Lies, damned lies, statistics, and Uniting Methodists

The group known as Uniting Methodists recently held a gathering of sorts. I was not there, and have asked several questions of those involved in the group as individuals as well of the group itself via it’s website. I still have no answers. At this point I am taking it as an outright refusal to address specific questions about how their statements of faith actually fit in with the United Methodist Standards of faith that they claim they affirm. In the hope of getting some answers however, I spent the little over an hour listening to the video provided on the Uniting Methodists website to try and get some. I didn’t, but I did notice a few things that I can only assume are endorsed by the group as it involves three of the people instrumental in it and is listed as a resource on their website. I want to point out that I keep hearing about the importance of conversations from the group. I’m still waiting for one. A conversation involves the exchange of ideas. They seem only to want to make statements and not respond. Either that, or perhaps I am unimportant enough to answer. After all, I do not have a large constituency, don’t provide a large influx of money, and certainly don’t have an influence. The WCA, whom they constatnly mention as opposition, answered my questions. For that matter, RMN and MFSA has too. So has Good News. Come to think of it, every para-church group has had no problem answering questions I have asked. Well, until now.

The first thing was their ‘survey’ which concluded that 80% of Methodists fit into the broad middle. Is it really a shock that 80% of the crowd attending a talk about the ‘Methodist Middle’ are a part of the Methodist middle? Of course this all came after the now famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) sugar packet presentation trying to explain the four basic groups of United Methodist groups, and then of course going on to make the ‘middle ground’ seem to be the best option. Hamilton suggested that when he has taken this survey before, he has had similar results. I tend to discount surveys done on a whim by a presenter via smart phone as being representative of anything other than the presenters skill as an orator in persuading others to see his point. The second problem is that this then becomes a very American-centric representation of an opinion. There is a rather ugly word for taking the American opinion and claiming it is the best one.

There was the to be expected comparisons to women in ministry and slavery with a nice dash of reminding us how ugly all those things are. It has been written many times and in many places how those comparisons do not hold up and I am not going to go into it here. The suggestion was made though that because of those things, we must see this as a justice issue, or at least those who are more progressive than I must see it that way, and that I (“I” here meaning one who is not progressive) simply do not. This could not be more untrue. I have indeed examined issues of human sexuality as a justice issue in scripture. One of the essential attributes of God is His justice after all, so when trying to discern God’s will properly, justice must be an integral part. Frankly, the insinuation that my (and again “my” being those who are not progressive) understanding of theology, and for that matter the UMC’ understanding of theology, is so shallow as to not include God’s sense of justice is insulting. Of course it is possible that I misunderstood and what was intended was an illustration about how we have come to different conclusions about how God’s justice plays into this. If that is the case, so be it, but the Uniting Methodist movement is then incorrect that this is a matter of scriptural interpretation as we now have a view of (at least one) essential attribute of the nature of God that we are in serious disagreement over. That is a far larger divide than simple Biblical interpretation, it is a disagreement about the nature of God. Absent any sort of explanation and answer, I am left with the two choices that I can discern on my own. The Uniting Methodists are either generally insulting believing that the traditionalists have a shallow theology, or they are liars in claiming that the only thing dividing us is questions surrounding human sexuality. Neither option is good. So, highly questionable statistics (how proud Twain would be), and either of two choices, a hallow traditional theology (absent 2,000 years give or take to the contrary), or outright lies in their vision and theological statements. Not looking good for Uniting Methodists.

There were the other predictable things mentioned as well. How we are better together, the bleak monetary future of the UMC, a surprise in admitting that some division is likely no matter what the solution is, and my favorite, the appeal to unity in John. Bringing up the prayer in John really bugs me as they use it in the context of the UMC staying together as a denomination. The entire prayer may be found in John chapter 17. On the 11th verse of the chapter is the so called appeal to unity. ” And now I am in the world no longer, but these are in the world, and I come to You, Holy Father. Keep them in Your name, those whom You have given Me, so that they may be one as We are. (NKJV)” What is suggested by the Uniting movement is not that we be one as Christ and the Father are unless you are prepared to somehow argue that the will of God is somehow different than the will of Christ. That is certainly much larger than a difference in interpretation, it is again a difference in understanding not only God, but Christ, the trinitarian relationship between the two, and the most basic tenet of orthodox faith, the trinity. So again, what do we have here? Is is something bigger than human sexuality or a lie?

The single biggest problem with the Uniting Methodist group is that they make a broad claim without actually listening to people. Traditionalists of all stripes, and for that matter many progressives, have admitted and been saying for a long time that we approach scripture in significantly different ways. They talk about how it is not about the authority of scripture, but Hamilton himself has made several claims about scripture that most traditionalists find rather objectionable. Come on, bucket three is still a joke after all. That’s about authority. See the Uniting Methodists do a couple of things. They have fallen into the progressive trap of encouraging you to ask questions (this is a good thing) but then encouraging you to continue asking them until you get the answers they approve of. They have set the authority of interpretation squarely on the individual and discounted both tradition and the church in the process. They have encouraged, and continue to encourage, the sort of hyper individualism that denies the one body instead of leading us into the one body. They have placed themselves and their thoughts, ideas and compromises at the head and proclaimed theirs is the best way instead of having Christ at the head and proclaiming His way. There used to be three types of lies. “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Now we can add the fourth to it. Lies, damned lies, statistics, and Uniting Methodists.



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14 Replies to “Lies, damned lies, statistics, and Uniting Methodists”

  1. I am not sure that stats have much to do with the teachings of the Bible. Maybe we need but one leader that reads the Bible applies the Bible to decisions and has the ability to guide Bishops in seeking Holiness. Other denominations with that episcopality are surviving, bringing people to Christ and doing very well.

  2. When I am under the influence of my better angels—seldom as that might be—I try not to tell God what God can and cannot do. Nevertheless, unless God works a major miracle, I see (OK, in my limited human understanding.) no way to avoid a UMC schism. I am not in favor of trying to work out a solution for the sake of unity when no unity exists and is unlikely to exist in the near future. I see the situation in the UMC as analogous to a wife and husband with bona fide irreconcilable differences trying to maintain their marriage for “the sake of the children,” and everyone in the family is miserable. I think we should accept that, baring a divine miracle, we will have a schism, and refocus our efforts on how to manage the split on an equitable basis. For an example, let’s look at you and me. We have profound differences on major issues. I would be unhappy in church that exemplifies your beliefs; you would be miserable in a church that exemplifies my beliefs. Even so, we have remained respectful friends without devolving into viciousness. We can be opponents on certain issues without being enemies. So, bottom line: I have no major intellectual opposition to what I see as the high probability of schism in the UMC. My emotional response is different; but, I’ve spent much of my life trying retain appropriate emotional content that doesn’t override my intellect. Good post. Thanks and blessings.

    1. Exactly.
      I know, appreciate, understand, and respect, what you believe and why in so far as you have been gracious enough to share it with me. I don’t believe the same, but that is ok. What my biggest problem is that the approaches that we have used to get to where we are happen to be drastically different to the point that while we follow the same God and believe in the same Christ, we have very different understandings of what that means. At some point, and we are at that point, the differences become to large to ignore. There is a lot of talk about staying together for the sake of a Biblical witness, but it seems to me that it is for the sake of the Biblical witness that we must separate so that we can be brothers and sisters again. In this case, separation will actually make the church whole. Staying together just means that the left hand and right hand are doing different things.

  3. Our faith tribe spent some time this past Sunday delving into John 17, trying to understand the boundaries of Biblical unity–as prayed for by Jesus. Using some terms found in that prayer, I suggested that unity ought to be as wide as the love of God and as narrow as the truth of God. That at least offers a conceptual starting point to be applied to the particulars.

    1. That seems to be a fairly decent assessment all in all. I agree with it at the very least. From the comments of Wesley in his NT notes, he does as well. In our time, I think that we need to apply that to relationships within the denomination and also outside of the denomination. We can be in unity with other denominations as brothers and sisters in Christ while having some theological differences. We can say that we are Christians, and Baptists are Christians, though the differences are many. That would be Christian unity. The section then should also apply to denominational unity I think, and that is a stricter thing, for better or worse. Can a denomination actually be called unified, by this standard, while having very different understandings of sexual morality and marriage, and in a larger sense what living a holy life means? If a church can not instruct and model holy living, can it fulfill a vital part of it’s duty?

  4. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
    It’s dueling beatitudes.

    1. No it isn’t. There is nothing someone else can do that will affect your righteousness or your salvation. When you get to the pearly gates, there won’t be any questions about why Tom McCann did this or that.

      “Happy is he that attains the character of a peace-maker in the Church of God. Why should not you labor after this? Be not content, not to stir up strife; but do all that in you lies, to prevent or quench the very first spark of it. Indeed it is far easier to prevent the flame from breaking out, than to quench it afterwards. However, be not afraid to attempt even this: The God of peace is on your side.”

      John Wesley, sermon 75

      1. Tom, lighten up. I quoted the first beatitude that came to mind and tried to make a joke. Dueling banjo’s…dueling beatitudes. Fine, a bad joke, but a joke none the less.
        As for the rest, I seriously doubt that Wesley would have advocated for allowing lies to persist for the sake of peace. Wesley also would not have advocated some sort of centrist view of human sexuality, likely calling it what it is, namely, speculative latitudinarianism. Your continued cherry picking of the sermon on schism as a defense has not suffered however, so that is something.
        “But perhaps such persons will say, “We did not do this willingly; we were constrained to separate from that society, because we could not continue therein with a clear conscience; we could not continue without sin. I was not allowed to continue therein with breaking a commandment of God.” If this was the case, you could not be blamed for separating from that society. Suppose, for instance, you were a member of the Church of Rome, and you could not remain therein without committing idolatry; without worshipping of idols, whether images, or saints and angels; then it would be your bounded duty to leave that community, totally to separate from it. Suppose you could not remain in the Church of England without doing something which the word of God forbids, or omitting something which the word of God positively commands; if this were the case, (but blessed be God it is not) you ought to separate from the Church of England. I will make the case my own: I am now, and have been from my youth, a member and a Minister of the Church of England: And I have no desire, no design to separate from it, till my soul separates from my body. Yet if I was not permitted to remain therein without omitting what God requires me to do, it would then become meet and right, and my bounden duty, to separate from it without delay. To be more particular: I know God has committed to me a dispensation of the gospel; yea, and my own salvation depends upon preaching it: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” If then I could not remain in the Church without omitting this, without desisting from preaching the gospel I should be under a necessity of separating from it, or losing my own soul. In like manner, if I could not continue united to any smaller society, Church, or body of Christians, without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to others doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society. And in all these cases the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, would not lie upon it, would not lie upon me, but upon those who constrained me to make that separation, by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply with. But, setting aside this case, suppose the Church or society to which I am now united does not require me to do anything which the Scripture forbids, or to omit anything which the Scripture enjoins, it is then my indispensable duty to continue therein. And if I separate from it without any such necessity, I am just chargeable (whether I foresaw them or not) with all the evils consequent upon that separation.” John Wesley sermon 75
        Now we can have dueling sermon quotes too. Funny how you quoted about peacemakers to stir up strife though. That’s impressive. Good on you.

        1. Your quote from Wesley’s sermon is spot on. Nobody is being asked or required to do something that prevents their orthodox worship of God.

          1. It has been explained to you numerous times by me and others how the quoted section applies. You simply refuse to listen to it and accept that is the belief of those whose faith is every bit as sincere as yours. Frankly I am tired of explaining it to you. Funny how you, who are all about “acceptance” refuses to accept the faith and beliefs of others though.

  5. Perhaps said this way: a healthy tension–as in “He was full of grace and truth” and “Speaking the truth in love…”

  6. From the referenced web site…
    Having spent my college days in the 60’s, I have an immediate response to the word “holistic”. I wish they would get rid of that word. “Holistic” to me, brings to mind “Fruits and Nuts”. If you have cancer, you go to a doctor that administers chemo- therapy and/or radiation, not a colonic purge, and eating raw vegan food. I am not so sure “Holistic” can be related in any way to Jesus’ ministry. What exactly, does that mean, anyway? It almost sounds “New Age”, Gnostic, warm “touchy feely”, please pass the “vegan, raw food”. Is Jesus a 60’s Guru? Other than the use of “Holistic”, I don’t mind their web site.

    “We bear witness to the holistic way of Jesus, which calls us both to return to our Wesleyan tradition and to follow into the new spaces where Christ will lead us.”

    “He reveals a higher way, a holistic vision of the kingdom.”

    “However, the question of united or separated structures of the church is a binary choice defying the holistic teachings of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit who maintains unity and redefines what unity means.”

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