Jeremy at Hacking Christianity as a post up about the perception of how public opinion moves the United Methodist Church. It is the catalyst of this post, but not the progenitor. Rather, I’ve pondered this for a bit now, wondering if it is not time to #rethink laity voting in the General Conference.
Laity have not always voted in the Methodist movement. Indeed, it wasn’t until the (re)union with the Methodist Protestant Church that it occurred across all branches of (white) Methodistism:
First, should laity be given a voice in the General Conference and the annual conference? The Methodist Protestants had granted the laity representation from the time they organized in 1830. The clergy in The Methodist Episcopal Church, The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, The Evangelical Association, and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ were much slower in permitting the laity an official voice in their affairs. All finally granted lay people voting privileges in their General and annual conferences with the exception of The Methodist Episcopal Church, which did not grant this right in annual conference decisions before the 1939 union.
Indeed, the first huge split in American (white) Methodism occurred because the laity were denied a voting voice. Because, why not, right? If you could vote for President, why not vote for doctrine? You will note that today, the MPC still exists, but only in the Deep South. Further, it has as its mission the defense of the “infallible word of God.” There are no bishops and remain a purely congregational outing. In other words, congregational Methodism is all but dead.
Perhaps this is something that should cause us to examine some of the issues in our present United Methodist Church. If congregational Methodism doesn’t work…
Part of the thing that catalyzed this post is the phrase in Jeremy’s post, “doctrine created.” I have a real sense that this is what people actually think they are doing at General Conference, creating doctrine. The extremes believe that somehow they are shaping, reforming, or creating “Christian teaching” when they vote one way or another. As I have stated previously, this is nonsense. We hold not the power to do so because if we deviate too much from orthodoxy, then where will we end up? On the Left, we will end up in the PCUSA (Conservative Hell) and on the right, Hobby Lobby (i.e., Progressive Hell) or rather, as baptists. I do believe we have the duty to gently guide the UMC in connexion with Wesley and Historic Methodism, which is vitally based on Classical Christianity.
Regardless of my stance on that, my stance on laity voting — and I speaketh as a member of the laity — is shifting. Maybe we should limit laity voting to only matters of business, such as finances or other rudimentary articles like boundary changes. I would refrain the laity from voting on matters of doctrine and in many ways, polity. Perhaps this is nothing more than a way to force episcopal responsibility and authority, something I am keen on. I do not believe in the rugged individualism underpinning the congregational style or worship or governance. Rather, I am believe in Apostolic Succession.
Since I first started writing this post (2 July), I have been introduced to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. I would find in myself full support for this, especially in their insistence upon
The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.
The historic episcopate depends upon the episcopal system, founding upon the doctrine of Apostolic Succession. I am prepared at this time — and honestly, I’ve said it before and will say it again — to state that if you are not part of the Apostolic Succession, then where did you get your Christianity?
Anyway, I wanted to throw this out there — since we are talking about redoing the structure of the UMC nowadays. Perhaps we limit the voting rights of the laity, depend more upon the ordained, and allow/demand the Bishops to become better at their duty “to guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church.”
Let the ordained lead, let the laity follow, let us all work.
don’t shoot me; i’m only trying to start discussions about how senses of power and entitlement lead us down dark paths