Hoping for answers.

Kevin Watson wrote a good piece about his struggles with centrism, and, remarkably to me, he actually got a response to some of what was brought up by Adam Hamilton no less. I am hoping for the same frankly as I have some pointed questions that I have been asking for some time without answer from the self identified centrists. If any of you reading this happen to know Adam Hamilton, please feel free to put this in front of him and ask if he or someone else could answer.

Adam Hamilton has recently, with many others, signed on to support (yet another) centrist type group called Uniting Methodists. I have submitted many of the following questions to them as well. So, hold on and here we go. If you happen to be a centrist and are reading this, feel free to answer the questions as well. I’m really trying to understand and ask questions to do so like I keep getting told I need to, but it is proving difficult to get any sort of actual answer.

First, the Uniting Methodists say the following in their affirmations:  “We accept and uphold the Doctrinal Standards and Theological Task of The United Methodist Church as stated in our Discipline. ” The doctrinal standards of the UMC are the Articles of Religion, The Confession of Faith of the EUB, Wesley’s NT notes, The General Rules, and Wesley’s standard sermons. In light of the acceptance of the standards of faith, how is it that you reconcile allowing for varying understandings of human sexuality in regards to Article VI (“The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard who feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses as touching ceremonies and rites doth not bind Christians, nor ought the civil precepts thereof of necessity be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.” Articles of Religion), especially as illuminated by sermon 38 (“But how easily may we know the cause from its effects! These are sometimes gross and palpable. So they were in the most refined of the heathen nations. Go no farther than the admired, the virtuous Romans; and you will find these, when at the height of their learning and glory, “filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, despiteful, proud, boasters, disobedient to parents, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.”) and sermon 34, as well as his NT notes, specifically regarding Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, as well as Jude, and adding in the whole council of scripture, including the so called clobber verses found in Leviticus? A summary of the understanding of how these things fit together may be found  here with links to continue on from one writing to the next. How does one affirm the standards of faith in one breath, and then allow for, and perhaps endorse, theology that is contrary to those same standards the next? In case there is some doubt as to the meaning of Article VI, it is easy to discern as it was adapted from the Anglican Articles by Wesley for the American Methodist church. The Anglican understanding, which is rooted in classical reformation theology (and before in much of the writings of the early fathers as well), recognizing three purposes to the moral law. 1. the usus politicus, that is the use of the law in the body politic, 2. the usus pedagogicus, the use of the law in convicting us of sin and leading to Christ and 3. the usus normativus or tertius usus, the use of the law as a rule of life for the Christian. It would seem that sexual behavior falls clearly into the ‘rule of life for a Christian’ category.

The Uniting Methodists say this in their affirmations as well: “Despite our differences, we are committed to remain a part of, and support, The United Methodist Church and to fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” I assume that this mission is based in the great commission (minus the transformation fo the world bit, that is God’s job, but a different rabbit hole for a different day) which reads (NKJV)

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen”
How am I, a a lowly layman, supposed to fulfill this under your understanding? Jesus taught about marriage. What should I then teach about marriage? Which version? How do I explain that yes, Jesus taught this, but yes, half of my church disagrees, so it may or may not be correct? How is that credible? How should I go about selling that? How can a denomination stay together with any sort of integrity if the very policies of said denomination prevent the fulfillment of the Great Commission? I am not going so far as to say that Christians can not disagree on matters, and that Christians can not even disagree about human sexuality, but I am saying that the commission implies that there is a teaching of Christ and that we are to transmit that teaching, to the best of our understanding under the instruction of the church. The instruction of the church, under this type of system, would then be ambiguous at best. Are we to instruct people that Jesus, and as a consequence scripture, is ambiguous as rule providing little instruction? 

The Uniting Methodists say: “We believe our differences on the questions of same-sex marriage and ordination stem from differences over biblical interpretation, not biblical authority.” In some cases this is true, in others it is not true. Failing to recognize this is problematic at best and disastrous at worst. My personal experience with various United Methodists, pastors and laity alike, has shown me that this is not always the case. I am not saying that it is the majority of the time, but it is a reality that should be recognized. What do you mean by Biblical authority anyway? It’s a great term, but nebulous without explanation. Do you perhaps mean that scripture is the rule of Christian faith and practice as Wesley believed and as is articulated in the Articles? If so, are not proper sexual and marital choices matters of Christian faith and practice? If that is the case, and I believe that it is, not having a coherent teaching on human sexuality i telling the congregation of the faithful that the church, the very bride of Christ, makes no claim to knowing the truth about human sexuality and it’s proper Christian expression, so they are on their own. In essence, you claim that the church would not be able to teach proper personal holiness. How can a Wesleyan denomination say such a thing with integrity considering that it is one of our Wesleyan distinctive traits?

The Uniting Methodists say: “We are committed to both evangelism and social justice as essential to the expression of vital United Methodism.” I find very little of Wesley that corresponds to modern notions of social justice, and can not help but notice the absence of social holiness (or any mention of holiness) in your assertions. Where is it in Wesleyan theology that you find the modern notions of social justice and why is it that you have left out any references to holiness which is, and has been, one of the most distinctive parts of Methodist tradition going back to the United societies. In fact, much of that holiness is reflected in our general rule, which are a standard of faith that you affirm. Why the addition of the modern notions of social justice combined with the exclusion of any mention of holiness?
I have more questions, but this should do for now. I have to be honest here, I really don’t expect answers in truth. I hope that I get them, but I do not expect them. Right now centrism seems to be little more than what I like to call cotton candy  theology. It taste good going down, but has no nutritional value and just turns to rot until it is brushed away. Watson suggested that centrists don’t get crucified, and Hamilton suggested that it is a difficult place to be as there is criticism from all sides. I am suggesting that, until there are some real answers that go past Sunday school platitudes and stand up to rigorous questioning that centrism is really just the lukewarm that is neither hot nor cold. We all know what happens to that. I hope that the centrists prove me wrong with some actual answers. Time will tell. Until then, I am brushing it away to avoid the rot.

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9 Replies to “Hoping for answers.”

  1. Spot on. The first rule of semantics is that meaning is determined by the author. We live in an age that reverses that so that meaning is determined by the reader. Such subjectivity means that the authority and power of any message lies not in it’s objective author-derived meaning but in the intelligence & character of the reader. This is why conversations quickly devolve into judgments about the intelligence and character of the respective readers. Good meanings (meanings I agree with) come from good people and bad meanings (meanings I disagree with) come from bad people.

  2. Well I will try an answer from my point of view (German UMC Pastor, selfidentifying centrist):
    1) I haven’t yet found the person or church, where all ethical teachings from the bible are taught and at least tried to live. Even if you set aside the difficult question how to disern moral and ceremonial law in the OT (a categorisation not found in the bible itself), there are many points, where we don’t stick to the verbal teaching even of the NT, sometimes with good reasons, sometimes with not so good ones. We have women pastors and bishops, we accept divorce, we don’t stick to Jesus’ teachings about violence (Mt 5 in its plain sense is imcompatible with christian participation in the military) and (what would enrage John Wesley most) not to his demand that we don’t lay back money to provide for bad times, age etc. (Mt 6). Why are these points OK and possible to live with, but acceptance of homosexual unions lived in fidelity is the one big step that will us lead away from biblical authority into heresy?
    2) As for my part, acceptance of homosexual unions doesn’t mean that responsible sexual life isn’t part of Christian life and teaching. I can teach everything what Jesus said about marriage (well, maybe I couldn’t teach so strict about divorce) and then apply this teaching to people, who can’t love and live in a heterosexual marriage. I can teach them “fidelity in their kind of ‘marriage’ and celibacy in singleness” too. (and as it is with heterosexuals, the influence of church teaching on sexual behaviour will be not that big…)

  3. 3) Yes, holiness should be in the statement. You are right, Methodism can’t exist without a strong individual and social quest for holiness. (Just to say, to tell others how to live or not to live their sexuality has for me nothing to do with my quest for holiness). But to deny that JWs teaching, writing and even more his practice had enormous social consequences is historically shortsighted. Abolishing slavery, reforming the prisons and mental institutions, writing about economic issues, founding schools for the poor, fundraising for a better care for prisoners of war (for the french, the enemies), publishing affordable medical advice, telling the rich they will go to hell if they don’t share and telling the poor they are of sacred worth and dignity – if that isn’t social justice at its best I don’t know what would be.

    1. I appreciate your perspective and taking the time to reply. I understand your view point as well, though it doesn’t actually answer any of the questions that I asked.
      I agree that the UMC is terrible in it’s teachings on divorce, though that is not the topic at hand. Female leadership in the church is defensible from scripture, but again, not the topic at hand. It is also not contrary to UMC teachings. Christian participation in the military is not the topic either. I never said that homosexual unions would lead us into heresy, those are all your words and not mine. I asked pointed questions about how all of this is to work given the standards of faith of the UMC. Your response, while appreciated, does not address those questions. I have little desire to debate endlessly the topic of SSM so I am not going to respond to your personal thoughts on the matter here as what you believe is not really the topic at hand, but how that belief fit into the standards fo faith of the UMC. I am asking how the centrist position articulated by the group mentioned in the blog is anything other than double speak given the standards of faith, etc. I would love to hear your thoughts on that.
      As for the division of the law, it to can be seen in scripture and the history and tradition of the church before and after the reformation, and is articulated in the UMC Articles of religion which this group says that they affirm. If you do not, so be it, but this group does, so how then does it all fit? If you do not affirm the standards of faith, including the Articels of Religion, then how does that mesh with being a Methodist?
      I never said the Wesley did not have far reaching societal implications. Quite the opposite in fact. Social holiness is supposed to have far reaching effects as Christians live out their faith individually and in community. Those are your words and not mine. Modern notions of social justice are not centered on Christians living out their faith but rather are centered in political action forcing people into this or that notion of correct behavior. I fail to see Wesley, or Jesus for that matter, using government to force others to do as they wished. There are a few notable exceptions of particularly egregious matters, such as chattel slavery, where this was done, but even then, that was about the freedom of individuals and not forcing individuals into action that they might not normally take. Preaching about sharing what you have with those in need i not social justice, that is social holiness, or rather the church simply being the church. Forcing people to do so is the modern notion of social justice. I do not see anything in Wesley’s teaching that supports that.

  4. This comment is way to long – sorry about that.

    Best quote (from Scott), I have heard about this:
    “Modern notions of social justice are not centered on Christians living out their faith but rather are centered in political action forcing people into this or that notion of correct behavior.”

    Hamilton made the following statements:
    “Watson notes that he was “increasingly troubled” by what he termed the “virtue of gray.” I think he misunderstood the proposition for which I was advocating. The book was written to call people to listen to, and to understand, the perspectives of those on both sides of the issues dividing our nation and our churches, leading to a recognition that there is usually some truth on both sides of the divide. Seeing gray meant that Republicans would appreciate that Democrats might have something valid to offer in solving serious problems, and vice versa. It meant that liberals would listen to conservatives and conservatives liberal and recognize that often they each brought important pieces of the truth to the conversation.”

    In particular, “leading to a recognition that there is usually some truth on both sides of the divide”…

    And interesting that Hamilton used “Seeing gray meant that Republicans would appreciate that Democrats might have…”

    Hamilton can’t even describe his “Grayness” without bringing in politics to help in the argument.

    This brings to mind Unitarian Universalism. Their mantra is, everything is acceptable. Everything is gray. The fatal flaw is that they include a heavy dose of political activism. So religious beliefs can’t exist without political activism. And, as we all know – and has been demonstrated many times lately, political activism on the extreme left, and extreme right, cannot coexist. The left calls the right anti-gay, and the right calls the left immoral.

    If that is what the UMC desires, so be it. But the Centrists are tacitly inviting the “Activitist, Democrat, Liberal, Socialist” agenda, as an integral part of their religion, and saying, “we are gray, we will ignore the left changing our religion”. Status quo, no change, belongs to the right, currently. They own the tradition. Change, belongs to the left. Remember that “Change” was a recent political slogan!

    I have changed my opinion on this subject. The liberal left is verbally, “all for diversity”. But they will never accept a conservative denomination that does not accept their left wing agenda. Which pretty much kills any diversity and tradition from the right. The left will eventually accuse any right wing conservative of being “anti-gay”.

    I can only sadly remember the sight of left wing “sit-ins” at the General Conference in 2016, as if they were protesting the Vietnam War back in the 60’s. Gray needs to be purged, when it comes to religion. If a person doesn’t like the UMC religion as it exists, use your feet, and walk. No one is forcing a person to go to a UMC church.

    On another subject, even the Unitarians have their “let’s push Gray to the limits”. They have their group, “Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness”. I was wondering why The Nashville statement included “WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous….”

    Why “polyamorous”? I had never even heard of that before. But they obviously realized that a movement for that exists too. So, the limits are already being pushed further by the Unitarians. So, if UMC wants to push the limits, why not “Go Gray, all the way”.

    I am still ok with gay marriage, but I do not see the necessity of changing UMC. If the majority want status quo and their tradition, let that be the new “Gray”, and let them exist the way they want. If the left wing activists within the UMC can’t live with a diversity that excludes gay marriage, they can join the Unitarians. The “Gray” UMC’s ought to be able to live with that. Because the next step is “Polyamory”.

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