The Tough Questions

13139252_1042170239203220_5129540333648801273_nWe, as a body, appealed to our bishops to lead in finding a way forward for The United Methodist Church. Despite my concerns and misgivings, I will trust this is going to be done well, and serve the God we all love. The Bishops asked that none of us do anything to hinder that process and I do not intend to. I actually intend to help by asking all of us to seriously look and think about some difficult and tough questions. Really just one question. It is personal and can only be answered by you.

The reality is that none of us actually completely agree with every point of United Methodist Doctrine. I find that to be normal and healthy both for the individual and also for the church. For example, I do not like our stance on war and think that we handle divorce terribly. The whys are not important nor are they relevant to the question. The question is simply this: at what point do you disagree with The United Methodist church so much that you damage both yourself and the church by staying. This is not about your faith in Christ or any claim on salvation, it is exactly what I ask all of us to ponder and answer.

I submit it will not be over one or two things. If you do not find sex between two people of the same gender a sin and do not find marriage as one man and one woman, but in essence agree with the rest of church teachings, then I would not think that would be reason to leave, nor do I think that my issues with our stance on war and divorce is reason to leave either. I am talking about the big stuff. Take some time and look over The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church. Take a gander at the Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church. We have other standards that can be found here. Let’s just deal with the Articles and the Confession of Faith.

The things listed are the standards of the doctrine of the UMC. For the Articles of Religion, the UMC has this to say

These articles became the basic standards for Christian belief in the Methodist church in North America. First published in the church’s Book of Discipline in 1790, the Articles of Religion have continued to be part of the church’s official statement of belief.

Let that sink in while you examine. Official statement of belief. Those are heavy words, or at least they should be. On the Confession of Faith and the Articles of Religion together, the United Methodist Church has this to say

When The United Methodist Church was formed in 1968 from the union of several branches of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, both The Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith were adopted as basic statements of the Christian faith.

Let that sink in for a minute. Basic statements of the Christian faithThose are even weightier words and worthy of reflection but not the purpose of this blog. Let us confine ourselves to this corner of faith called the United Methodist Church.

How many do you think you can disagree with? Not have questions about, not wonder about, not try to over interpret them to mean something different than intended. How many can you disagree with and not be damaging to both yourself and the body? Damaging to yourself because you find yourself in constant conflict with the church that you claim to be a part of, and damaging to the body because if you are a hand and I am a foot, then we can not be separate. What damages you, damages me. Such is the beauty and also danger of the connection.

I want everyone to ask this, from the President of the Council of Bishops to the member getting ready to join. If it is a major thing, which really are what the articles and confession cover, and you have to say the church teaches this, but I believe…how many of those can you have? Should you not believe in the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, that both the OT and NT are authoritative and contain all necessary for salvation, and, that there is salvation outside of Christ? Can you believe such things? Of course, you can believe whatever you wish, that is not the question. the question is should you believe such things and still claim to be a United Methodist. How far away from an official statement of belief can you be and still, with any integrity, claim to be a part of it?

I want to make a note here about the local church. It matters. A lot. It is on the ground floor. Your local church was founded upon these beliefs or, at the very least, adopted them after the merger. Even if your concern does not extend beyond the walls of your local church, this question matters. If your local church is not expressing these beliefs, the question then applies to it as well.

Once done with the big questions, please start digging and look at the smaller ones as well. How much of the doctrine and teaching of the church can you disagree with and still, with integrity, stay apart of the United Methodist Church. Add those little things to the big ones. Examine what the church actually believes and if you can live with it. Put things in their proper perspective of big things and little things of course, but add them together.

I imagine that asking this of people, myself included, is not going to make me popular, but in truth I was not terribly popular anyway. I imagine that despite my being quite clear this is a call for personal examination, that I will be accused of witch hunting, heresy hunting, holding the keys to the kingdom, {insert favorite pejorative here}. If you get the time though, try it. Try examining how much you can disagree with and still consider yourself a United Methodist with integrity. We have all pretty much recognized that these are difficult times for our church and difficult times require difficult answers to difficult questions. One of those questions should be, for all of us, can I be a United Methodist…more importantly should I be.

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5 Replies to “The Tough Questions”

  1. Scott, I think you are raising some very important questions. Often times the very heart of the real issues isn’t one’s differing opinions on issues relating to sexuality but in the very core questions of our faith. If we cannot agree on those core issues such the ones you mentioned then our discussion on other issues are pointless.

    1. Thanks. Some have chosen to read it as me asking people to leave which is not at all the case. I myself am going through the very questions that I am asking others to.

  2. Sometimes people leave not because of doctrine but because of pastors who do not walk the walk and let their pride get in the way of being like Jesus.. We all fall short but somethings are more damaging

    1. Certainly. I think the root though is still doctrinal. If the pastor is following proper doctrine in his life he is still in the light.

  3. In this specific case, I agree with Scott: I have been assessing my relationship with the UMC since I joined the communion in the summer of 1960 when Andrea and I left GA for my graduate studies at UNC-CH. I was born into, and raised in, the Presbyterian communion at the First Presbyterian Church in LaGrange, GA. Andrea and I met and fell in love at LaGrange College, a Methodist-affliated institution. We married in the Lavonia, GA UMC one week after graduation.
    I was attracted to the UMC for three principle reasons: (1) Andrea is a lifelong Methodist, (2) I liked the Methodist social gospel, and (2) I resonated with UMC’s non-restrictive, for the most part at that time, theology and requirements for membership. When we became parents of two highly intelligent and outspoken daughters, the UMC’s stand on women was an additional attraction. (Andrea has long been active in the women’s ministry within the UMC.) I have, however, continued to assess whether I can remain an active and financially contributing member of the UMC. I’ve managed to overcome my reservations until recently, especially at the outcome of this year’s General Conference.
    Andrea suffered a serious stroke in Aug 2013 while we were on a family vacation in the Galapagos Islands—a small boat tour. Although she has made great progress in her recovery, the lingering effects of the stroke precipitated our move, in Oct 2015, to an excellent assisted living facility here in Austin where we have lived since 20010. We have been active members of Berkeley UMC, which is a short distance away from our former Austin home. We no longer regularly attend BUMC because the after effects of the stroke seriously impede Andrea’s ability to be away from the assisted living facility for a sufficient time to attend worship services.
    I am a certified Lay Speaker Servant in the UMC, and I facilitate the Sunday morning Protestant worship services at our facility. No, I do not often “preach” directly from my “liberal” theological perspective: The “congregants” want a different kind of “preaching” and I endeavor to provide what they want and what they appear to need.
    So far, therefore, I have remained within the UMC communion. Because of my dissatisfaction with the UMC stand on LGBTQ issues, I have redoubled my assessment to remain within the communion. I have decided to remain within the communion until the Bishops deliver their report and recommendations. I will reassess at that time.
    I have already paid our BUMC pledge for 2016. I pay up front in order to give the treasurer at BUMC a financial “cushion” while other pledges come in monthly. Unless circumstances within the UMC change, I will massively reduce our pledge to BUMC for 2017. My sense is that, even with this reduction, we will still be at the upper end of pledgers. I will direct the remainder of our pledge between a direct contribution to UMCOR and a more generous annual donation to LaGrange College. I will also continue, on suitable occasions, to “proclaim” my stance on LGBTQ issues and other trends in the UMC that I find frankly not only inconsistent with but opposed to the spirit of UMC theology and practice—in my considered opinion. I am gratified and comforted that many people share those opinions,
    I have embarked upon this course of action because I am not yet willing to withdraw from our communion but I am no longer willing for my financial support to indicate agreement with the current circumstances.

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