Nothing new under the sun

new-cross-and-flame-300x300Bishop Palmer is who will have to ultimately deal with the matter that is going to be presented here. No matter what your personal opinion may be, I encourage you not to pray that the Bishop does what you want, but to simply pray for the Bishop that he might be strengthened in a difficult situation and that he may faithfully execute the will of God, no matter what that looks like. There will be plenty of time to praise or complain about the decision, and indeed many of us will, but until then, let us simply pray for a man in authority facing a difficult situation.

Another day, another same sex wedding in the United Methodist Church. Not just that, but another planned publicity stunt that looks more like a political process than a Christian witness of unity in the body. Take these words from the article above:

Meredith acknowledges that the wedding was held to openly challenge the church’s rules, and it was timed to occur just three days before the denomination’s General Convention in Portland, Oregon, where the rules will be debated.

Marriage, the reflection of Christ’s relationship with His church, as a political tool to try and sow dissent. Surely this is not the gospel message Christ came to deliver. Surely this is not the proper reflection of the bride of Christ. But I digress as this is not the central point that I wish to write about.

Several groups are calling specifically for what is called a just resolution in the rules of the United Methodist Church. As always, I do support using the processes that are available in our Book of Discipline to change things and settle disputes as outlined in the above link. Because of this, calling for a just resolution (item c in the link) at the exclusion of any of the other options available is irresponsible. To limit what those in charge have at their disposal to mediate disputes and to bring those in the church breaking her rules back into proper alignment with the church makes little sense. While the Bishops of our church have in the past failed to do this in a manner consistent with the spirit of the BoD, still it is their sacred charge to so, and until amended to say otherwise, we should allow them the full range of options to deal with such matters. Yes, the just resolution is an option, but it should not be the only option. I do agree that church trials should indeed be a last resort, but they must be available as there are some things so egregious that they simply can not be properly reconciled in the just resolution process.

Some have called for a suspension of the pastors involved in this matter (item d in the resolution process). I find this to be appropriate in this matter. First you have the fact that the pastor who was married has been engaged in a 28 year long relationship that is forbidden by rules of the church. This pattern of behavior shows not only defiance to the rules of the church but complete disregard for the teachings of the church. Second you have three pastors serving three separate churches directly involved in this and, by extension, involving their three separate congregations as well, not to mention the 90 others in the region that signed a letter of support of their knowing and willful disregard for the rules of beliefs of the church. The sheer scope of the infraction seems to warrant a suspension until such time as the matter is resolved. At least one of the stated purposes of this wedding was publicity. That alone makes a mockery of the rite of marriage as understood by the church. Third, it should be noted that this is not an accusation made against someone, it is a known and admitted fact. This is not a case of innocent until proven guilty if you will, but rather a case of what is the best way to handle what has transpired moving forward. As the pastors in question have violated the rules of the church, used a sacred rite of the church for publicity, and shown a disregard the teaching of the church, a suspension seems warranted until the best way to move forward has been determined.

The entire point of the complaint process should be understood by all of us, especially considering the emotionally charged climate that we are in.

This review shall have as its primary purpose a just resolution of any violations of this sacred trust, in the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Christ.

A just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties. In appropriate situations, processes seeking a just resolution as defined in ¶ 363.1(c) may be pursued.

Notice the focus and the point here. “God’s work of justice, reconciliation, and healing.” God’s justice is dependent upon His holiness. Our reflections of God’s justice must also depend upon holiness and indeed holiness is a part of our Wesleyan tradition. The church has been entrusted by God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to teach and show those who look to her what holiness is in both belief and in action. The church has declared that the actions of these pastors is not a holy action. God’s reconciliation is indeed about bringing us back into proper relationship to Him. Again, the church has been entrusted  by God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to speak and teach this reconciliation. A part of that is repentance and the above mentioned holiness. At our baptism, we were declared one of god’s own, a new creation in fact. A people called out of the fallen world and called into God’s kingdom.

That can happen only if we are indeed reconciled to God and follow His teachings and commands. The church has said that the actions of these pastors are indeed contrary to God’s teachings and commands and does not lead those they have been entrusted to serve toward reconciliation with God, but rather away from it. Finally there is God’s healing. While not always realized fully in this world, it is promised in the world to come. In examining options, we must be willing and able to ask what brings healing to this situation that is within the authority and power of the church. God’s healing is never associated with continuing in sin. The church has been entrusted by God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to expose sin, not in judgement or condemnation, but to name sins for what they are precisely so that we can experience God’s healing in our lives. The church has called the actions of these pastors sin.

Many have called for the use of the just resolution exclusively as I mentioned above, and I even believe that a just resolution is the most favorable of all possible outcomes in any situation involving disobedience to the vows one has taken to the church. There are some questions I have though that the process must be able to address in order for it to actually be just. What just resolution restores the trust that those pastors have broken by willingly and knowingly breaking their vows? This is not just about the covenant community that pastors are a part of, but the relationship that a pastor has with us laity types. What just resolution solves the chaos of belief that exists because of those who choose to teach outside of the church’s beliefs on this matter? It seems to me that the spirit of the just resolution process is to restore one to proper relationship to the church. The simple truth is that you can not restore one who does not wish to be. There is no desire to be reconciled and restored with the church, only the desire to change the church by any means necessary. What sort of just resolution solves the end justifies the means attitude that these pastors have taken? We can not restore a person to proper relationship to the church who does not want to be restored. We can not reconcile those to the church who have shown that they only wish the church to be reconciled to themselves. 

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17 Replies to “Nothing new under the sun”

  1. Thanks for expressing this so well, Scott. While I weep for my beloved UMC, I continue to pray for a Great Awakening across not only our denomination, but across our country, and across the world. May this season of Pentecost bring us the renewal that comes only by the Spirit of God.

  2. Dear Mr Fritsche,
    You are wrong about 1 thing here. Your statement that Rev Meredith’s Service of Christian Marriage was not a service of witness and unity. It was just that. More so, it was a witness from his and Jim’s families, friends, colleagues, and brothers and sisters in Christ. The service was a celebration of holy covenant in the tradition of the church. Over 400 present- so if you want to charge someone please charge all of us for practicing the liturgy of the church- the work of the people. Yes, I will pray and encourage all of us to pray for Bishop Palmer. I ask that you refrain from diminishing Christian worship when it is outside of your political preferences.
    Your sister in Christ.

    1. This has nothing at all to do with my political preference in the least. My political preferences are actually the Libertarian party since you brought it up. I have no issues what so ever with a same sex couple receiving the same legal benefits available to a heterosexual couple under civil law. I did mention politics, I meant the politics of the church, so if that was confusing, my apologies.
      There is no liturgical pattern for worship of a same gendered couple in the United Methodist Church, or in the historical church for that matter outside of the claims of one largely discredited and ignored scholar who claimed otherwise. You ask that I would refrain from diminishing worship, but can we call it worship if it is indeed outside of the boundaries of what the church has called acceptable to God? I think not.

      1. I am cetain,that we define and understand “church” very differently. I am certain the Holy Spirit is at work here. Worship is coming forth in ways that embrace the gospel with biblical faithfulness. The UMC standsin a “free church “tradition (see the writing of Dr. James F. White for further definition). I pray for you to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirt, lest you participate in condemnation of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

          1. ““Free worship tradition.” It is a category of liturgical history.”
            Using this as the definition, it still does not allow for worship that is contrary to the beliefs of the church.

        1. If by free church you mean unfettered by ties to a government or a theocracy, then certainly we are a ‘free church’. If instead you mean a congregational model of governance, then no we are not. I do not have anything by James White on my shelf currently and in truth am not going to rush off to buy some. If he claims that the UMC is “free church” in a congregational sense he is mistaken.
          “Worship is coming forth in ways that embrace the gospel with biblical faithfulness.” I could not agree more. That is why the actions of these individuals is so damaging as they do not properly engage in worship by breaking the vows to uphold the doctrine of the church.
          Your assumptions that I am not open to the moving of the Spirit are false and insulting. I have written several times about trusting the Spirit to move through the processes that we have in place and if the doctrine and understanding of the church changes, then so be it. What I do not advocate for is a group of people claiming the Spirit then doing whatever they feel like in defiance of the church, in this case the UMC. I can not condemn anyone any more than I can save anyone. That is well above my pay grade. What I can do, is articulate the position of the church and call for the church to live up to it’s responsibility to safeguard the faith as it understands it. I can also beg for those who have taken a vow to God through the church to actually uphold it. That is not condemnation. It is asking the church to be the church and asking those who voluntarily took vows to keep them.

  3. Ok, Scott, don’t take this personal!
    My take, for good or bad.

    I detect inconsistency…
    1st Premise: Leave decision to the Bishop. (My personal choice).

    “Bishop Palmer is who will have to ultimately deal with the matter…”

    “that he may faithfully execute the will of God, no matter what that looks like…”

    2nd Premise (in conflict): Don’t really trust the Bishop’s to have the Holy Spirit to handle their job. As in; guilty until proven innocent; without at least considering if there are any mitigating circumstances.

    “While the Bishops of our church have in the past failed to do this in a manner consistent with the spirit of the BoD…”

    “The sheer scope of the infraction seems to warrant a suspension until such time as the matter is resolved….”

    “The church has declared that the actions of these pastors is not a holy action…”

    “The church has said that the actions of these pastors are indeed contrary to God’s teachings and commands…”

    “The church has called the actions of these pastors sin…”

    Just curious.
    Who, exactly, is the “church” you are referring to? Has the “church” made an official statement regarding this latest situation? Or are you making assumptions, based upon the BoD? And thus the BoD is the “church”, and there is a presumption of both guilt and punishment, without mitigation, before Bishop Palmer even makes any statements?

    If the system is to play out according to the rules, maybe we should just wait and see what happens. If Bishop Palmer comes up with some compromise, that no one agrees with, does that mean Bishop Palmer should be disciplined? So where does it end? Maybe “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

    1. It is not inconsistent to say that the Bishop has authority and we need to trust in that and that the bishops have in the past not exercised that authority in the spirit of the BoD. Think of congress. It has the authority to pass laws and we must trust in them to do so. We also know that at numerous times they have passed bad laws. Both those statements are true and not inconsistent with each other.
      “Who, exactly, is the “church” you are referring to?” In the context of this it is the UMC. That is who the post is about after all.
      “Has the “church” made an official statement regarding this latest situation?” There needs to be no statement the doctrine and law of the church already cover it. In essence the church made the statement anytime something like this occurs when those laws and doctrine were established. It does nto make the BoD the church, but it does make the BoD exactly what it is intended to be, our law and doctrine. The church has one official voice, that is the GC. The GC has spoken on this matter already, so no need for an official statement.
      “And thus the BoD is the “church”, and there is a presumption of both guilt and punishment, without mitigation, before Bishop Palmer even makes any statements?”
      The bishop can not (or should not) simply over ride church law because he feels like it. The parties involved admit that they did this. They admit that they understand the potential consequences. They admit that they are violating church law. Your use of the word punishment is inaccurate. I put the link in the piece, and think I quoted what the purpose of the complaint process even is. If you notice, punishment is not noted as the goal. There are a lot of people claiming it is, but that does not make it so. As a matter of the process, about the only statement that the Bishop can make before a resolution is that a complaint was filed. The process is confidential while being looked into so it gives ample opportunity to present mitigating circumstances and the like. The pastor who was married made the intent of this rather clear however in his statements to the press. I say again, they are not innocent, by their own admission. The question is how bet to move forward.
      I did suggest that I thought suspension appropriate in this case. I still do. It is a normal part of the complaint process that is open to the Bishop. I suggested nothing other than a normal part of the process. This is all outlined in the link in the post describing what a just resolution is. The suspension does not entail any financial hardship (they are still paid, get housing allowances, etc) and the relief pastor is provided by the AC so it is not a direct hardship on the church. It is simply removing them from active pastoral ministry until a solution can be found within the boundaries of the complaint process. This is nothing new or revolutionary. It is not an assumption of guilt even though the parties admit their actions freely. It is a recognition that, for the good of all involved, it is responsible to remove those involved from pastoral ministry until a solution is reached.
      I asked some fair questions about the compromise (Just resolution) and what it would have to answer. I have asked them of those calling for such and no one can answer. Again, the purpose of a just resolution must be understood and in doing so, I can not see a compromise that can accomplish it. It may exist and Bishop Palmer may find it. If so, then bravo. If the Bishop does not fulfill his duties, yes he can be charged, but that is not dependent on what I think of his solution, but dependent on if he followed the law of the church. As to where it ends, your quote from Judges is where we are now. If the pastors involved would simply follow the rule of the church, then it would not be an issue at all. It ends in recognizing the authority of the church and following the rules of the church.

      1. “It is not inconsistent to say that the Bishop has authority and we need to trust in that and that the bishops have in the past not exercised that authority in the spirit of the BoD….”

        I think we are on different wavelengths. Then you become the judge, not the Bishop. The Bishop becomes a rubber stamp. A computer program could replace the Bishop.

        1. No, I do not become judge, the church does. The church has set the standard for what is proper in the complaint process as well as what the goal of the compliant process is. I set nothing. I do recognize the authority of the church to set it and expect the Bishops to live up to it. The problem currently is that the Bishops have become a rubber stamp to whatever cause they support instead of living up top the standard that the church has set. You advised me not to take it personal in your original comment, and I do not. You keep making it personal though by attributing what the church has said to me personally. Bishops have a duty as defined by the church through it’s understanding of scripture. If they do not live up to it, it is not I that judges them as you say, but the church under whose authority that they act.

          1. Since I downloaded the UMC conference app, and plan on watching at least part of the video they present (supposedly live), in half an hour, it will be interesting what is presented. Although, I kind of expect it will be like watching a session of congress on CSPAN. Boring. But I can’t help but think it will be informative.

          2. After hearing Bishop Palmer speak today, I think we can trust him to take care of business, one way or the other. Whatever he decides, is OK with me.

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