West Virginia, Marriage, and the #UMC

I’m in a mood to experiment a little.

You can find Part II here.

West Virginia State Capitol
West Virginia State Capitol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Great State of West Virginia, there are some requirements in order to perform a wedding ceremony. Besides age, one must be:

  • duly authorized to perform marriages by his or her church, synagogue, spiritual assembly or religious organization; and
  • in regular communion with that group of which he or she is a member.

West Virginia is one of the states where it is legal for two consenting adults of the same gender to marry. Yet, the allowance for performance thereof is dependent upon the church or other religious institution.

In simple English, you have to be authorized to perform marriages by your church or religion institution in order to be authorized by the State of West Virginia and that authorization seems to carry over only to the marriages authorized .

This gets into a hairy situation when a minister performs a marriage he or she is not authorized to perform.

Such as “gay marriage” if you are a United Methodist minister. Why? Because the Book of Discipline strictly forbids a minister from performing it:

We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

And from our chargeable offenses category:

A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference, local pastor, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged… with one or more of the following offenses…(b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings,15 including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies;

It does not render the “proof of authority” needed to conduct said ceremony. Of course, this is applicable to those who have laid aside their credentials as well. They can’t even perform “straight marriages!”

I would say that if someone performed a marriage that was unauthorized, they would be committing not only a violation of the Book of Discipline, but so too a crime against the State of West Virginia.

If you aren’t authorized, you can’t do it. If you do it, and aren’t authorized, then you have fraudulently signed an official state document, representing yourself as something you are not.

This raises a few questions.

  • Why are we mixing Church and State here? In West Virginia, there are more marriages available than are allowed by The United Methodist Church. And it appears that the State could get involved in passively enforcing denominational law.
  • If we prosecute ministers for performing marriages between two people with the same sexual organs, what about those who may be outside the BoD in regards to performing marriages without authorization? For instance, if a minister who has refused an appointment and is still simply sitting in a  congregation (with pastoral duties, titles, etc… basically a former UMC clergy) performs a marriage, what then?

I’m opening to hearing your thoughts…

Admit it. When I mentioned marriage and West Virginia, you thought I was going to argue for cousin marriage. Nope. That’s North Carolina. And any comments about bestality, I’ll just point to Ohio. 

161f, #UMC Book of Discipline (#GC2016)

keep calmRecently, I posted my answers to a questionnaire I had received as a nominee to be a delegate to the General Conference. The conversation is continuing. The question today involves 161f from the Book of Discipline.

This is 161f, titled “Human Sexuality”

We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to  responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.

We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

The question was generally something along the lines of “why do you want it removed.” since the bible says marriage is between one man and one woman and homosexuality is a sin. This is my answer.

…..And yes, Annual Conference and General Conference are of a great concern to me. I have found Christ in the United Methodist Church and I do not wish to seen it torn asunder by selfish people doing wicked things.

There is a real condition of homophobia, but like racism and sexism, that word is used to shut people up and should not be applied to everyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin. I believe greed is a sin, but that doesn’t mean I fear it. I do not believe everyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is homophobic or bigoted. I suggest to you that those who use that word too easily are themselves what they would accuse you of.

I would not want the whole of 161f removed. Human sexuality is very much God’s gift to us and I am concerned about what I see from many of our fellow United Methodists who support everything but monogamy. Yet, we know monogamy is a sign of Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5). However, I do not believe homosexuality is a sin EXACTLY because of Scripture. This would have to be better explained in person, I suspect.

Let me give you some personal background. I was raised in a oneness (almost) pentecostal/holiness sect. We were King James Only, anti-trinitarian, and convinced that we alone knew what the bible said and oddly enough, it always said the same thing we did! Mainly, it said everyone but us were going to hell. Our group/organization was alone the only people on earth who were Christian. We believed that everyone — Baptist, Catholic, Methodist — was going to hell because they read the bible differently (i.e., wrongly). For 32 years I was raised to believe this and then preached it myself as a minister. But something happened. I discovered that the Church and Scripture had existed for nearly 2000 years before me. I also discovered that sometimes, many times, we have read it wrong. Further, there are things I thought had existed since Christ Himself that are relatively new. It humbled me to realize this. It is difficult for me to ever say “the bible says.”

I believe Scripture is our primary source of authority. Because of that, I have to read Scripture how Scripture was written. Many argue with me about it and I with them. We simply disagree but we do agree that Scripture requires faithfulness in monogamous marriage/commitment and celibacy in singleness. However, likewise, I am humbled by Church Tradition that has for centuries taught that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman. So, I am torn, to be honest, between what I believe Scripture to say and the Tradition of the Church. But, so too was John Wesley who broke with the Anglican Tradition to allow women to preach. Further, he led the call against slavery — all based on his reading of Scripture. All in a time when it was thought Scripture prevented women from being ministers and slavery was a divine institution. All of this he did while challenging the role of the Bishop, Calvinism, and other errors he saw in the Church of England, one he loved so dear. Only when he was forced to, because of the American Revolution, did he “break” his vow and ordained people in the States to administer the sacraments. So, again, I am torn.

However, I am not torn on the Book of Discipline. If a person agrees to uphold it, then they should uphold all of it, not just the parts that help them get paid. I would, even if they were dear friends of mine, bring charges against ministers I found violating the Book of Discipline, even on parts I disagree.

Let me give you some comfort. There are a great many gay United Methodists who want to obey the Book of Discipline and care little to see it changed. Many of those fighting to force change are, I believe, often doing it out of self-serving reasons without regard to the whole of the United Methodist Church. It is not likely to change this time or the next. Yet, we have to learn to work together and give God that place to work to convict our hearts. If I am wrong, then I want to be with people who will help me see the light. If my friends are wrong, I want to be able to be led by God to show them.

 

…..

Yes, perhaps I am spending too much time on this. But, I suspect most of us simply do not have the discussion. I believe such things are very important to talk about. We need to be honest with our feelings of doubt, of resilience, of timidity, and of perseverance.

The United Methodist Church is very much intertwined with American culture. Therefore, it would be wrong to think that most United Methodists simply have no opinion about this one way or another. They may not realize how big of an issue this is in The United Methodist Church, but if you take a look over the landscape of the United States — especially since the Supreme Court is hearing the case for/against the constitutionality of gay marriage on 28 April — you will see just how divisive this issue is. They may not be talking about it in church, but they are talking about it.

I think it behooves us, especially those involved in the issues, to speak with others — even those we find are different than us on the issue –  openly and honestly about how we feel. I have nothing to hide.

Unity is the Methodist Tradition – John Wesley

umc logoWith minor various, these paragraphs goes back to the 1784 Book of Discipline, the very first one. This is from the 1920, ME Book of Discipline

V. Necessity of Union Among Ourselves

138. Let us be deeply sensible (from what we have known) of the evil of a division in principle, spirit, or practice, and the dreadful consequences to ourselves and others. If we are united, what can stand before us? If we divide, we shall destroy ourselves, the work of God, and the souls of our people.

139. In order to a closer union with each other, 1. Let us be deeply convinced of the absolute necessity of it. 2. Pray earnestly for, and speak freely to, each other. 3. When we meet, let us never part without prayer. 4. Take great care not to despise each other’s gift*. 5. Never speak lightly of each other. 6. Let us defend each other’s character in everything so far as is consistent with truth. 7. Labor in honor each to prefer the other before himself. We recommend a serious perusal of The Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and, Church Divisions.

If you track this well enough, you will see that the 1784 version of the Book of Discipline largely goes back to John Wesley himself. Directly. The 1784 Book of Discipline was adopted largely from the Large Minutes of Wesley and his British societies. In other words, paragraph 139 was written by Wesley — except for the “We recommend…” part which seems to come from Asbury.

In looking at the Large Minutes (linked above), you cannot help but notice that Wesley strove for unity, not merely among those of the same theological persuasion, but so too of Christians.

If only we, as United Methodists, would work to that same goal — perhaps beginning with ourselves. Shoot, we aren’t even convinced that it is necessary.

Ode in Prose to the #UMC Book of Discipline

book of discipline

Why do I like the Book of Discipline? Let me count the ways…

As many of you know, I grew you fundamentalist, and a particularly peculiar branch of it. Like many fundamentalists, we did not have a polity beyond the pastor’s moods and whims. Yet, in the United Methodist Church, there is something different. The Book of Discipline, one of the many reasons I still like the UMC, is not simply a guide, but a manual. While some see it as an IKEA manual and others see it as a manual for a 486, I see it as a manual preventing cults of personalities among other heinous crimes.

I disagree with several parts of it. I think the Theological Task is as muddy as the Mississippi passing through New Orleans after a hurricane upriver. It destroys Outler’s creation. Yet, it contains and enshrines the Creed. It tells us how far we can go (admittedly, we have to actually listen to it) and it gives us a way to clean up the mess when people go over those lines. Further, it sets doctrinal standards, connecting us back to our Anglican heritage.

Unlike the Creeds, most of it is not drawn from Scripture. It really can’t be. It is a polity manual designed to allow a large Protestant denomination to function properly in what is now the 21st century. It contains all the things necessary to make the UMC’s local unit, the congregation, administratively function. It does not, however, make us function.

I have found there are several opinions about the Book of Discipline. One, some do not know we have it. Some people think it is our attempt at replacing Scripture (the BoD isn’t even in the Wesleyan Quad!). Others see it as a tool of the oppressor. As someone who did not grow up “cradle Methodist” I see it as a way to prevent a pastor-centric cult, a departure from historic Wesleyan theology, and as a way to insure justice in our administrative life.

Now granted, the Book of Discipline seems to mainly to apply to clergy and local pastors. But, there are parts that apply to the laity as well. After all, we are given the chance to hold our bishops and everyone else accountable for poor administration, bad theology (yes, there is a caveat for that), and for actually breaking the rules. Likewise, the laity can be held accountable as well. While I am, for now, a full member of the laity, I do not have to worry too much about falling outside the Book of Discipline I believe it is part of my responsibility as a United Methodist to see that it is upheld (until it is changed).

It is our mutual covenant to one another. And when it is broken, bent, or tempered, we start to lose trust not so much in it (because it is an abstract object) but in one another.

The Church is not ours. It is held for our children. The Book of Discipline is our Trust Organizer, this generation’s Last Will and Testament setting up the Trust.

Dare you withhold Apportionments? Indeed, I dare you. #UMC

English:
You wanna hurt the global mission of the United Methodist Church? Bring.it.On. English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a move, a threat, something akin to civil disobedience (if we must bring secular methods into the sectarian realm), unfolding before us. Various pastors, leaders of the fringes, have threatened to withhold apportionments if the United Methodist Church does not turn, or return, their way.

For those not blessed with this connexion, let me explain. Apportionments are not organizational dues. Congregations do not pay to belong to the United Methodist Association or Convention, but have a responsibility as stations of the United Methodist Church. This apportionment goes to support the global missions of the United Methodist Church in various ways, beginning with the Annual Conference and all that it takes to support it (including Bishops, etc…).

There are three particular paragraphs I want to call your attention to:

¶ 622. When the apportionments for bishops, district superintendents, conference claimants, and the Equitable Compensation Fund for the several districts and charges have been determined, payments made to the same in each pastoral charge shall be exactly proportional to the amount paid on the clergy base compensation (¶ 818.3). The treasurer or treasurers of each pastoral charge shall accordingly make proportional distribution of the funds raised in that charge for the support of the ordained ministry and shall remit monthly if practicable and quarterly at the latest the items for bishops, district superintendents, conference claimants, and the Equitable Compensation Fund to the proper treasurer or treasurers.

¶ 639.4. Proportional Payment—The board shall compare the records of the amounts paid by each pastoral charge for the support of pastors and for pension and benefit programs, computing the proportional distribution thereof and keeping a permanent record of defaults of the churches of the conference that have failed to observe the following provisions pertaining to proportional payment, and shall render annually to each church that is in default a statement of the amounts in default for that and preceding years.

  • a) When the apportionment to the pastoral charges for the pension and benefit program of the annual conference has been determined, payments made thereon by each pastoral charge shall be exactly proportionate to payments made on the salary or salaries of the ordained minister or clergy serving it.

¶ 818.3. Proportionality—The amount apportioned to a charge for the Episcopal Fund shall be paid in the same proportion as the charge pays its pastor (see also ¶ 622).

To sum, I quote the Oklahoma Annual Conference, which places on their budget this statement:

Items must be paid in an amount proportional to the amount paid on the pastor’s support, as required in Paragraphs 622, 639.4, and 818.3 of the 2012 Discipline. If the pastor is paid 100% of salary and support, then these items must be paid 100%.

In other words, if the apportionment is paid 70%, then the pastor can only receive 70% of his or her salary. If the apportionment is withheld completely, then pastors are going to work for free. This is a penalty of sorts imposed by the Book of Discipline. This should not even need a trial.

For examples of those withholding, or threatening to withhold apportionments, see here, here, here, here, and here. Others have graciously addressed the folly of such a move. Some don’t quite get who should pay, but they don’t get a lot as it were. Others, who I refuse to link to because of their habit of  misappropriating narratives and abusing others, criticize the move, but fail to note the penalty. I don’t find this particularly ironic given their sense of justice is usually some form of white savior universalism.

Granted, others may have noted it – and I may have missed it. If I have, then I guess we’ll just restart the conversation.

But, I want to call attention to the penalty of withholding the apportionment, especially as we move into 2016. Pastors who withhold apportionments should have, if they are serious about following the Book of Discipline — and likewise, if we are intent on enforcing it — have their salaries likewise withheld.1 I propose that we begin to enforce this part of the Book of Discipline now. .

Perhaps, we can look at those who repeatedly miss these covenantal responsibilities, examine their expenditures and consider how seriously we want to enforce the Book of Discipline.

What sayeth ye? Do we enforce the Book of Discipline or not?

 

 

  1. I define “withhold” as purposely not paying apportionment as a sign of protest, not because you failed to meet it due to budgetary issues.