Dalton Rushing, a UMC pastor in Northern Georgia, has written a blog post lambasting Dr. Bill Arnold, Rev. Beth Ann Cook, and myself for legislation we have independently submitted to the General Conference.
Rushing’s first attack is against Dr. Bill Arnold’s remodeling of the Theological Task. Ironically, this treasured piece of the Book of Discipline is not old. I mean, if you look at previous Books of Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church(es) you’ll note the distinct absence of a Task.
Dr. Arnold has, in part, suggested we amend the Theological Task to move us towards Wesley and away from Outler (at least, that is my conception of his move). He urges the General Conference to amend the Theological Task to read,
must be brought to bear in faithful, serious, theological consideration upon the living core of the Christian faith as revealed in Scripture, our primary authority. We turn to these three in the process of interpreting Scripture (a process known as hermeneutics), but not as independent sources of truth. (as quoted by Rushing)
Oddly enough, in Rushing’s rather profane rantings against the suggestion, he continually misunderstands the use of the word “independent.” Rushing suggests, somehow, that Dr. Arnold wants to insure Scripture is interpreted with Reason, Tradition, and by the experience of salvation and that we are truly a prima scriptura denomination. At no point does the malformed fear exhibited in Rushing’s post actually hold water when compared to what both are saying.
Arnold is suggesting that we better understand the Quad as Wesley would have, following Hooker…like a three-legged stool. We interpret Scripture by Scripture, by Tradition, and by Reason with the added assurance that Jesus is mine. Exactly what is wrong with suggesting that Scripture is the basis of our theology, rather than anything independent?
Indeed, if we expand the quote Rushing used, this is what we see:
in practice, theological reflection may also find its point of departure in tradition, experience, or rational analysis. Yet these three guidelines must be brought to bear in faithful theological consideration upon the living core of the Christian faith as revealed in Scripture, our primary authority. We turn to these three in the process of interpreting Scripture (a process known as hermeneutics), but not as independent sources of truth. (italics representing what Rushing did not quote)
I suspect Rushing doesn’t really understand what Arnold is saying. Indeed, in the same petition, Arnold writes,
The developing communities of faith judged them, therefore, to be an authoritative witness to that revelation. Thus, while we recognize the interrelationship of the four basic resources for theological reflection, we emphasize that tradition, experience, and reason—taken singly or in combination cannot be interpreted to contravene Scripture as the primary source and criterion for doctrine.
Note, that this (rather than Rushing’s attempt at manipulation) is what Arnold is after, that Scripture remains primary and that all must be used to bring out the truth in Scripture. At no point does Arnold suggest Scripture alone is the source of truth, only that Scripture along with utilizing the other sources is the primary source for Christian teaching and theology.
Arnold’s rationale is,
These changes clarify our roots in Mr. Wesley’s understanding of Scripture, and the confirmatory roles of reason, tradition, and experience, in order to make clear that tradition and especially experience are untrustworthy whenever they deviate from Scripture, which is always trustworthy.
Rushing then turns to my petition, one of several I have made. He quotes, as he is apt to do, only a portion of it.
This is all he quotes:
sign a statement affirming their personal agreement with and commitment to the basic, ecumenical Christian doctrine of Articles I, II, and IV of the Methodist Articles of Religion and/or of Articles I, II, and III of the Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church (¶104).
He then trots out an example of a Jewish scholar who is working at a United Methodist Seminary, suggesting that I want them fired (or worse?). The problem is, is that if anyone takes the time to go and read the actual petition, they get a different view.
The actual submitted text is:
So you’ll note that there are a range of exceptions made for faculty hired who cannot accept the doctrine of the Trinity. Note, Article III of the Articles of Religion is missing. So are the rest of the articles. This is about the Trinity. Imagine that… asking professors teaching our clergy to believe an essential Christian doctrine.
I note that Wesley considered the Trinity an essential to the Christian faith.
In regards to Beth Ann Cook’s proposal, you can read the rationale here.
Yet, none of this matters to Rushing who is quick to hide most of the petition behind his interpretation which includes theories of anti-Semitism, mind-control, and power grabs. For some reason, Rushing seems to have no theological reasoning behind standing against these petitions, only unfounded fear of power hungry United Methodists. This unfounded fear causes him to hide the rationale of the petitions as well as parts of the whole petitions, create conspiracy theories, and to accuse others of things he simply has no proof regarding.
As Rich Jones has pointed out on Twitter and Facebook, this warning is itself an attempt at controlling the conversation:
@herevrush using words like 'takeover' 'control' and 'power' is a not-so-subtle attempt to use fear to discredit those you disagree with.
— Rich Jones (@preacherrich) April 25, 2016
In the end, I cannot fully know Rushing’s motivations or his actual understanding of Wesleyan theology, but I am worried that he has channeled nothing more than a bed of lies.
Update (25 April):
Twice Dalton has backed down from some of the points he has raised. As of today (2 May) Dalton has removed his retractions. I do, however, have the cached images of his previous retractions. Once by admitting he made a mistake in reading mine and once in saying that Rev. Cook wasn’t lying about her intentions. And as more simply noted in the comments section (below), Rushing actually supports Arnold’s position on the Theological Task.
— Dalton Rushing (@herevrush) April 25, 2016
@revbethanncook Don't mean to say I think you're lying, by any means. I hope that's clear. I do think it's a dangerous petition.
— Dalton Rushing (@herevrush) April 25, 2016
So I ask, what are the motivations of the post, and why is he now hiding his retractions?