Creating A Crisis
So Good News has gone and done it. Yesterday, they released an unsigned statement insisting that schism is already a reality in the United Methodist Church, that our differences are such that reconciliation is impossible, and we should cleave in love.
Which is some of the most ridiculous stuff I’ve read in a long time. I especially love this:
[M]ore than 80 pastors and theologians have been involved in conversations about the future of The United Methodist Church. These pastors represent all five jurisdictions and more than 30 annual conferences, and many serve as lead pastors of some of the largest congregations in United Methodism. After several consultations via conference call and email, these leading pastors and theologians are issuing the following statement as a progress report on their deliberations.
Nothing says courage like refusing to put your name in public support of a position that you endorse. Now, there is a linked letter, written by Rev. Maxie Dunnam, and signed by three others – Charles Savage, Larry Baird, and Tom Harrison – but that’s five percent of the claimed eighty involved in these “conversations”. Another gem is the implied threat that some of the folks who are not named nevertheless represent some of the largest congregations in the denomination. The whole statement is typical Good News; long on nonsense, short on clarity, specificity, and certainly anything like doctrinal rigor, something the movement claims to represent.
Of the four bullet points, I will leave the first two alone, because these are complaints about process within different conferences within the United Methodist Church. Since there is no single process or penalty proscribed in the Discipline, I find that different Annual Conferences pursue these matters in different ways a sign that the Spirit is moving within the church. The desire for a punitive clerisy among the non-signatories shows their hand – this whole matter is about power, who holds it, and how it is exercised.
The third bullet point may well be my favorite, because it contradicts the very Discipline these non-signatories claim to be uphold:
- It is a crisis regarding the inspiration and the authority of the Scriptures, where some believe that, rightly understood, the Bible is the infallible word of God, and where others believe that significant parts of the Scriptures do not provide an accurate understanding of God’s heart and mind and may be discarded as uninspired and in error.
Paragraph 104, Section 3, of our Discipline is entitled “Our Doctrinal Standards And General Rules”. The subtitle is “The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church”, with the footnote that these are protected by Restrictive Rule 1, paragraph 17, which reads, “The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine.” Article V is entitled “Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation”.
The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
The rest of the Article lists the books of the Old and New Testament that have been traditional in Protestant Bibles since the 16th century.
Please notice the difference. Where do these folks get the claim of “infallible”? Certainly not the Discipline. I love the weasel words, “rightly understood”. How? By whom? For what purpose? That whole bullet-point is contrary to United Methodist History, Doctrine, Theology, and The Book of Discipline. It is a weapon, not a statement of faith. No one is disputing the authority of Scripture, as far as I know, except insofar as none of us “follow” the Scriptures as they are written. It is always a matter of interpretation, as the Discipline notes with the clause “nor may be proved thereby”. I also love the claim – yet again – that “others” insist the Scriptures “be discarded as uninspired and in error.” Who are these “others”? What have they written or said? Accusations like this, without evidence, are also par for the course for Good News. It would be nice if one of the non-signatories would produce something by a United Methodist clergyperson or theologian that said these things.
The last bullet point:
- It is a crisis of discipleship, where there are dramatic differences in how personal and social holiness is lived out and taught.
The insertion of the word “crisis” is so precious. Difference has become error. Difference in practice has become “dramatic”, leading to a crisis. Except, alas, what is at issue here is simple: how we treat sexual minorities, and how we minister to them, including whether United Methodist clergy should be permitted to perform weddings for same-sex couples in jurisdictions where these are legal. I’d hardly call this a “crisis of discipleship”. It is differences in discipleship, to be sure. Hardly worthy of the adjective “crisis”.
I do not doubt that a change in our official statements regarding the relationship of the United Methodist Church and sexual minorities will create all sorts of emotions, including anger, sadness, a sense of loss and betrayal, among many in our churches. Part of the task of clergy is to minister to the needs of all the people, including those who will be hurt when this change comes. The non-signatories to this Good News statement are not being very pastoral at all. On the contrary, they are using the anger and sadness to stir up some among the United Methodist Church to threaten to leave, including taking money meant for the mission and ministry of the Church to the world, creating a “crisis” where dialogue and, most of all, pastoral care would far better serve all the people of our churches.
The “crisis” is solely a creation of some who would willingly divide the Body of Christ rather than work together to serve it. This statement from Good News is all the proof we need. That, and the fact that not a single person engaged in any “discussions” was willing to place their name before the public in support of it. Regardless of how you, as reader, feel about the larger issue at hand, be aware that this statement from Good News, unsigned and contrary to both the letter and Spirit of the Book of Discipline, is an instrument creating a crisis, rather describing a crisis that already exists.