IS the WCA Violating It’s Own Principles?

I, as well as many others, have pointed to the United Methodist Church Judicial Council rulings in criticism of the various caucus groups, especially Reconciling Ministries, encouraging entire churches and congregations to join them. The ruling in question is 871 and the digest reads “A local church or any of its organizational units may not identify or label itself as an unofficial body or movement. Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the local church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church. The ruling of Bishop Alfred J. Norris is reversed.” ( Now, to be fair, I can not find anything in their beliefs that says they are bound by the UMC Book of Discipline, so they are not breaking their internal rules, but they are breaking the rules of the UMC, their primary recruiting ground, as are the local congregations that are choosing to become a part of the WCA. I can only help but wonder how many of them know that they are breaking the rules. So that we are clear, there is nothing that would prohibit individuals from joining any group, just local churches and their organizational groups. (Annual Conferences too, but that is a separate ruling) 

The question then is that if the WCA is allowing and encouraging congregations to join, then aren’t they, in that specific respect, working against the church and it’s teachings by encouraging congregations to break the rules? Many in the WCA have asked these very same questions about RMN, as have I, so it seems fair to ask them now as well. For my part, because I have asked these questions for the groups I disagree with theologically, it is vitally important that, for my own internal consistency and in my attempts to avoid hypocrisy, I ask them now. So, put simply, if it is wrong that groups like RMN allow congregational membership in defiance of the Judicial Council, then it should be equally wrong the the WCA does. If pastors who have led their congregations to become Reconciling Congregations have broken the covenant by breaking the rules, then pastors who do the same for the WCA are the same, are they not? If the Bishops that have allowed. and support, RMN in doing this are guilty of not living up to their responsibilities, then the Bishops allowing and supporting the WCA are just as guilty are they not? If you are a pastor and member of the WCA, can you in good conscience, be a part of an organization the encourages congregations to break rules? If you are laity and a member, can you? 

I want a vibrant Wesleyan Christianity just as the WCA does. That is why I am asking the questions and being critical. A vibrant Wesleyan faith can not start with the same tactics that a few short years ago were decried as covenant breaking. The solution is not to become that which we have argued against, but to be better. Integrity and character matter and if the foundations are built upon the hypocritical use of the same tactics and rule breaking that we have collectively opposed, then whatever is put on top of it will fall. There is really only one question that needs to be asked, and answered, by those involved at the end of the day. Is the abyss staring back?

Demonizing Illness…is it again, or is it still?

“Then on the following day, as they came down the hill-side, a great crowd met him. Suddenly a man from the crowd shouted out, “Master, please come and look at my son! He’s my only child, and without any warning some spirit gets hold of him and he calls out suddenly. Then it convulses him until he foams at the mouth, and only after a fearful struggle does it go away and leave him bruised all over. I begged your disciples to get rid of it, but they couldn’t.” 
“You really are an unbelieving and difficult people,” replied Jesus. “How long must I be with you, how long must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.”
But even while the boy was on his way, the spirit hurled him to the ground in a dreadful convulsion. Then Jesus reprimanded the evil spirit, healed the lad and handed him back to his father. And everybody present was amazed at this demonstration of the power of God. (Luke 9:40-44 MKJV)

There you have it, proof that Epilepsy is demonic in origin and taking someone to a medical professional for said condition will not cure the problem, only mask it and allow the demonic a greater hold. . In fact, saying it is anything other than being demonic in origin is misplaced grace that amounts to sin by allowing the  demonic to continue unabated. Put simply, it is the very spirit of the Antichrist manifest in our unwillingness to clearly and publicly call it what it is, demonic.

I am of the hope that what you just read sounded insane to you and that you were planning to reach through the screen and smack me. If this doesn’t sound insane to you, please seek pastoral care. As ignorant as this is, there are still similar stigma’s today in some circles. There are still those who, upon witnessing a seizure, immediately begin to pray, not that God might heal the suffering person, but that the demon  be sent out of them. You can find similar approaches to some with other illnesses, predominately mental disorders, in this day and age. There is a large section of the Christian community that has seemingly gone through the DSM-5 and chosen which mental disorders they want to label as demonic. It pains me for many reasons, but mostly because it comes predominately from “my tribe”, that is to say those who would normally be called traditionalists or evangelicals, occasionally conservatives. This is not to say that all who fit that type do, not even most (I hope), but that enough do that it is troubling.  

It was not that long ago that the prevailing idea with many traditionalists was that depression was a spiritual issue and that deliverance from God was the answer, not trained professionals. The same goes with PTSD. Pray that God will heal your mind and all will be well. Anxiety disorders were a result of a lack of faith, not a mental disorder. All these things, and more, were rooted in sin and the demonic and seeking treatment encouraged that, and did not lead to healing. I am 42. I have heard these things, and had them told to me, in my lifetime. My wife is 29, and so has she. Both of us by pastors as well as others. We are not talking about ancient ideas, but very contemporary ones.  Most churches have made some efforts to eliminate these stigmas and false ideas, but many of them still persist.

My struggles with PTSD have been revealed to me to be demonic by more than one religious individual, including several pastors. I prayed for deliverance, and prayed for healing, and prayed to be able to go out in public for more than twenty minutes at a time. When that didn’t work, I sought professional help, and low and behold, there was progress and management of the disorder. It is not because God doesn’t heal, He certainly does, but it is because I did not need delivered from some demon hiding cleverly in the deep recesses of my brain, but rather needed professional help to manage a condition and learn how to be able to function with it.  The same was done with my struggles with drug addiction. As recently as last month I was treated to  the “knowledge” that all addiction is a choice that you make and is rooted in the demonic. The person who told me this can’t go without their morning coffee, but that is a different matter it seems. Only “real addiction” is demonic, so my coffee is still safe.  Never mind that science has shown this is not the case, but hey, who needs science?

So, what brought this up you might ask? To be perfectly honest, it is a touchy subject, and one that the church is not overly clear on much of the time. Enter, Gender Dysphoria. 
“Gender dysphoria involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender.” (APA definition). This is sometimes referred to as transgender, and likely the term more familiar. If you should wish to look it up, there are varied treatments in the DSM, including gender reassignment surgery. These treatments are are dealt with by professionals in conjunction with those being treated to try and aid the disorder…you know, like any other ailment that a person might suffer with. Just today however, in a conversation, I was “blessed” with some amazing things. I was asked specifically if I endorsed the Church of England issuing guidance on remembering baptism for folks who have had sex reassignment surgery. I replied with the following: 
 “I endorse proper care for those individuals who struggle with any number of mental disorders. Like it or not, understand it or not, this is a treatment that is endorsed in some cases. 
I endorse the church being able to be in ministry to all people, including those who undergo treatment for a medical condition, be it physiological or mental.
If we would accept that a person who has had cancer and undergone treatment as a candidate for a service marking the remembrance of one’s baptism, then we should accept the same for treatments of other issues.” 

The following came in reply: 
“Scott, they are using the rite as an excuse to condone and affirm their choice to be trans. In other words, they are conflating Christian baptism with celebration of ungodliness. The same would be true if homosexuals wanted to celebrate their decision to be homosexual by going through this rite, if a child molester wanted to celebrate their decision to do things with children by going through this rite, or if anyone wanted to do anything to celebrate their decision to live in sin and debauchery by going through this rite. It is fundamentally antichrist. If you cannot see that, then there is no reason to have this conversation.”
I love the end game comments such as if you can not see that, meaning that unless you see I am right, I won’t talk to you. How silly. Let’s start with the obvious, No person who is not already possessing a mental disorder of some sort, wakes up one morning and simply chooses to have one. Not only that, a person struggling with this is, according to this individual, ungodly if they choose to seek treatment. It is not conflating Christian baptism with ungodliness, unless reaffirming the vows made at your baptism, including the expressed belief of Christ as savior, is somehow ungodly. Of course homosexuals make that very same choice even though that science teaches us (again, the APA) that attraction, no matter who it is to, is a complex interplay between nature and nurture that is not fully understood. It is possible that this was meant to be the act of sex between two of the same gender, but even at that, such actions are not taken under medical guidance as a treatment for a mental disorder. Of course you have to throw in child molestation, one of the most repugnant things that anyone can think of, just to drive home the point how horrible and awful this is. Never mind that no credible medical professional is suggesting molesting children as a treatment. Talk about shameful and sick. Finally the real zinger though, it’s fundamentally Antichrist. No better way to welcome someone into the community of the church than to let them know that they, because they listened to their doctor, are fundamentally Antichrist, because they want to mark successful treatment of a debilitating disorder. Normally we’d clap for that sort of thing. 

This gem comes next:“comparing cancer to a mental disorder rooted in sin is beyond absurd, giving any kind of ritual endorsement whether intentional or misunderstood is not only insane it’s sinful.  Here’s a valid analogy.  Fred thinks he’s God, Jesus to be specific, (mental illness i.e. delusional or schizophrenic), the church then has a ceremony to accept this person’s “transition” into God’s family. Fred and others on some level construed this to mean the church is endorsing Fred’s condition rather than rejecting it’s absurdity.  Your “proper care” in is actually enabling, and aiding and abetting the disease, no care at all, it’s sinning against the individual.”  I want to point out the fallacy of this being a proper comparison. First off, have to love the idea presented that mental illness is simply being delusional or schizophrenic, ignoring the rather wide variety of mental illness that exists. Second, Fred, being a schizophrenic, is not undergoing any sort of proper professional care that acknowledges him to be God, or anyone else other than Fred. Not apples to apples at all, not even apples to oranges, more like apples to carp. I would also point out that this is not my thoughts on treatment of any disorder as I am not a medical professional, but rather one, of many accepted courses of treatment outlined in the DSM-5. 
It did not stop there however: “this misplaced expression of grace constitutes a tacit endorsement, silence is consent. 
In the midst of the culture wars which the church is currently losing, it is urgent, and essential to clearly demarcate a line between the encroachment of politically correct nonsense such as transgenderism which is a biological scientific hoax and a moral atom bomb.
Do a little research on the devastation to youth, higher suicide rates, permanent sterility do to hormone blockers, etc. 
I know the author of “Trading my Sorrows” who transitioned back to his birth sex. Tragic story. Read it please. This is by some estimations and argued cogently an issue of the daemonic realm. 
We are to avoid all appearance of evil, for the church to do anything but publicly condemn the insanity of transgenderism is to be abetting evil.”

Yes, you read that right, a call for the church to publicly condemn a recognized mental disorder. Not only that, but to not openly and publicly condemn such is abetting evil. Way to re-stigmatize mental disorders and those who struggle with them all over again. Way to push people further into their isolation and out of the community that they need. Good job. Where does it end? I try to reject slippery slope arguments, but in such cases, where is the line? Should we publicly condemn depression as it is obviously against the expressed will of God and Christ and the abundant life they desire for us. The answer to this question was as follows: “you asked a question. Answer: biochemical brain disorders, autism, depression, etc etc. I acknowledge that body dysmorphic syndrome like same sex attraction may have a genesis in sin only relative to fallen creation, the decision to act upon, normalize and affirm are where moral sin enters the picture, so I wasn’t clear about my view on that.”   So I am really confused now.  Some mental disorders can be treated, even though they are due to the fallen world we are born into, but not others? Acting to treat a mental disorder is sinful? My PTSD is not a biochemical brain disorder. Did I somehow sin because I acted on it and sought and followed treatment? It would appear so, though I am in the clear with my addiction struggles as there is a biochemical component to clinical addiction. That seems a very fine hair to split to me, especially as we can not say that there is not a biochemical component to gender dysphoria. As for the research into the above subjects, I have done it, and can not imagine having to make such a decision in consultation with a professional. The side effects are serious and long lasting, but so are the side effects of many treatments. “This is by some estimations and argued cogently an issue of the daemonic realm. ” You know, just like Epilepsy.  At this point I had bowed out of the conversation as it was not only pointless, but had begun to anger me. 

Science and medicine are not contrary to scripture, the are in conjunction with scripture. Admittedly, science and medicine is not always right. New discoveries are made, new treatments developed, etc. We have the best that is available to us, and that is what we must then work with. Are there medical treatments that are simply against scripture? Yes, of course. In some places euthanasia is a recognized medical procedure, and I stand opposed to it. There is a clear and simple prohibition that taking life in general is sin. I believe that elective abortion is sinful as well. What is missing from calling this procedure sinful is anything even resembling a clear Biblical mandate against it as a treatment. When I want commentary on scripture, I go to the church, when I want a medical opinion, I go to a doctor. That is the way it should be. By and large, the church should not involve itself in medicine any more than medicine should involve itself with the church. The best understandings of medicine involving this particular disorder includes the allowance for gender reassignment surgery, yet many claim, in the ways demonstrated above, that merely having this disorder is a sign of the demonic apparently leaving the only possible treatment being exorcism it seems. You know, like we did with Epilepsy and numerous  mental disorders at varying times.  Absent a clear prohibition against a treatment, the church, and Christians, should not be so condemning of it, and should certainly not be calling it demonic or Antichrist. 

The Gathering

This past Sunday, the priest at the Anglican Church we’ve been attending, gave us a “Liturgy Moment.” It’s a brief explanation of why we do something in the liturgy.

He spoke about “the gathering” which is sometimes a hymn. It is, he told us, a time to remember why we are coming to Church. At least that’s my recollection. I had a virus or something that mimicked depression and it knocked me down and out of regular operating procedure.

But I’m pretty sure that’s what he said.

My answer as to why I attend Church on Sunday morning has ranged widely over the years. I was afraid of going to hell. I needed community. I thought I absolutely had to.

At this season of my life, I go to be reminded that there is hope and good left in the world. I sit with clients who tell me the most heinous stories of abuse, molestation, rape, defilement, and addiction. They let me into their pain of their life, which has led them to sitting there in front of me. I have a great counselor face. I don’t let their pain show. Oh, there are times after they leave I have to shake it off.

But I have to go one and meet the next person, unassuming and non-judgmental.

After a week of this, I need to be reminded that there is something good, something hopeful, something divine in this life. My belief in God has been separate from my attendance in Church (yes, yes… I know), but in this season, it may be even closer than I realized.

the Cure to Christmas Joy

This time of the year is rather difficult for many people. We have the holidays, especially in the US, bogged down in Halloween leftovers, pre-Valentine candy, and a mix of Turkey and reindeer. We do not get the time to truly enjoy the season.

The Church Calendar is not an arbitrary creation, but one that allows us to slow down and mark the time of the season by the life of the Church. We retell the life of Christ in our daily activities, pinned to seasons and tides. because some are not pegged to the Church Calendar, we skip right into Christmas where we are expected to be joyous and to spend lots of money on gifts for others. Maybe we should slow it down a bit.

Which is why I like Advent. Rather than Advent being a lag between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is a fast, a season of penance, a season of humble expectation. It is a time to remember the exile of Israel and toe tribulations of the Church. The People of God received the Messiah after centuries of exile and persecution. Yet, we skip the remembrance of that, a time when we could sit and dwell on life without hope, without a future, without freedom, into singing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Why is Jesus expected – why is He longed for – if He was only here to be born?

I sit with people who struggle during this time of year because what blankets us is an expectation to be happy? Advent is the time we can be mournful, because there is no joy unless we have suffered loss.

So take the time to mourn and to be depressed. Find a Blue Christmas service to join. Sit. Listen. Be still.

Gripping sadness

There are two recent articles grabbing my attention, both as a training mental health clinician and a trained theologian. The first in The Atlantic, with a remarkable scientific and supernatural focus:

After listening to the priests and poring over news articles, I started to wonder whether the two trends—belief in the occult and the rising demand for Catholic exorcisms—might have the same underlying cause. So many modern social ills feel dark and menacing and beyond human control: the opioid epidemic, the permanent loss of blue-collar jobs, blighted communities that breed alienation and dread. Maybe these crises have led people to believe that other, more preternatural, forces are at work.

But when I floated this theory with historians of religion, they offered different explanations. A few mentioned Pope Francis’s influence, as well as that of Pope John Paul II, who brought renewed attention to the exorcism rite when he had it updated in 1998. But more described how, during periods when the influence of organized religions ebbs, people seek spiritual fulfillment through the occult. “As people’s participation in orthodox Christianity declines,” said Carlos Eire, a historian at Yale specializing in the early modern period, “there’s always been a surge in interest in the occult and the demonic.” He said that today we’re seeing a “hunger for contact with the supernatural.”

In all honesty, these two opinions aren’t that far afield and I believe are deeply connected. First, we see the same sort of pattern develop in historical societies as public institutions start to wane in their influence. I think of Rome as the Republic gave way to Empire and as the Julio-Claudians gave way to the Civil War. Moral decadence, tales of ghosts, or emperors returning from the dead and so on.

The second is very akin to the first. This is one is about the deaths due to drug abuse and suicide pushing life expectancy down in the US.

Suicides and drug overdoses pushed up U.S. deaths last year, and drove a continuing decline in how long Americans are expected to live.

Overall, there were more than 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, or nearly 70,000 more than the previous year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. It was the most deaths in a single year since the government began counting more than a century ago.

Our society in in a state of change. I work with clients who have experienced such abuse and now experience abuse by a society leaving them out. Here are but two examples of people doing some deep thinking, even if that form of thinking requires what others consider deeply unscientific – exorcism.

Suicide, I grimly suspect, will reach the levels of ancient Rome, where it became a spectacle both in the arena and in the banquet halls.