We insist this term is used for those fighting the patriarchal empire, capitalism, or any other host of liberal and pseudo-liberal causes deemed worthy by pontificating progressivism. This is not the actual meaning of the term, but as with many ersatz intellectuals, words matter little, only the fostered meaning, usually applied in an agenda driven tango to the irrelevant bottom.

With this in mind, I want to suggest that the pastor — along with being the public theologian, or maybe as an aspect of this role — should take the role of prophet. We have to remember that “prophet” doesn’t mean activist, but rather, revealer. Without quoting on and on, we find this need expressed in the Reformers — notably Zwingli and Calvin — when the notion of the Protestant pastor truly appeared. I have no problem with the manifold ministry of the Priest, but I’m not speaking specifically to that.

Pastors should act as priests and prophets, in my opinion.

No doubt, the pastor must lead the congregation against Empire, against oppression — and sin, and towards Christ. Again, this doesn’t mean activist, but Teacher. Revealer. Seerer. What would a pastoral prophet or a prophetic pastor look like? I imagine them as one who could and would call the congregation to pray, fast, and stand together against a cause the Spirit has led the pastor to call attention to. Granted, for those pastors bound by covenant, they must first deal with the vows they took — and if anything, Scripture is clear on vow breakers. And yes, you can be prophetic and obey your vows.

prophet pastor

Could a congregation, especially a mainline congregation, stand a pastor saying, “The Spirit has told me…” or worse, “I am convicted of God that we have drifted away from Christian teaching.” What would your congregation think if your mainline pastor stood up and said, “I feel led by God to…” — and heaven forbid, if it was inline with traditional Christian teaching?

What if the mainline pastor preached the Book of Amos but in a modern paraphrase?

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This type of pastor is likely the theologian as well, since prophecy and theology goes together like a hand and a glove. After all, engrained in the Creeds is the early baptismal formula calling us to the Lordship of Christ, freeing us from Caesar. This is theological. This is prophetic. Suddenly, what is revealed to us in this formula — and in the Creed — is the great cosmic struggle against the principality of sin. Jesus is Lord; Caesar is not. Without theology, and without prophecy, you cannot know what this fully means.

So, what do you think? Should pastors be more prophetic? How would that look?

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William Law on the effects of a church decree

Benjamin Hoadly by Sarah Hoadly
This guy is being laughed at by Zwingli. Just imagine that scene. Benjamin Hoadly by Sarah Hoadly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Basically, and help me if this sounds familiar, the Bishop of Bangor said that there is no biblical support for church government/authority of the church. William Law did not take kindly to this rank heresy and proceeded to literarily flay the bishop alive.

Again; I presume it may very justly be said, that the Christian Revelation hath some Effect towards the Salvation of Mankind; but then it hath not this Effect always and in all Cases, it is only effectual upon certain Conditions. Now if Excommunication can have no Effect, because it is not effectual when it is wrongfully pronounced, then the Christian Revelation can have no Effect towards saving those who embrace it as they should, because it has no such Effect on those who embrace it otherwise. The Reason of the Thing is the same in both Cases, and anyone may as justly set forth the Vanity and Insignificancy of the Christian Revelation, because it does not save all its Professors, as your Lordship exposes the Weakness and Vanity of spiritual Censures, because they do not absolutely, and in all Cases, throw People out of God’s Favour.

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William Law on the Authority of the Church – almost sacramental… #UMC

St Peter in Penitence
St Peter in Penitence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m almost convinced that William Law is one of the greatest unsung theological heroes of the past 500 years. Here, he is urging something… using something else…

Remember, he is Anglican. Also, This entire 9 vol set is available on Logos.

I hope, my Lord, it may be allowed, that the Sacraments are Real Means of Grace: But it is certain they are only conditionally so, if those that partake of them are endowed with suitable Dispositions of Piety and Virtue. Glorious Means of Grace of the Sacraments, which is only obtained by such pious Dispositions; and then it is owing to the Dispositions, and not the Sacraments. Now, my Lord, if there can be such a thing as instituted Real Means of Grace, which are only conditionally applied, I cannot see, why there may not be an instituted Real Authority in the Church, which is only to be conditionally obeyed.

Your Lordship has written a great many Elaborate Pages to prove the English Government Limited; and that no Obedience is due to it, but whilst it preserves our Fundamentals; and, I suppose, the People are to judge for themselves, whether these are safe, or not. Glorious Authority of the English Government, which is to be obeyed no longer than the People think it their Interest to obey it!

Will your Lordship say, There is no Authority in the English Government, because only a conditional Obedience is due to it, whilst we think it supports our Fundamentals? Why then must the Church-Authority be reckoned nothing at all, because only a Rational Conditional Obedience is to be paid, whilst we think it not contrary to Scripture? Is a Limited, Conditional Government in the State, such a Wise, Excellent, and Glorious Constitution? And is the same Authority in the Church, such Absurdity, Nonsense, and nothing at all, as to any actual Power?

If there be such a thing as Obedience upon Rational Motives, there must be such a thing as Authority that is not absolute, or that does not require a Blind, Implicit Obedience. Indeed, Rational Creatures can obey no other Authority; they must have Reasons for what they do. And yet because the Church claims only this Rational Obedience, your Lordship explodes such Authority as none at all.

Yet it must be granted, that no other Obedience was due to the Prophets, or our Saviour and his Apostles: They were only to be obeyed by those who Thought their Doctrines worthy of God. So that if the Church has no Authority, because we must first consult the Scriptures before we obey it; neither our Saviour, nor his Apostles, had any Authority, because the Jews were first to consult their Scriptures, and the Heathens their Reason, before they obeyed them. And yet this is all that is said against Church-Authority; That because they are to judge of the Lawfulness of its Injunctions, therefore they owe it no Obedience: Which false Conclusion I hope is enough exposed.

If we think it unlawful to do anything that the Church requires of us, we must not obey its Authority. So, if we think it unlawful to submit to any Temporal Government, we are not to comply. But, I hope, it will not follow, that the Government has no Authority, because some think it unlawful to comply with it. If we are so unhappy as to judge wrong in any Matter of Duty, we must nevertheless act according to our Judgments; and the Guilt of Disobedience either in Church or State, is more or less, according as our Error is more or less voluntary, and occasioned by our own Mismanagement.

I believe I have shown, First, That all your Lordship’s Arguments against Church-Authority, conclude with the same Force against all Degrees of Authority: Secondly, That though Church-Authority be not Absolute in a certain Sense; yet if our Saviour and his Apostles had any Authority, the Church may have a Real Authority: For neither he, nor his Apostles, had such an Absolute Authority, as excludes all Consideration and Examination: Which is your Notion of Absolute Authority.

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Donatism & Church Unity #DreamUMC #UMCSchism

: United Methodist Church
: United Methodist Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Joel is on vacation, I promised him I would contribute a few original posts this week on here. For the past year, Joel has given more of his energy to the United Methodist Church and the -ism Schism controversies within it. What are the reasons for schisms, and who are calling for them. There are some rather unwise persons out here in Christianity calling for schism over their pet issues, without even knowing what it means historically. Do they not understand that schismatics desire bloodshed? The history of Schisms in Church history is a rather gory one. The Protestant Reformation brought with it about a century of warfare between Catholics and Protestants. The Eastern/Western Schism in the 11th century was followed by the anti-Greek Orthodox Crusades in the 14th century and the invasion of Constantinople. In the late 15th century, Christopher Columbus declared Indians as non-persons, and pretty soon Africans replaced First Nations persons as the enslaved class, only to have thousands of “Christians” die in battle for the right to own other people during the U.S. American Civil War.

What I am trying to say is this: religious bloodshed does not happen in a vacuum. The context for each of these conflicts is church schism. The one primary example of church schism is the Donatist controversy. Blood was shed on both sides. The Donatists rejected men as bishops if they were suspected of turning over fellow Christians and the already rare copies of sacred writings. The Donatists believed their words and actions made them the one true Pure Church. The debate became about tribalism versus the Church Universal. I don’t think the Donatists were in error; they just needed to understand our righteousness comes from Christ, and not our own beliefs or commitments.

I do believe it is possible for progressives and conservatives to fellowship together. When yet another leader of the NeoCalvinist movement was selected to a high position within the Southern Baptist Convention, I said to myself this is problematic. I mean, I live across the street from Southern Baptists who identify as more Armininan. The Southern Baptist church I attend is labelled as “liberal” by Al Mohler because it ordains women deacons, and yesterday, we had the honor of having an ordained UMC elder provide the sermon for us yesterday. Her message was a testimony to the possibilities of church unity. Not only did she recognize the persecution of Christians around the world, but also the racial divisions that keep us separated here at home. She reminded us of Paul’s teaching of biblical solidarity, that Christians are all of one body. Schism is an attempt by one limb of the body in order to several all the others off. Schismatics are inherently prone to violence, and they will inevitably fail.

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The Uncomfor(ming)table Middle in the #UMC

Stripped image of John Wesley
Stripped image of John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was moving out of the cult of fundamentalism to a more robust and liberating faith, an Australian pastor, Mark Stevens, advised to me to refrain from being as liberal as I was once fundamentalist. I am eternally grateful for that piece of insight. Of course, the reverse is true as well. I know of a pastor who was once an extreme liberal but now is as conservative as he was once liberal, even to the point of fundamentalism.

I am equally happy that I found the particular United Methodist Church I did. I detail some of this in a recent Sunday morning sermon:

There are plenty of UMC churches that are not so familiar with the middle. Rather, there are many on the far right and many on the far left. ]] is a United Methodist minister who has created a “New New Testament.” He preaches a Gospel far, far removed from even mainline Christianity. Then there are those churches who believe the Gospel requires a fundamentalistic lockstep into legalism, with no room for disagreement. In fact, some of these pastors have taken to forums to suggest any who disagree with their interpretation of Scripture must repent.

Between the two extremes of sheer human arrogance lies a middle that is refusing to conform to unlikely expectations. On the issue of gay clergy and gay marriage, for instance, many feel that it is acceptable and within Scriptural limits — yet, because of the covenant-ing nature of the connection they feel likewise that the Book of Discipline must be followed for those clergy who break with the covenant. You can imagine the position this puts the middle in. We are the loyal opposition because we do not believe in schism.

Let me stress this point. Many of us believe that Scripture is primary and as such, our authority in guiding the Church and the Christian. We just disagree, given new facts (via Reason), with the previous interpretation that homosexuality is a sin.

One of the things I’ve thought about since engaging with the vileness on some of these forums is the Catholic Church and their sense of unity. Rome has core doctrines and views. Yet, there are plenty of Catholic groups proposing change. However, they are all still Catholic. I do not want to paint a rosy picture of how these groups worship together while seemingly working a part; however, I believe that the focus on the Eucharist helps to shield many of these groups from the desire to rip each other to shreds. I am not sure we have such a thing. The views of the Eucharist in the UMC are pretty far ranging, from Zwingli to Hahn. Further, we have different views on a variety of issues. But, our central view is that God’s Grace is free to all. Perhaps we should focus on that.

There have been calls for schism within the United Methodist Church. This has happened before in American Methodism. In the days before the War Between the States, the southern Methodists went their own way in order to protect slavery. Let’s not kid ourselves. Even after the union in 1939, the old Methodist Episcopal South still remains as the bastion of conservative evangelicalism within the UMC. The resistance to challenging slavery, the resistance to women ordination, and the resistance to progress in Civil Rights generally hails from one specific area. Further, it was this area that gave rise to the Evangelical Methodist Church. And it is this same area that today has a resistance to full inclusion. Schism only allows extremes to develop. Schism is not viable and I still maintain, unbiblical.

Please do not get me wrong. I do not think that all pastors who believe homosexuality is a sin are against women ordination or are for slavery. Rather, there is a same intellectual tendency to hold tightly to the past. Liberals have an intellectual tendency to fling away anything that smacks of the past.

I further do not believe separation is the key either. Rather, what I do believe is that we need to teach the power in covenant and the responsibility to uphold that covenant. The Book of Discipline is not simply document from a bygone era, but that which makes us Methodist. Yes, it has changed and will change, but to discard it is to create extremes. We need discussion. Separation and Schism will prevent discussion because it provides for us a way to isolate ourselves from being challenged. In teaching the duty and obligation to the covenant, we are in a real sense teaching the duty and obligation to the local church, to the family, and even to God.

I cannot help but call attention to the fact that the so-called bible belt has the highest rates of divorce. Perhaps it is because there is no obligation any more to the covenant. The use of “covenant” has lost all meaning. Thus, when changes occur, people react selfishly and rush to leave, forgetting that a covenant is not merely about uniting in agreements but uniting even in disagreements.

And thus I return to Mark Stevens and his advice. He demanded that in my liberalism I remain challenged unlike I was in my fundamentalism. If we isolate ourselves from discussion, we will become the extreme. If I had isolated myself from conservative elements in Christianity because I was coming from a far right sect, I would have done great damage to myself and my faith. I did not. I, instead, found a rather uncomfortable middle. From there, from the notion that iron sharpens iron, my faith has grown. I want to be challenged by conservatism and liberalism. As such, I do not believe separation or schism offers any positive notion, but instead will help to further stifle American Christianity.

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is the unity of the #UMC a lie?

English:
English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr. Watson asks,

Is our unity, then, confined to matters of polity? Are we only held together by the trust clause and our pensions? I really, really don’t want the UMC to split. I would consider that a great tragedy. Yet what are our main reasons for staying together?

via Church Coffee: In What Lies Our Unity?.

I’m going to do something different. I’m going to turn off the comments for this post to direct you over there.

But, my answer is this… if one schism is bad, then maybe all schisms should be reexamined.

Further, where in Scripture is the Church allowed to split? Yes, we can “put people out” or even leave but to split and each go their own way?

The UMC should remain together due to doctrine and a commitment to Wesleyan theology. Yes, there are issues about personal holiness, but I do not believe these issues outweigh the great union caused by Wesleyanism. There are groups acting within the UMC to seek division. These groups should be called out for the damage they are doing to the work of the Church and the universal Body of Christ. But, if we can unite truly on doctrine, then we must find common ground there.

Anyway, go answer there.

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Where is God in Jack Kale’s decision?

So, in a sense, I chose the mission and vision I was doing under appointment more than I chose to serve the whim of a bishop.

English:
English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

via One pastor’s take on why he left the United Methodist Church – UMR.

My own issues with the UMC’s historic itinerancy system; however, I believe it is for the best and Jack Kale is perhaps one of the best examples of why this system needs to stay in place. The Church is not a cult of personality, nor is it based on the pastor. If the local church has only grown with the pastor, perhaps the quantity is not exactly the quality it should be.

In reading Kale’s interview, he never mentions God except to validate his pastoral calling. He never mentions the leading of the Spirit. And why should he? When has the Spirit of God ever commanded breaking oaths, destroying unity, and creating a cult of personality? The politics of the system is decried. So, instead of working to change it from whatever position he has entrusted to the Bishops, he has divorced himself of the small democracy and instead made himself king.

Jack Kale is the very reason we need the itinerancy system. Rather than change the system as Kale and others recommend, we need to rely upon the Spirit – as we say we do – when casting our fate into the hands of the Bishops who make these decisions. 

It would be difficult to state that this is a double standard. Why? Because Hamilton and Slaughter are in different conferences than Kale and others. Thus, they are under a different Bishop. 

If we are truly Spirit led, then we must have faith in that process and not go about changing a system that has kept the cult of personality out of the worldwide Methodism (generally) for 200 years.

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