House of (Methodist) Cards

Fight Church Season is upon us. About the only thing that can be guaranteed is that it will be a fight. If it is not, I will be pleasantly surprised and pleased to be wrong. Much like the popular American, and before it British, television drama, it seems to me that the only things that can happen are bad. Let’s look at this through the eyes of House of Cards so that we can understand.

Clair: “I never really believed in the tooth fairy.”
Elizabeth: “Well, you took the money anyway.” (Claire Underwood House of Cards season 4) Here is the first House of Cards reality that we should face. The United Methodist Church has had the same stance on sexual morality since it’s beginnings Yes, I know there was not specific language until 1973. Yes, there was church discipline exercised on clergy that were engaged in sex with members of the same sex under the chargeable offense of sexual immorality before this. The language that we currently have was largely in response to that discipline to make the stance clear, not to suddenly have a stance where one did not exist as some would like you to believe. It’s a great political ploy really. Pretend that the stance was new and not a reflection of the historic faith through out it’s history so that you can paint those who have the stance as reactionary. There was no question about what the understanding on human sexuality was. There has been a good many who have been ordained in the denomination that do not share that stance, and new it going in. They never really believed in the doctrine, but they certainly took all the benefits of being clergy anyway. There is a process to change such things in the church, and when it did not work, many simply ignored the rules and did as they pleased. They never really believed in the church, but they took the money anyway. This is not to mean that they are not Christian, simply that they took advantage of the institution that is the church. They didn’t believe in the United Methodist Church, but they took the money anyway. Reminds of several Bishops come to think of it.

“Where does the real power lie? The power behind the power…” (Claire Underwood House of Cards season 5) This was likely demonstrated best at the last General Conference when there was a behind closed door secretive meeting with the power brokers in the UMC. Those power brokers are of course the heads of the unofficial caucus groups with a few more well known names thrown in. (RMN, Good News, etc.) The power behind the power. More and more the caucus groups are the only voices even though the vast majority of people are not aligned with them. It’s so bad that people, myself included, and fairly often, get associated with one of the groups. The assumption is that you are a part of this or that group, or at least you speak for them. Funny thing is that in all of that, no one is speaking for the church. I guess we forgot that Christ is the only power in the church, and all of this caucus back and forth is our human vanity and pride.

“The American people don’t know what’s best for them. I do. I know exactly what they need. They’re like little children, Claire. Children we never had. We have to hold their sticky fingers and wipe their filthy mouths. Teach them right from wrong. Tell them what to think, and how to feel, and what to want. They even need help writing their wildest dreams, crafting their worst fears. Lucky for them they have me. They have you.” (Frank Underwood House of Cards season 5) If you have tried to have a conversation with any of the movers and shakers of a caucus group, you have likely felt like this, or did not notice that they were treating you this way. If you do not pass {insert your preferred plan here}, then {insert horrible result here} is all that can happen. It’s a simple and effective way to paint people into a corner and try to bully your point across. It is exactly what another quote says in truth. “We have to dial up the terror” (Claire Underwood House of Cards season 5). First they make you afraid, then they give you the plan that will alleviate that fear.

“…Shake with your right hand, and hold a rock with your left” (Frank Underwood season 2) Here we are at the crux of it. Everyone says that their plan will work. Everyone says that you will be welcome with their plan if you just go along. Everyone will shake with their right, but have a rock ready…just in case.

Whatever happens at this General Conference will not be a solution that is workable for everyone. That solution doesn’t exist, and it is naive to think that it does. No matter what happens, people will be hurt, angry, distraught, etc. That is unavoidable now. The bigger problem isn’t even really what it is that is dividing us, but that we are looking for what amount to political solutions for theological issues. That is never going to work. I have yet to hear a serious theological defense of any of the plans to date. Lot’s of political reasons behind them, but no serious theological defense, serious being the operative word here.

Understand this, there are not good guys and bad guys at the called general conference. Much like House of Cards, everything is a varying shade of grey. The plans are political solutions to theological problems. Just like any house of cards, it will fall down, and we will all lose one way or another. “Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.” (Frank Underwood) The General Conference is not the power, but that is where the decisions are going to be made. Jesus the Christ is the power, but I am just not convinced that He got an invitation. The only way to weather the storm is to stay close to The Power, and not confuse it with what is going on in Saint Louis. The church is dead, long live The Church.

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