Yesterday I wrote a bit about the statement by the central conference Bishops and have read numerous comments on my piece as well as other pieces across a variety of sources. I am not going to quote people nor am I going to identify anyone, but I am going to comment on some of the worst things that were brought up. I want to make clear that there were many positive comments (even those that did not agree) and with any luck I will be able to get at some of those at a later date.
The first idea brought up and the one that honestly bothered me the most was money and along with it accusations of bigotry. Specifically the idea was brought up that they (I assume the central districts) need to step up and start paying their bills. I wonder if those who think along these lines feel the same way about the Western Jurisdiction here in the US? (We are not even talking about the beliefs and teachings that have come out of the West, just the monetary aspects.) But I digress…the idea is terrifying to me. Should somehow the voice of a Bishop be tied to the money he generates? Do we really want to establish a church where the wealthy are the only voice? The common refrain from those often more left leaning than I is to provide and care for those in need, to be a voice for those who are not heard, yet when voices are raised that represent the poor, the marginalized, the displaced by terrorism and war, money is somehow involved? Last time I checked the ministry of Jesus was not exactly self sustaining, it relied on faith, miracles, and the giving of those who could. (Thank you women of faith who kept it going) If only the wealthy have a voice, we just silenced Jesus…think on that.
Bigotry was brought up as well. I was pretty impressed about that really. I generally have no problem saying some pretty inflammatory things, but calling a conference of several African Bishops bigots is rough. Just imagine the outcry if I had called any group of 12 African American religious leaders bigots for a second. It is a cheap shot often thrown at anyone who believes that sex between two people of the same gender is sinful. Yes, I do realize that there is bigotry in the world, but to assume it out of hand is not just irresponsible and in poor taste it is flat out rude. Shouldn’t we really be thinking the best of each other. The net effect here is that if you happen to agree with these Bishops, or even believe that the BoD should be followed as our leadership has vowed, you are a bigot. I refuse to believe that the majority of United Methodists, the majority of Christians really, who by their denominational standards believe sex between two people of the same gender is sinful, are bigots. If you happen to believe that they are, I humbly submit that your outlook on the world is pretty grim and you should go out of your way to seek some beauty in life. But really, “you disagree with me on a theological point, you must be a bigot!” is what you have? As Luther might say, if you honestly believe this way, you are a fart-ass.
Another suggestion was made by several people that the Central Jurisdiction Bishops were causing young people to run away from the Western Church. To this I will attach the idea some have put forward that the African UMC is trying to tell the American UMC what to do and how to do it based on their cultural ideas. First of all, yes, people are leaving the church, that is not news nor is it new. In the UMC it has been going on since the 1970’s. The Christian groups that are growing however are evangelical and/or charismatic…both of those groups are traditionally theologically conservative. Does that mean that is the way to go? No clue, but I do not for a second believe that there is one thing causing a decline in the Western church, and certainly not a statement from the Central Bishops that those not involved in the UMC are likely to read. It is just another cheap shot that can not be backed up in any way. As to the idea that the African church is telling the American church what to do…that idea is about 2/3 of our problem (and maybe more). There is not an African UMC, or an Asian UMC or even an American UMC, there is the UMC. Our very polity says that there is one voice that speaks for the denomination, not several. The quicker we quit trying to find ways to separate ourselves, the better off we will be. None of us are required to like the decisions that our GC makes, but it is one voice speaking to all of us, not many voices that we get to pick and choose from. Some people don’t like that system and wish to see it changed, but until such time this is the reality and we should embrace it and work with it. The question has been asked why only one voice before and will be again. Why one voice? So that we can actually hear. After all Jesus only spoke with one voice as well, and that seemed to work.
One person mentioned something about the Bishops comparing homosexuality to sex slavery….I have no idea where that came from, but near as I can tell it relies on a very poor understanding of the English language.
Of course, as can be expected, the issues of slavery, women pastors, and even the curse of Ham were brought up because Christians used to support those things in their understanding of scripture. The argument, near as I can tell, is because Christians have gotten things wrong over the years, they have this wrong too. That is terrible logic really. You were wrong once, now you will of course be wrong again whenever I say so. To provide an extreme example, one that is admittedly my favorite, Christians have universally recognized heroin addiction as unhealthy and wrong. I think they are wrong because after all Christians once supported slavery.
There were also the harbingers of doom. 2016 will be the end of the UMC as we know it! Well, that would mean that the UMC were going to suddenly switch to support same sex marriages and ordination of practicing homosexuals. That is unlikely. It could also mean that pastors and Bishops were held to greater accountability in what they teach and mark a return to our doctrinal standards of faith. That would be wonderful, but is equally unlikely. Really, if the UMC fails, it will be because that is for some reason God’s plan, or we finally managed to push God out. One or the other. Either way, 2016 is not likely to be the end of things. Reminds me of another date and an approaching meteor…something about a rapture and the immediate end of things.
Much was made about some ugly things said at the last GC. They were said, of that there can be no doubt. A couple of things here. I am not aware that any of the signing Bishops actually said anything out of bounds and it is unfair to judge them for what another has said. Shall we judge all who support full inclusion by the statements and actions of Love Prevails for example? Judge not unless you don’t like the theological position of someone, then not only judge, but slander away. It is sad.
These ideas were common across those who I communicate with both in social media and in the real world were people still do communicate face to face. They were not things brought up by just one person, (except where noted) but things common to those who took issue with the Bishops’ statement. As I said there were positive comments (not always in agreement) with what was said as well and that was encouraging. I hope to get to them tomorrow. These ideas though…this is not what leadership looks like, but it is what a zero sum all or nothing game looks like. The Bishops plead for unity based upon our common faith and BoD, and asked us to rally around those displaced, praying now, and at the GC, for them and their safety. These ideas are not at all in line with what they have asked us to do. Saying that you want unity, but then refusing to follow the leadership pleading for the same is counter productive. Saying that you want unity then complaining it is not unity your way, is not a call for unity, but a call for dictatorship. As I said in the post regarding their statement, it remains to be seen if our hands and feet will listen to the head…from the conversations I have had, it has become obvious that at least our mouths are not.