Of course all of the uproar over the last few days has been about Ginny Mikita, and her removal as a candidate for ordination and her being removed from membership in the UMC. As is often my habit, I am slow to comment in full on this due to taking the time to attempt to understand the full situation and what occurred. There was, of course, the expected vitriol from RMN and of course from Jeremy Smith who as of late has specialized in seeing and assuming the absolute worst in everyone and everything not “progressive, as was to be expected, they praised the “victim” and condemned those “victimizing” them. This is to be expected. I want to add my thoughts to the plethora of other thoughts out there and choose to do so in this form so that they are in one place and not spread all over various forums. Before that however, I want to make clear that I support the actions taken by the three pastors who wrote the letter that some have attributed this whole thing to. As we contemplate this and what is undoubtedly to come, keep in mind that these three did not make the rules that exist, they only chose to uphold them. Before you vilify them, remember that they are the ones who are holding true to their word and their vow. they are the ones who have taken seriously the call to let their yes be yes and their no be no. They are the ones who have called for order in an increasingly chaotic situation. On a personal note, thank you three should you happen to read this. You may not always be the type of leaders that we want, but you have demonstrated that you are the type of leaders that we need. Now, on with the show so to speak…
First, it appears to me that Ms. Mikita made a mockery of the ordination process. I am probably naive in this thinking, but I still do believe that being a pastor is a sacred calling, not a free online ordination. I do recognize the difference between someone who gets a free ordination to marry their friends etc., but there is little doubt here that this was a religious ceremony, not a civil change in tax status. Even so, the rule that resulted in her removal from the membership roles applies the same to all. Take that in or a second…the rule applies to all. This is not an ‘unfair’ or ‘unjust’ rule. It is a standard that the church has set that applies to every member, clergy or laity, equally. You do not have to like the rule, you can work to change the rule, or you may have been like me and not even known that the rule existed, but none of those things excuses you from the consequences of the action that you took. There is a larger problem at work here though…a much larger problem.
Ms. Mikita chose to be ordained through the Universal Life Church. Now I may be mistaken here, if so, hopefully someone with more knowledge of UMC policy will read and correct me, but when you accept ordination as a UMC pastor, you have accepted the rule and authority of the church. A pastor performs the rite of marriage with the authority of God, as understood by their particular denomination. The right of marriage is performed by the authority of the state. For a pastor however, both of these things, the rite and the right, are performed in conjunction with one another and can not be separated. Again, this points to the religious nature of the ceremony. Those who seek to defend Ms. Mikita insist that she obtained this online ordination for the specific reason of performing the marriage. As a candidate for ministry I trust that she understood that she was not only performing a right conferred by the state, but also a rite under the authority of the sanctioning body, in this case, the Universal Life Church. It becomes important I feel to examine then what the beliefs of said church are as that is the authority that she chose to invoke. This is a link to the organization that provided Ms. Mikita with her credentials.
First, it should be noted that the church in question is universalist in it’s orientation. It believes that all religions, including atheism, are of equal value and truth. This is, contrary to the beliefs of some, not compatible with our articles of religion in the UMC. Secondly, the organization does not recognize any authority by the church. As they say “Unlike other international churches our size, we will never ask our ULC ministers or congregants to bow before us or kiss our rings and we steadfastly reject the idea that a church’s members should be made to obey the commands of any central leadership structure — we are all equal.” When you combine this with other statements that they make such as “We have made it our mission to actualize these tenets in the world by empowering millions of ministers, whether they come to us from a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Shinto, Agnostic, Atheist, Pagan, Wiccan, or Druid tradition, to speak their own truth to power.” So, no central authority or accountability, and the goal is for each individual to speak their own truth. This is not a faith concerned with the unchanging truth of God, and is instead only concerned with the ever changing truth of men. It is little more than claiming authority that is rightly God’s. Seems that there is a commandment about that. This in no way resembles anything near Christianity, yet this is the authority that Ms. Mikita claimed when she chose to be ordained by them, and also the same authority that was called upon to perform the marriage rite.
It all ends up boiling down to this…we have an authority problem. Somehow we have not yet grown out of our rebellious teenage stage and insist on rejecting any and every authority that we can. We can have membership in the UMC, but without respect for it’s authority, we may as well sign up with the Universal Life Church as that is what we are acting like. When we reject the authority of the church we rely instead on our own authority. Yes, I know, God is the ultimate authority and rightly so, but the church is the way in which His authority is expressed today. It is not perfect, it has been wrong, and it probably will be wrong again before the second coming of Christ, but that does not negate the reality that if we reject the authority and teachings of the church, we are setting ourselves up as a religion of one. Obviously Ms. Mikita does not agree with the UMC position on same sex marriage, and that is her right. I imagine that she would have done what she could to try and change it, and that is also her right, as it is the right of all of us to try and bring about changes through the process that is in place. What concerns me is the stunning lack of willingness to submit to any form of authority and somehow to expect to be able to do that with out consequence. I do not think that Ms. Mikita paid a lot of attention to what the Universal Life church believed when she received her ordination through them. I don’t even think that she thought about the reality that by accepting their ordination, she was acting with their authority. (I am freely admitting to making an assumption here.) That is ultimately what concerns me. The authority that she accepted (knowingly or not) was decidedly not inline with the beliefs of the church that she claimed membership in, yet she was stunned to find out that accepting religious authority outside of the church in an official capacity would result in her (knowingly or not) forfeiting her membership. Our issues, and the inability to solve them, results not from differing opinions or theologies, but from a lack of understanding and respect for authority. If this incident has anything to teach us, it is that.