Initial Thoughts on the Judicial Council Oral Arguments

Theologically, it will come as no surprise to anyone who reads regularly, that my theology is rather traditional. I have made the case for this many times, so I do not feel the need to do so again here. What I am going to comment on here is the oral arguments and some of the observations I have from them. This piece will refer to the oral arguments in the One Church Plan alone.
The first striking thing was to hear the CoB talk about the importance of the creeds and the Great Tradition. Especially when so many of them have made claims outside of the creeds and the Great Tradition. Odd how they invoke it when they ant to somehow make this seem historically valid. Their claim that the Creeds have nothing to say about human sexuality is simply wrong. God is creator, the creeds affirm this. God’s design, as articulated by Christ, was “from the beginning”, which means creation. Claiming God as creator claims something about your view of homosexuality, whatever it is. Sorry, but yes, who we choose to have sex with is rooted in the creeds as the Creator God had a design and plan.
The first thing that I noticed is the different approaches in those who were speaking. Those speaking on the side of the Council of Bishops, including the Bishops, focused heavily on emotion, common progressive slogans and tag lines such as “unity, not uniformity”, a history of the Methodist church that seemed to me to be at worst revisionist,  and at best, implied things that simply are not true, at least in whole. Allow me a couple of examples. The argument was made that removing the language about self avowed practicing homosexuals from the chargeable offenses is simply returning the language to where it was before 1980 or so and that before this, the immorality and crime clauses were relating only to criminal acts. Well, this is partly true. It would restore the language to what is was before 1980 or so. The implication here is that before 1980, there was not any teaching about homosexual activities in the church that could be applied as immorality, and this could not be further from the truth. Don Hand is the individual who first proposed the language regarding homosexuality in the Social Principles. In a statement for the United Methodist News Service, and reprinted by the IRD later, he recounts how this came to be. ( I encourage you to read the entire thing as it is interesting and significant. I will quote the relevant section however. “At the first session of this conference, a young pastor who had been charged with heterosexual misconduct, tried and convicted, resulting in the revocation of his ministerial credentials was in attendance.” This alone means that the claim made by the CoB that the immorality clause did not refer to sexual misconduct, but criminal misconduct is false. “The next year, 1971, an ordained minister whose credentials had been revoked on the basis of homosexual behavior, came to the annual conference to protest his discontinuance as an ordained minister.” There you have it ladies and gentlemen, a pastor, in the UMC, credentials revoked, for being a “self avowed, practicing homosexual”, before it was ever specifically chargeable. Now, please do read the entire piece by Mr. Hand as it is historically significant to the church. I also suggest this very good piece by Chris Ritter on how we got the language that we have as it to is informative and historically significant. Removing the language from the chargeable offenses and returning the language to what was before 1980 means that a “self avowed practicing homosexual” can still be charged under the immorality clause of the chargeable offenses of the UMC. In effect, it does nothing if we take history into account as the CoB would have us do. I do not know if they were simply no aware of this, if they rely on us not being aware of it, or simply think it does not matter, but there is precedent.
That rather long exploration brings me to part of the problem with the practicality of the One Church Plan. If a self avowed practicing homosexual is ordained, legally, by the church, then I, or anyone I would think, could, citing precedent, bring charges even if the language were removed. What a mess. It would make the church trials now seem like child’s play. How could such a huge oversight be made when so much work and so many hours were put into this plan? The One Church Plan asks us to ignore the past, it does not embrace it, at least not in this matter. I am actually a little surprised, and disappointed, that the traditionalists did not bring this very point up in rebuttal.

One of the more disturbing quotes was the following: “This is not about doctrine, it is about ‘Our Theological Task'”. This is not about doctrine? Really? Sexual immorality, whatever that is going to be defined as, is not about the doctrine of the church? A Bishop literally just said that this is not about the teaching of the church, so I guess sexual immorality just doesn’t matter? I am very concerned by this statement, especially as this has, up until today, been painted as different views of interpretation, that is to say doctrine (the teaching of the church). This is a large pivot from the previously held arguments. Now it isn’t doctrine, it is “Our Theological Task”. If “Our Theological Task” is not about forming the doctrine of the church, then what the bloody hell is it for? It bothers me that somehow the CoB is trying to separate the theological task of the church from the doctrine of the church…that is…well….sorry, I have no other word for it, stupid.
Another quote: “Wesley was very much a yes and person”. Wesley have very strict doctrine. He expelled members from the Methodist societies for poor doctrine and practice. He affirmed the Articles of Religion that we still follow which are full of doctrine. He preached about a gazillion sermons all full of, you guessed it, doctrine. While I am confident that Wesley would not have said that this or that person is forever outside the grace of God, I am equally sure he would not have called their behavior “holy”. The definition of holy given by the CoB, and attributed to Wesley, was to love God and love neighbor. That is true, but again misleading. Love of God is tied to obedience. It’s all through the OT, and repeated all through the NT. To love God, we must be obedient to His word. The question of what does God’s word say about how I should act, and instruct others to act, is the very basis of the practical Wesleyan theology that the CoB claims this plan is a part of. Just as love of God is tied to obedience to God’s word, so is the Wesleyan practical theology that we all claim to love.  The CoB seems to have forgotten that in their defense of the One Church Plan.
In defending the One Church Plan, the CoB affirmed that a local congregation could continue to not allow SSM in their church building. That is all well and good, but the one church plan does require that those very same people accept SSM as being an acceptable union in the eyes of God, at least in some Methodist churches. There is a required cognitive dissonance here that tries to claim it protects the beliefs of traditionalists, and that part is true, but again, the practical theology of Wesley is mot only orthodoxy, it is also orthopraxy. The CoB is saying that you can believe whatever you want to, but you can not practice it in essence. What confusion that is for me…what confusion that would be for the new believers and those who do not yet believe, that the CoB claims to care about.
At the end of the day, I am more leery of the One Church Plan than when I started It takes an incomplete view of our Wesleyan history and calls it the complete view. It claims that, despite forty years of arguing, that this is not doctrinal. It ignores what has come before. It takes us out of line with the church catholic and places us firmly in the middle of a minority sect of Christianity. For a religion that claims to follow Wesley, who was completely Anglican, and who called the American Methodists thoroughly Anglican, this is well outside those boundaries.

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5 Replies to “Initial Thoughts on the Judicial Council Oral Arguments”

  1. Unsolicited opinion:

    Boyette, “Uniformity of ordination standards”.

    Afterwards, rebuttal by Waddell, “Unity over uniformity. Minimum standards of uniformity are few and far between”. 🙂 guess he is a UU.

    Starnes, lots of handwaving.

    I’m not a lawyer, but from what I see, the One Church Plan is dead. Boyette is the only person that made sense.

      1. On their site, “Decisions of the Judicial Council will be posted on the website 12 to 72 hours after the conclusion of the meeting on Friday at noon.”

        So results soon.

        I must say, I am not a fan of most of these processes. However, I was impressed with the rather orderly conduct of the meeting. Quite a contrast to some of the meetings I’ve seen. At least they were civil.

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