I am continuing to write about, and lament, the situation in the United Methodist Church. In the past I have written about the way forward, about the prophetic voice we need, about the failure of many of the Bishops in the UMC, and about the issues in the UMC over and over again. I have expressed hope, fear, concern, disgust, anger, and likely numerous other emotions as well. The point of this being what I am about to suggest did not occur over night, or even after a few days of thought, but after much time, prayer, cautious optimism, and eventual disappointment. I have expressed why I think the church is breaking up, but I was recently challenged to figure out what I thought it would take for the church to be able to stay together and retain it’s rich history, heritage, and theology. I thought long and hard and have come to a conclusion about what it will actually take. The good news is that it can be done at the called General Conference. The bad news is that it is even less likely to happen than the council of Bishops endorsed plans.
To understand why I think the plan is necessary, there needs to be a little bit of background. In the UMC Book of Discipline, the duties of the various offices and agencies of the church are spelled out. The duties of a Bishop are, in part, as follows: “As followers of Jesus Christ, bishops are authorized to guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church.” This is a general overview of what the are to do. Some more specifics are listed as well. There is, in a very real way, a feeling that the Bishops have failed in their duties. Oddly enough, that feeling is not limited to the traditionalists or the progressives, but seems shared by both, though the feelings are likely directed toward different bishops. No matter how to slice it, the Bishops, for decades, have failed, as a whole. Many of our Bishops are faithful and wonderful people, and I am thankful for them. Of this there is no doubt. What can not be denied though is that, as a whole, the Bishops have failed over and over again. It is time to stop lamenting this however, and time to do something about it. The called General Conference will give delegates that very opportunity.
In the Book of Discipline, there is a process for complaints, even against Bishops, outlined. That is not what I am proposing. The complaint process in the UMC has been used time and time again to avoid accountability and to avoid restoring clergy to the teachings of the church. It’s a sham. It hasn’t worked, and isn’t likely to start working unless discipline has some teeth to it and can be handled in good faith. What I am suggesting is far more drastic. From the Book of Discipline:
“Section II. General Conference
¶ 16. Article IV.—The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows:
5. To define and fix the powers, duties, and privileges of the episcopacy, to adopt a plan for the support of the bishops, to provide a uniform rule for their retirement, and to provide for the discontinuance of a bishop because of inefficiency or unacceptability.” (I have omitted the sections that were not relevant. For the sake of completeness, the full section may be found here. )
My proposal is simple, identify the Bishops that are not holding to the doctrine and discipline of the church, that speak and preach contrary to it, that on occasion from the pulpit at General Conference lie about what the position of the church is and claim it is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that are more concerned with the institution that we call the church than the Bride of Christ that is the church, and “discontinue them”. It seems to me that power lies with the General Conference and one is coming up after all. I make no claims to know how the nuts and bolts of such a thing would look, but it seems to me that it is possible.
Let me make my case. When a Bishop blatantly lies about the position of the church, from the pulpit, at General Conference, isn’t that a clue that they are unacceptable? When a Bishop writes a devotion (since removed) about Jesus overcoming His bigotry, (yes, that means that the Bishop called Jesus a bigot) isn’t that a clue that they are unacceptable? When a Bishop, whose qualifications are not up to the standards set b the UMC in the first place, is sheltered from the process that would remove the title by their jurisdiction, isn’t that a sign that said Bishop, and really the college that will not force the issue, ineffective? When Bishops talk about why the church must, and will, stay together, and all the can find to mention is money, isn’t that being more concerned with mammon than the Messiah? Isn’t that unacceptable? When the United Methodist church can not even decide what personal and social holiness looks like, one of the distinctive aspects (in theory anyway) of the Methodist church, what can that be seen as other than an abject failure to protect the doctrine of the church? There was a time this was not an issue after all.
The church is similar to the prostitute that Hosea is called to marry. Unfaithful, and often in need of our bridegroom to come and find us again, but married none the less. To many Bishops are, instead of modeling the bridegroom and his faithfulness, pimping out the church to whatever wind of doctrine seems to be acceptable to the masses that day. The church is the bride of Christ, not a prostitute for the Bishops to profit from and sell off spiritually bit by bit, until she has the form of religion but not the power. Identify the Bishops that are doing this. Remove them, not out of malice, or what will undoubtedly be claimed as a conservative takeover like the SBC, but out of love and respect for the Bride of Christ. The General Conference is the voice of the Bride of Christ (The United Methodist Branch of it at least), not the whore of bad Bishops. Rid the Bride of the vile pimps that sell our faith to any john who will buy so that the Bride may once again be presented blameless.