Methodists and Mission

I spent Saturday with a group of United Methodists from across my jurisdiction. The event brought together a diverse group of clergy and laity to discuss the pending effects of the Special Session of General Conference in February about human sexuality. By now, those who pay attention to the issues within the UMC on sexuality have not only opinions on the subject, but those opinions have hardened into positions. This was certainly true of this group.

The larger body divided down into smaller groups of 8-10 at round tables for a moderated discussion in the “Circles of Grace” format. We considered 8 questions in a increasing level of depth. It was hard to imagine what the point of these discussions was supposed to be. My best guess was that because the UMC institution and leadership has sold its soul to the “One Church Plan,” with scant perception that it has little chance of passing, they were trying to foster conversations to help us realize that even though we had different opinions across the entire church, we could all sit in a circle together, talk about our feelings, sing Kum Ba Yah together and go home and continue to be united. Unfortunately, we all go home to a church just as dysfunctional and divided theologically, no matter how nice we were to each other.

In fact, it was one of the questions we considered which brought into clear focus for me an issue on which we are painfully divided, which hasn’t received as much attention as others (e.g. Authority of Scripture, Lordship of Christ, etc.): that of mission of the Church. This issue, along with the others, cuts right to the heart of our presenting problems with human sexuality. The question asked was, “What is your sense of the mission/purpose of the Church?” Aside from the obvious mission statement adopted by the General Conference, “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” we were to each articulate our personal understandings of church and mission, i.e. ecclesiology.

As we went around the table, the diversity of answers astounded me. Not that they were necessarily bad or wrong answers to the question, but further that they seemed to all miss the mark in some shape or form. In seminary, I had a course on this exact topic: Church and Mission, with this description: Studies the work of the Holy Spirit as continuing the work of Christ. Focal points include the effects of redemption in the life of the believer,

in the creation and sustaining of the church and its ministry, and in the eschatological hope for the world through the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.

In this course, we discussed the various ideas and purposes for the church, with a special emphasis on the “Great Commission” as articulated in Scripture. Interestingly enough, only a few folks at the table used any of the language within the Scriptural mandates. Now, I make mandate plural because it could be argued that there are five versions of the “Great Commission” found in Scripture. There is one in each Gospel, and then one in Acts. Even so, those who did use Commission language used only the word “disciple,” which comes only out of the Matthean account. The other ideas had more to do with missions of mercy, compassion and hope, which one could argue was implicit in the Johaninne “feed my sheep/love” language, but in our own day and age, this tends to express itself in social justice apart from any proclamation activity.

It was here where their conceptions of mission were most lacking. No one articulated a proclamation part of mission. No one said anything like Mark’s, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” There is a gospel to proclaim, but our people don’t even connsider that as a part of the mission of the church.

Evangelion, evangel, the idea that there is “good news” in Jesus Christ, which the world needs to hear, is so part and parcel to the mission of the church and the accounts of Scripture, that to not have it articulated by any of the folks in my group, all of whom would have a “progressive” understanding of the faith, reminded me about how divided we really are theologically.

Church in the “progressive” stream seems to completely ignore the gospel that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation,” and that “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This is GOOD NEWS! The world is broken, but in the atonement of Christ, the world is being redeemed from death and sin. God is saving a sin-sick world. It is the mission of the church to proclaim this good news to the wider world.

Is there discipleship to follow? Certainly. Are there missions of mercy, compassion, justice and healing to be done? Most definitely. However, these are to be part and parcel with the hope of forgiveness for sin found only in Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the good E. Stanley Jones quote, “An individual gospel without a social gospel is a soul without a body and a social gospel without an individual gospel is a body without a soul. One is a ghost, the other a corpse.” Jesus came into the world to bring more than good teaching and show us how to love. He came to bring us back to God despite the depth and filth of our sinful condition.

Why didn’t these folks have a fuller perspective on the gospel? For way too long the progressive stream of our church has had an incomplete picture of sin. Spending too much time neutering its power in the individual life and poo-pooing its consequences, liberal/progressive Christianity has conceived of a faith that looks more like a social movement. Niebuhr’s famous quote says it well, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

What is the mission of the church? It is multifaceted, but it must include the preaching of the gospel. In order to do so, it must preach that sin has corrupted the world both individually and institutionally. Redemption from sin comes because Jesus Christ has died for us. We may be the hands and feet of that redemption into the broken world through ministries of Discipleship and mercy, but both of those make no sense without the full proclamation of the gospel. The Kingdom of God has indeed come near, and we do bring it, but our message must include salvation from sin and the hope of Life in Jesus Christ. The rest, Discipleship, compassion, love and mercy are what St. Paul would call the “therefores.”

What does this say about where we are in the United Methodist Church today? It tells me that there is a substantial portion of our body that has an inadequate vision of the mission of the church, the nature of the fallen world around, and the power contained in the Gospel of Christ. Are there some folks who go to the other extreme? Are there people who emphasize too highly Jones’ individual gospel over a social one? Certainly, but I wonder if its easier for a classic evangelical (like myself), who tries to hold all of it in tension, to work with the one who knows to preach salvation in Christ, or the progressive who eschews gospel proclamation altogether.

In this case, I’ll stand with Paul, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

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So this is going around again…

This piece, written by Luke Timothy Johnson, is going around in the (so called) centrist United Methodist Circles. It was first put out in 2007. Mt. Johnson is a New Testament scholar of some note as well as a former Roman Catholic Priest. Because this is going around again, I think it appropriate to make some brief reflections on what he wrote a decade ago, what it has to do with United Methodist theology, and to point out some fundamental flaw in his reasoning. I bring it up only because it is being offered as evidence that many faith traditions are wrestling with scripture regarding these questions. This piece does not wrestle with scripture however, it replaces scripture as God’s revelation to us with human experience as God’s revelation to us. That is not wrestling with scripture, it is replacing it. If this serves as a justification for various Methodist groups, and it is being presented as just that, then they have only affirmed what many of us have said. Scripture as the authority by which all the truths of faith are measured has been replaced by personal experiences as the measure of truth.  Worth noting is that his opinions are also not in line with Roman Catholic teaching on the matter, so he is speaking from his own understanding and not the understanding of the Roman Catholic church. I encourage you to read the piece linked above in it’s entirety. I will use the style of quoting relevant sections and commenting on them below the quote.
“Is the present crisis in Christian denominations over homosexuality really about sex? I don’t think so.”
Here is the first problem with his piece, and it is the very first line. He begins with the presupposition that this is not about sexual morality, but about something else entirely. This of course only serves to change the conversation away from sexual ethics and into an entirely different realm.
“The church could devote its energies to resisting the widespread commodification of sex in our culture, the manipulation of sexual attraction in order to sell products. It could fight the exploitation of women and children caught in a vast web of international prostitution and pornography. It could correct the perceptions that enabled pedophilia to be practiced and protected among clergy. It could name the many ways that straight males enable such distorted and diseased forms of sexuality.”
Now he has created a false dichotomy saying that if the church is concerned about “A” it is therefor not doing anything about “B”. This is simply not true in the least. The church has taught about a wide variety of subjects over it’s history, often at the same time. If your pastor were to give a sermon about the necessity of feeding the poor, would you automatically assume that he did not care about providing them clothes or shelter? Of course not because we recognize that people, just like the church, can have a variety of concerns.  It also puts the church on the defensive for continuing in the same understanding of sexual ethics over the history of Christianity on the matter, not to mention the same understanding of our Jewish forerunners as well. It gives the perception that somehow the church has just now started to care and nothing could be further from the truth. There are centuries of consistent teachings on sexual morality that can be referenced.
“And accepting covenanted love between persons of the same sex represents the same downward spiral with regard to Scripture, since the Bible nowhere speaks positively or even neutrally about same-sex love (glossing over the relationship of Jonathan and David, see 1 Samuel 18–2 Samuel 1).”
So yes, David and Johnathan loved each other. I will go so far as to say that there was a covenant involved in their love. I love other men also, and share covenants with them. This is not the issue. Here he is trying to go down the path that if two men love each other and have chosen to make a covenant with each other, it must be a homosexual relationship. This is not only false and a dangerous reading into scripture, if we follow that example into the New Testament, we see a deeply close and conventional relationship between Jesus and His disciples. Should we then believe that Jesus was a homosexual as well based upon the same evidence (really, the lack of evidence)? Don’t laugh, many have. The idea that David and Johnathan were somehow romantically involved was popularized by John Bozwell whose primary academic purpose was to show that homosexuality has always existed and been accepted in history going so far as to claim that there were homosexual weddings of Catholic monks. He is one of the forerunners of “queer (so called) theology”. His ideas are distinctly modern, have been panned by his academic peers as inaccurate, based upon assumption and confirmation bias, and are not largely respected in the academic or theological communities. Others have caught on to the claim and tried to provide their own evidences from scripture, but all such evidence requires you to read more into the story than is present in the text, and to assume that you know the motivation of two men who lived thousands of years ago.
“Of course, Christianity as actually practiced has never lived in precise accord with the Scriptures. War stands in tension with Jesus’ command of nonviolence, while divorce, even under another name (annulment), defies Jesus’ clear prohibition.”
Except by Jesus of course, who wasn’t a Christian, but a Jew. That is another rant entirely. Just War is a commonly accepted understanding of violence between nations and when it is acceptable and when it is not. It is certainly a part of Catholic theology. Jesus did not forbid divorce, but He did put some restrictions upon it. There is some pretty heavy theology about the keys to the kingdom passed to the Apostles involving divorce as well links between idolatry and adultery, but let’s be clear about this. This is not new in the least and the theology surrounding marriage and divorce in the Catholic tradition is robust. It is also robust in the Orthodox tradition and even in the Wesleyan tradition, but it is rather hard to find in the UMC. The point here about divorce however is that Jesus did not forbid it, he restricted it. A priest should know such things.
“And which Christians have ever observed the exhortation in Leviticus to stone psychics and put adulterers to death? But make this point to those opposed to same-sex unions, and you’re liable to find it turned back against you.”
The only book of the Bible less understood than Leviticus has got to be The Revelation to Saint John. The Catholic tradition, as well as pretty much every Christian tradition, recognizes that just as we are not obligated to follow the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law, we are still very much bound by the moral aspects of it. Frankly, not understanding that is a poor understanding of the image of God we are all created in and poor creation theology. A priest should know better. It’s not turning it back against anyone to say this, it is affirming what the church catholic has taught since it’s founding.
“For them, the authority of Scripture and tradition resides in a set of commands, and loyalty is a matter of obedience. If the church has always taught that same-sex relations are wrong, and the Bible consistently forbids it, then the question is closed.”
It is not loyalty to be obedient to the commands in scripture, it is the love of God. All through out the scriptures, love of God and of Christ is tied to obedience. This is inescapable in even casual readings of scripture. But yes, if the tradition of the church has always said it and the scriptures clearly forbid it, then the question is indeed closed as it has already been answered over and over again through the centuries. That is the whole point of the faith once and for all delivered after all.
“It is not difficult to understand these positions; indeed, they were probably held by many of us at some point until our lives and the lives of those we love made us begin to question them. So we can—and should—understand the mix of fear and anger that fuels the passionate defense of such positions. “
Here is where we get to the seriously dangerous stuff, as well as some of the scripted assumptions that are proven wrong over and over again yet still persist. We all thought it was wrong until it was someone that we love. To translate, when someone that we love is not following the scriptures, we should just change them.
As an aside, I am not angry, nor am I afraid. Not of, or at, this topic at the very least. I am pretty tired of hearing that I am.
“I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.”
Did you catch that? The higher authority that the former priest appeals to is the weight of our own experiences. He has set personal experience as an authority higher than the Bible. This should not come as a surprise to many of us who have been saying this is the case for some time, but it is surprising to have someone actually admit it.
By he way, what is rejected as sin is not the attraction, but rather the actions taken regarding the attraction. This is the same for all of us, and extends beyond sexual desire as well. We all have desires. Some are in line with the will of God and some are not. What we do with that desire is the issue. He of course rejects that and makes untruthful claims about what most of those with a traditional sexual ethic actually believe. He also exhibits (again) a very poor understanding of the image of God we are created in as well as how it has become marred and is in need of restoration.
Stick with me here. I do not think that God is a monster. For example, I do not think that a child born with serious cognitive disabilities is God’s ultimate plan, it is a result of sin entering into the world and the world falling and being in need of restoration. I do not think that children born with crippling genetic disorders is God’s ultimate plan. I do not think that children who die within days of birth for any number of health concerns is God’s ultimate plan. If it were, God becomes a hideous monster who actively desires the death of the most innocent and defenseless among us. Are we prepared to think this way of God? I ask because that is what is required if the condition we are born in is the determining factor of what God’s plan entails. How we are born really has no bearing on the topic at hand. What we do with the life we are born into is, and always has been, the issue. We, and indeed the entire world, is in desperate need of God’s promised restoration. Nothing in this world is God’s ultimate end point. The end point is the new heaven and earth when we all get to hang out the way it was intended from the beginning. In short, none of us are born as God originally had intended, but yes, all of us have been lovingly created, marred as we are, to reflect the glory of God.
This has already drug on to long. The piece goes on to talk about slavery, which has nothing to do with anything, as well as the Gentiles being allowed into the faith claiming making some terrible claims about that as well. It’s nothing new, just the repackaged old arguments that require a nearly complete re-imagining of the meaning of scripture from start to finish to justify it.
The end of ll of this is simple. There are two competing views of Christianity at play here. One view says that experience informs what scripture means, and the other says that scripture helps us to better understand the experiences that we have. Both can not be correct. One says that the fallen and marred experiences of humanity define God, and the other says that God, and our identity through Christ He has provided, defines us. In case you are not catching on, one is idolatry of the highest order setting man up to define God and the other is faithful obedience as an expression of love for The Creator. A lot happens to the faiths that are present in scripture that are based in idolatry, and none of it is positive. The question is the same today as it has been through out history and even asked in scripture. Choose you this day whom you will serve. The first competing views answers that question in a way that serves man. The second competing view answers as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. So choose you this day…and choose wisely.

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As promised earlier, here is the first part of the story of Oakland UMC, in their words. There has been no editing by me for content, only light editing for spelling and punctuation. Listening to stories is all the rage in the UMC these days, but all to often that means listening to the stories of those who want to drastically change the theology of the UMC, not those who wanted to remain faithful to it. I challenge you, the reader, to listen to the story of a congregation that wished to remain faithful to the teachings of the UMC on matters of sexuality (not to mention the other very real theological issues that actually divide us) and share it with those who otherwise might not listen. If listening to stories is so important to going forward, then we must make sure that we are listening to all the stories, especially the stories of those trying to be faithful. So, without further delay, here is the first part of the story of Oakland UMC, in their words. Let those who have ears hear. As a point of explanation, my words will be in the bold faced type that you are currently reading, while the story of Oakland UMC, in their words, will be in the italic script that you see below. 

Oakland United Methodist Church in Charles Town, WV was a vibrant ministry- and discipleship-oriented congregation only a few months ago. Oakland- About Us 2017 Today, most of the congregation has left to form the independent Wesleyan Oakland Community Church, and Oakland UMC is just a shadow of its former self. How did this happen?

Around the beginning of 2013, Oakland Church’s Administrative Board (which functions as a Church Council) began discussing our growing concerns regarding several issues in the United Methodist Church. We recognized that the presenting symptoms we were noting – approval of homosexual behavior, promotion of abortion, a BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) attitude toward Israel, and resolutions urging the celebration of “evolutionary scientific thinking” in worship services – seemed to be part of a larger problem, particularly in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

In 2014 our Senior Pastor, Rev. JoAnne Alexander, retired to help save Oakland UMC money on her pension, and she became a church hire rather than an appointed retiree. That summer and fall a few families who were upset at the UMC’s support for the Religious Coalition on Reproductive Rights approached our leadership and announced that were considering leaving the church over the growing heterodoxy and disobedience to scripture they were observing in the UMC. At this point, we formed a new church with a legal and financial structure distinct from Oakland UMC, as well distinct trustees, secretary, and treasurer. This church was given permission by the Oakland UMC board to meet on Monday nights at Oakland, and agreement was reached whereby the same message would be preached at both churches, so that members from Oakland UMC were able to still attend church even if they needed to miss Sunday worship. This church was named Oakland Community Church. We also began mentioning these issues to our District Superintendent, Rev. Edgardo Rivera. In one tense charge conference, several of our members asked him about the things that concerned us, and District Superintendent Rivera informed us that no one else was raising these concerns to him.

In 2016 BoD language regarding homosexual practice – a bellwether or “presenting symptom” of a much deeper divide – appeared to be affirmed at the 2016 General Conference, only to have the Council on a Way Forward (COWF) formed to discuss what was already biblically clear. We took note and formed our own “commission,” a task force of about 10 members of our Administrative Board to study the issues affecting the “way forward,” and to make recommendations to the Administrative Board. The early reports out of the COWF  seemed lackluster to us, given that they reiterated the options everyone already knew we had: To keep our current, orthodox language in the Book of Discipline and to enforce it, to let every church and pastor decide the issue for themselves, or to split into three separate sub-denominations. We began to consider what might happen if Option 2 or Option 3 were chosen. We had been told there would be a gracious exit regardless, and we knew that if Option 2 were chosen, we would certainly want to take the exit. The more we discussed things, the more we realized that, although homosexuality was a bellwether, it was not the only problem facing the UMC. We knew that disobedience to the Book of Discipline’s standards on sexuality was likely to continue if Option 1 (the “traditional option”) were chosen. For example, a Methodist Church in our conference was used to perform a same-sex wedding between two lesbian students at Wesley seminary in the fall of 2017, and a UMC clergy member officiated at the wedding). Finally, we knew that Option 3 would leave us in a mess that would take years to resolve due to the need for constitutional amendments. At the same time, it became increasingly clear through reports out of the Council of Bishops and the Council on a Way Forward that the favored option was option 2 – one that we could not in good conscience support. We also were given reliable information that the “gracious exit” we’d been told about was no longer on the table.

To add urgency to the situation, Pastor Kent Tice was retiring at the beginning of 2018 (again, only to save Oakland UMC the money they were paying into his pension). In a letter to Bishop Easterling at the end of 2017, Kent had requested both to retire to help Oakland UMC’s finances and to be appointed at Oakland as a retiree until we learned the results of the 2019 special General Conference. He didn’t want to leave Oakland without trusted leadership at a time when so much was likely to change in the UMC. The Bishop granted the request to retire, but mad no response regarding the request for a continuing appointment at Oakland. In view of the facts that 1) GC2019 was only ever intended to resolve the issue of homosexuality and not the other theological issues we were seeing in US conferences, 2) we would be losing our long-term pastor just before GC2019, and 3) we realistically no longer expected a “gracious exit” if option 2 were chosen (which seemed increasingly probable), our administrative board voted unanimously on December 5 to bring the issue to the congregation for a vote to determine how they wanted to proceed. If the congregation voted to leave, we decided to approach the Baltimore-Washington Conference with the results of the vote and request to be allowed to leave, negotiating as necessary to reach a solution that we hoped could be satisfactory to both parties. If that failed and the Conference decided to play hardball, we decided that we could live without our building and assets if need be, and resolved to leave the building behind, ending our individual memberships in the UMC. If the congregation voted to stay, we knew that several families were planning on leaving anyway. 

Before this issue could reach a vote, however, some members (including a disgruntled trustee who had previously voted more than once at our Admin. Board meetings to bring this to a vote before the congregation), called the District Superintendent and provided (mis)information regarding our activities. The members called the District Superintendent to complain, and provided a copy of our vote announcement. The Sunday before Palm Sunday, Conrad Link (a District Superintendent in the Baltimore Washington Conference) arrived to sit in our service and a Q&A session we had planned for the congregation (Our District Superintendent, Edgardo Rivera, was apparently unable to come.) Kent Tice explained to Conrad that we weren’t just trying to walk away with the building through a legal fight. The next Sunday, in order to quell some confusion and infighting instigated by the small cadre of people who wanted to stay, and in order to address the misinformation that was being actively circulated regarding the Board’s decision by people who were not present at any of the meetings nor even on the board, JoAnne preached a Palm Sunday sermon that also managed to explain our reasons for wanting to leave. This sermon is present on Oakland’s Facebook page as a Facebook live video, which you can watch here:

The Baltimore-Washington Conference was watching, however, and used this sermon as their excuse for what they did the next Sunday on Easter, shocking many visitors and members alike.

The members of Oakland UMC, rather the members of the Administrative Board, received a letter from the chancellor of the conference. Letter to Oakland UMC Administrative Board The communication that the church was not trying to leave through legal wrangling apparently got lost in translation as did the intent of the vote. The vote was to ensure that this was the will of the congregation. It was not a vote to leave so much as a vote to enter into the process of disassociation from the denomination as per the Book of Discipline with the hopes of reaching a negotiated solution that would be equitable to all. Instead, a letter comes from a lawyer threatening legal action before the process could actually begin. Oakland UMC had transmitted it’s intent to work within the process of the conference and try to negotiate an amicable separation. The conference responded with legal threats. Of course, this is my opinion based upon Oakland’s story and the information on the situation which I have been given.  

There you have it, the first part of the story, in their words. I hope that you took the time to look at the booklet that is linked in here that does a wonderful job of explaining who Oakland UMC was, as well as the sermon that is also linked so that you might understand better what has transpired. There is of course more to the story, much more, but this is the start of it. Let those who have ears, hear. 

The story continues. 



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Work ahead for WCA

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Wesleyan Covenant Association has issued their “Chicago Statement”, even though they don’t meet in Chicago until tomorrow. Never mind that there actually is not any covenant. Questions about the credibility of the WCA extend well beyond their ability to write documents.
At its inception, WCA is a single-issue group. Never mind their statements about “high view of Scripture, Wesleyan vitality, orthodox theology, and Holy Spirit empowerment”. They are about homosexuality. Their statements makes it clear. The Bishop’s committee must resolve the homosexuality question to the satisfaction of the WCA, or they’re gone.
Unfortunately for the WCA, that single issue is not going to resolve the issues that currently exist in the UMC. As a separate organization, the WCA will take with them a host of unstated, non-scriptural positions that exist in the UMC. And those will eat at the heart of the new organization until they are resolved.

– Sexual Immorality – WCA, as noted, is focused on homosexuality. Forgive me if I suggest that’s just an easy target. There are much more prevalent examples of sexual immorality in the UMC today. The classic is remarriage after divorce, where the Book of Discipline is in clear, direct contradiction of Jesus’ teachings on the matter. Beyond that, the sin of fornication (two unmarried people carrying on a sexual relationship) is rampant. And, it is completely ignored by clergy and laity alike (except in hushed tones in Sunday School classes).
Failure to include these types of sexual immorality in their mission means that the WCA will simply continue to harbor sin, in a different form than they are fighting now. Will they separate again over the issue of remarriage? One cannot help but recall Garrison Keilor’s example of the Baptist churches that continued to sub-divide over the correct way to make green bean casserole.

Authority and accountability – These are huge issues to the WCA, because a number of Bishops and annual conferences have taken exception to the UMCs position on homosexuality. These issues have always existed – just look at the annals of General Conferences of a hundred years ago. There are all kinds of admonitions and ruling regarding ‘sins’ of the day which have gone unchallenged. This is not new.
The question is, how does it get resolved without creating an authoritarian figure at the top of the denomination? As long as there is any system of justice, which requires ‘judges’ to both apply the law and attempt to determine God’s will, there will be people who say the ‘system is broken’. There are always (at least) two sides to a case, and the losing side is destined to be unhappy abut the outcome. The question is, what level of judicial discretion can be maintained, while still holding people to accountability.
While WCA has said repeatedly that they yearn for a return to accountability, they have not made clear what level of accountability is required, or how to measure it. We can ony have truly consistent results if all the ‘judges’ are clones of each other. Even in our most frantic moments, it’s not clear that anyone would want that. So, to establish some goals, it is contingent on the WCA to define what the relative levels of authority versus discretion in the judicial process, and how that balance is to be achieved and maintained.

-Wesleyan vitality – It’s not at all clear what the WCA intends to do to achieve this objective, but it’s certainly worth the effort. To achieve it with credibility, though, WCA is going to have to define what it means. Does it mean complying with the (doctrinal) sermons of Wesley? If so, there’s already a problem.
Wesley’s guiding rules on when it is OK to separate from your current church are clear: either you are being prevented from doing something you feel is necessary to preach the Gospel, or you are being required to do something you believe is in error in terms of preaching the Gospel.
The issue of homosexuality does not, to date, meet that threshold. And, under a number of different proposals, that threshold will still not be met. Only if a pastor is required to perform a wedding that he or she doesn’t think is Biblical, will the threshold for separation be met. So the veiled or open threats of separation are distinctly un-Wesleyan in nature.

– Nicene Creed – The WCA has added the Nicene Creed to their belief statements, enlarging on the list of documents that comprise our theological doctrine. On the surface, this seems innocuous. We accept the Nicene Creed in the UMC as a statement of fundamental Christian beliefs. Why it is not in our doctrinal statements is something that is historically lost (at least to me).
However, this addition comes immediately on the heels of a General Conference that rejected a proposal to add it to the doctrinal statements. I’m not sure of all the reasons, but my information is that it had little to do with the Creed itself, but rather the gravity (and difficulty) of changing the content of those documents.
In any case, here is the WCA, proclaiming new doctrinal elements that are in addition to, or perhaps in conflict with, the decisions of the General Conference. While it may seem trivial by comparison, this i exactly what the WCA is accusing ‘rogue’ conferences of doing – ignoring the clear intent of the GC.
If the WCA is going to be the rock in the stormy waters of the UMC, then they must conduct themselves by the very highest standard of compliance to UMC rules and doctrine. Adding the Nicene Creed may be a useful step toward ecumenicism, but in this case it’s also a statement to the GC that ‘we know better than you do’.
You simply can’t have it both ways.

I am not going to Chicago, and I don’t intend to join or support the WCA. Despite that, I wish them well. If they can expand their focus into the whole realm of sexual immorality, and act in exemplary obedience to the UMC doctrine and laws, it will be a truly refreshing day within the UMC. But they have a lot of work to do.

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@Indiana new legislation “protecting businesses”.

(Someone asked me if I can’t just be foolish on Facebook… Well, hell, NO! I will be foolish here as well:)

1 – The State of Indiana passing laws that are to allow business to reject service to gays: WRONG. Even with the argument that it is to protect businesses from the heavy lawsuits gay people file against business. We should not respond with legislation against others whereas saying that we don’t like “legislation” which is against us

UPDATE: Please read a clarification in the comments.                               UPDATE #2 – Please read how CNN “headlines” the matter here

2 – Gay people closing otherwise good business by suing them because they cannot bake a cake for themselves, or arrange flowers by themselves (what kind of gay people are they?): WRONG
3 – Gay people in business, hypothetically, refusing to provide services for the KKK and the Westboro (more like West Burro) Baptist Church in a anti-gay regalia: WRONG.
So, in whatever case, it is all wrong! The fact is that no one wants to live together with those with whom they disagree. The fact remains that TOLERANCE is something you give, not something you DEMAND! The one demanding TOLERANCE and rights should be the first one READY TO GIVE IT!
I have repeated this often, including in “diversity” courses: Tolerance demanded is in and of itself INTOLERANCE! Especially when it is in detriment of others.
If it matters, before you call me names, read this: I do business with gays although I respect those who do not!
Now you can call me names …
A Civil War “of sorts”?
  1.  We can’t live without legislating against those whose live styles or opinions we despise;
  2.  We can’t live without involving the courts against those whose life styles and opinions we despise;
  3. We can’t live without involving the GOVERNMENT against those whose life styles and opinions we despise:
THEN, we are already amid a CIVIL WAR; a bloodless one indeed, but perhaps just as dividing of a society as a full blown CIVIL WAR!!!!

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“wrong side of history” is colonialism

Native Americans flee from the allegorical rep...
Native Americans flee from the allegorical representation of Manifest Destiny, Columbia, painted in 1872 by John Gast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scot McKnight has a post up that helps to solidifywhat I’ve been trying to say.

He begins,

Some people think they know where history is taking us and are quite happy to declare boom-booms on those who take exception, the boom-booms declared with a long finger pointing at them with the accusation they will be on the “wrong side of history” or, perhaps more damaging, they will be “left behind” or “irrelevant.”

He wrestles first with statements against religion and how as a species we are losing our connection to the need for a divine. Taking this a step further, he attacks inclusion advocates who often use the “wrong side of history” mantra as a reason to progress. McKnight and I differ on inclusion, which seems to be needed to said because if you question progressive idols, then suddenly you are a bigoted fundamentalist.

Frankly, “wrong side of history” is a tired and worn-out phrase that has been co-opted from other narratives, providing a slippery slope and dismissing the moral imperative of inclusion.

Let me explain. The “wrong side of history” mantra is nothing short of a modern-day manifest destiny, the 19th century version of American Exceptionalism that led to the extermination of indigenous peoples as well as the preservation of slavery, both African and capitalistic. This mantra is about Americans, for Americans, and sets a particular interpretation of American values above the rest of the world not to mention Christian Tradition. It has no regard for soundness of logic, reason, or doctrine, only for a political movement that can change as quickly as the weather. Indeed, in one FB conversation recently, Roger Worsley (a prolific UMC progressive blogger), stated simply he writes only for American progressives, feeding them only what they want. In doing so, Worsley (albeit, passively) admitted that the only Christianity that mattered was his white progressive version.

If you are fighting for inclusion only because you don’t want to be on “the wrong side of history” you have to ask yourself, in what way are you respecting the people you are supposedly fighting for? Aren’t you just using them as mere bodies, footstones/cannon fodder/pawns in all actuality, to advance your cause? Why not fight for inclusion simply because it is right rather than as a means to re-establish white American dominance, colonizing the world and Christian Tradition?

History is fickle and has no sides. It can be undone, destroyed, and forgotten. What cannot be so easily destroyed is the mind and heart changed for the good, for the right.

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How Churches Can Avoid the Nightmare of Lawsuits over Wedding Ceremonies


This is simple and perhaps even simplistic, I admit, but, I guarantee you it is at least one first step to avoid legal problems, that is, if you object to performing gay marriages.

(Disclaimer: I have voiced my opinion as to gay marriage plenty of times in different ways with the same main thrust, so, this is not an opinion on gay marriage but an advice to Churches that want to avoid the nightmare of lawsuits.)

Many Protestant churches reject the idea of marriages as a sacrament. Too bad that they perform and require that marriages be performed by their ministers as if it were a sacrament. However, many of these Churches use wedding ceremonies as a revenue generator for the Church and even rent their facilities for other ministers to perform marriages of people outside of the host Church membership. Well, that was fine and dandy up until now, but, unless Churches find a way not to “have it both ways” or, a quasi sacrament, whereas saying is not one, which they charge everyone to offer, and even offer it to people whose spiritual life they do not oversee, Churches will be open for all kinds of lawsuits because now we have a different, uncommon before, group of people who feel that, in spite of the fact that they never cared for that church facility in their neighborhood, and even when it is not in their neighborhood, they want to challenge that Church by wanting to have their gay marriage in that specific facility. In my not expert opinion, as it is plain to see, and as I consult friends of mine who are attorneys, it will be hard for that Church ministers to deny their facilities to perform a gay marriage on the basis of religion, since they only have an “expectancy” that the people whose weddings are performed in there are indeed religious people. My discussion here is not whether it is right to sue a Church for that or not, my discussion is that it will be hard for a Church to prove that they are not discriminating!

What then can be done?

Number one, from start, Churches should get out of the business of performing marriages. By that I mean, they should not charge for that which they believe to be a function of the Church. Otherwise they have to deny that such ceremonies are relevant and the function of the Church. They can’t have it both ways. They cannot charge; perhaps a nominal fee is fine for “maintenance” purposes, such as removal of flowers, or things of this nature, or cleaning the “social hall”, if the reception is also carried in its facilities, but charging a fee for the marriage itself, should be a “no, no”.

Then, not only should Churches not use weddings for a revenue generator by charging wedding fees, but also they should perform, or bless marriages of members of their congregations only, or the people whom the Ministers of that Church oversee spiritually. That means that they would not rent their facilities for marriages of people outside those who are under spiritual supervision of the ministers of that Church, whom they know, counsel, pray with, and to whom they offer communion regularly. I know that this will hurt churches financially, but it will hurt even more to have a lawyer in their payroll or to pay expensive legal fees to dispute lawsuits. All that is happening may be a Sovereign act of God in turning Churches more like the Body of Christ, and turn to their main purpose here on earth than to simply “server” the community as a venue for community indiscriminant celebrations.

In fact, Churches who want to avoid lawsuits, as long as it is legal to present issues (which is about to be legally debated in America) to your members, you should have a formal teaching plan where you teach your members about sin, sexuality, marriage, along with all your doctrinal foundations such as justification, the Trinity, etc. That alone will prevent anyone who disagrees with you from even the desire to be in your zip code, let alone get married in your Church!

Lastly, Churches should write all the above in their Constitution and By-Laws and ensure, assure and reassure that such is being followed to the letter!

How can this protect a Church?

Some may ask how these measures will help a Church avoid lawsuits; let me ask them that if you want to fly shirtless in an airplane there will always be a hard nose flight attendant, or steward, whatever they call it nowadays, to tell you that “it is not the company policy that people fly shirtless”. Churches need to know what their policy is. Whether they choose to perform gay marriage or not, they have to enact a policy that is understood by the community so as not to invite anyone even to consider attempting to violate such policy. That, added to the Constitutional provisions will aid a Church to be protected against most of the lawsuits and local ordinances that ultimately violate the Constitution right to assemble, which may be interpreted with “right to associate with likeminded folks”, freedom of speech, or religion and freedom to worship as one desires.

The advantages of a well established policy in their Statutes and By-Laws will be that Churches will get out of the “wedding business”, will be able to bless only the marriages of whom they oversee whereas being kindly and legally able to sustain a claim that any rejection of weddings of the general public within their walls is not discrimination.

The time has come, and again, I think by God’s Sovereign Act of disciplining the Body of Christ, that His Churches function more as the “assembly of those who worship God” and are under the supervision of a duly established Pastor or Bishop (the overseer) and not a community pleasing organization in the sense that, instead of “Christianizing the community, they are allowing the community to worldanize the church.”

Whatever has befallen to some Churches and Ministers in facing lawsuits from gay activists because of denial of facilities and ministerial blessing of a gay wedding (if such lawsuits are still in vogue…) is often the Churche’s fault for not safeguarding the mission that God commanded them to fulfill. Now a couple, from that church or not, can walk up to a minister, “rent” the church facilities for the wedding, either pay the minister of that Church for the wedding or bring their own minister and all is good. How is that not a fertile ground for all kinds of legal problems, including discrimination, if these same Churches deny the same facility and ministerial blessing to anyone? How is that not transforming a religious act, or a quasi sacrament for some, and a real sacrament for others, into a business? Want to keep your wedding revenues coming? If they do, save them because you will have to spend it all in lawyers and lawsuits and it will be your fault; you will lose! Sadly, the only way to avoid discrimination lawsuits is to discriminate by performing ONLY marriages of people within your Ministerial Oversight, or, the members of your congregation who agree to your definition of sin, marriage, sexuality, etc.

Christianity is a faith with no temple made by man’s hands; however this cannot be an excuse to consider a place of worship a “party hall” for the community and not even the “favorite wedding chapel” of the community. Without transforming church buildings in shrines, Churches must understand the difference between an exclusive worship place and the “community center”. This is old fashion but efficacious in swatting away lawsuit bugs. That can be achieved starting by ending the urge to generate revenues by providing a venue for non-member weddings.

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A mental disease? #transgender

Dr. Paul R. McHugh
Dr. Paul R. McHugh

“…transgenderism is a “mental disorder” that merits treatment, that sex change is “biologically impossible,” and that people who promote sexual reassignment surgery are collaborating with and promoting a mental disorder.”

(Former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital and its current Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry)

Well, this guy is a doctor on the subject… So, don’t kill the messenger!

read more here

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