Perusing on Facebook–Confessing Movement UMC
This morning, I opened my Facebook app, as I am prone to do roughly 18,000 times per day. I discovered an article from a leading voice in the Confessing Movement of the UMC that several Facebook friends shared. Here it is: http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Happenings-Around-the-Church-8-11-16.html?soid=1101870871517&aid=pj9VxPJ3xwc
Sympathetic to Confessing Movement’s Concerns
I agree with Dr. Case’s understanding of the gospel, and with much of what Good News stands for. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, died and rose again for the salvation of the world. Through his death and resurrection, we find forgiveness in him and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, put our faith in him, dying to sin and rising to new and eternal life with him (Matthew 26:28; Mark 1:4; Luke 1:77; John 3:16; Acts 2:32-39; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 20-21). This new life includes witnessing to Jesus’ love with our words and deeds, in our public and in our private lives (Matthew 28:19-20; James 1:27). With respect to the most contentious issue in the UMC today, I agree with Confessing Movement—and the current UMC Book of Discipline—that the Scriptures describe sexual intimacy as a union reserved for marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24; cf. Matthew 19:4-5; Ephesians 5:31-33).
So I understand Rev. Dr. Case’s perspective, and have similar experiences to the ones he describes. Early in my ministry discernment process, I felt shocked and confused when I discovered that some clergy within “mainline” Protestant denominations did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ! At other points in my ministry—perhaps even fairly recently—I would see his article, pump my fist in the air with outrage at the UMC’s spiritual and theological malaise, and post his article proudly. Then I would go on with the rest of my day, feeling accomplished.
Unity Exists in the UMC–Core Orthodoxy, Diverse Perspectives
Yet something else happened when I saw his post this morning. I thought two things: (1) as a theologically orthodox, evangelical-leaning, young-ish Methodist pastor, this article doesn’t resonate with my current experiences in ministry with UMC colleagues, and (2) With that core orthodoxy as the source of our unity, we are stronger, long-term, when we seek a diversity of voices within the church.
As to point number one, it is true that some UMC pastors would be a better fit theologically and ideologically in the UCC, or perhaps even the Unitarian Universalist Church. Conversely, it’s also true that a handful of our evangelical colleagues would be a better fit in a Baptist, non-denominational, or Nazarene context. But generally speaking, the colleagues who I know—regardless of political and social ideology—agree on the basics of the faith. As the UMC approaches a fork in the road with respect to its future, we should all find comfort and strength in that unity.
As to point number two, I earned my M.Div. at a UM Senate-approved seminary that many would describe as “liberal” or “progressive.” While I occasionally struggled with the disagreements I had with some professors and classmates, I valued my time there. I was encouraged by the core orthodoxy taught by the vast majority of professors, and had time to reflect anew on the importance of social witness and action as a part of faithfulness to Christ (Matthew 25:31-40). I was challenged by professors with experiences in evangelizing impoverished, non-Anglo communities as to how I can learn from and speak to the truth of the gospel in contexts that vastly differ from my white, middle-class upbringing. My faith and ideas were challenged, but ultimately strengthened and improved, by exposure to ideas about the Christian faith that differed from my own.
Realistically Hoping for Unity Amidst Division and Diversity
Last month, I wrote a post on this blog about possibilities if the UMC were to divide or dissolve. I also wrote that I hope the UMC can stay united. I reiterate and emphasize that hope now, in the face of the conflict and division described by Rev. Dr. Case in his article for the Confessing Movement. I believe that the vast majority of Methodists—even Methodist clergy—are united about the core of our faith, the need to believe in and follow our crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ. We often disagree about where that path leads us, and I believe we’re going to have to implement some “tough love” and, when we once again settle on a path forward, require and enforce adherence (even while allowing disagreement) to that path. But that doesn’t mean we cannot come together, rooted in our common faith in Christ, while also learning from one another as to how the risen Christ speaks to us and motivates us in unique ways.
I’m sure Rev. Dr. Case hopes for the unity I speak of. Yet I wish I saw that hope in his article. For even in our disagreements, we can live and grow in our faith with one another. The possibilities are before us, rooted in our Wesleyan heritage, which is centered around growing with God together in mutually accountable relationships. As a pastor serving in a context where the UMC is “dying”—the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where the population is 85%+ Hispanic but the UMC is still mostly Anglo—I still have hope for our church. For I believe in a God who raises the dead, who unites us as a church to proclaim and live into our hope in the resurrection, even if we disagree sometimes as to what that precisely looks like in daily life.