It’s Almost Like I Was Right
In our own West Ohio Conference, we are dedicated to organizing lay and clergy leadership to initiate reform with the aim of creating more effective and efficient local churches, district and conference ministries. We also are engaging in the necessary work to send to General and Jurisdictional Conference, clergy and lay delegates who have been both effective and creative in local church ministry and who appreciate the diversity of our denomination. Finally, we want to elect bishops who put politics aside and make their highest priority thriving local churches of every type and stripe with the purpose of making disciples who change the world. – Platform Of “The United Methodist Centrist Movement”
What lies behind all this is a distaste for politics in the church.
Discussions, arguments, positioning prior to actually considering legislation, presenting the public with alternatives – this is all part of politics. Sometimes, it can get downright nasty, especially when people feel as passionately as they do about something like their faith and the Church in which they practice and live out their faith. While I refuse to reduce the realities to “extremes” versus those far more sober, orthodox, middle-of-the-roaders, there is little doubt that the nub of the matters before us as United Methodists is, indeed who controls our church. And there is nothing wrong with that. . . .
Church politics are like anything and everything else in the Church – a vehicle for God’s will to become known and lived. Yes, politics can get nasty. Arguments can get heated and not always follow the niceties some would prefer. To insist one is above or between the extremes, thus outside the give and take and push and pull of politics is both to fool oneself and to offer others a vision of Church life that never has been and never can be. The pursuit of Church practice and polity always includes politics. Yet, if we are faithless enough to refuse to pray for and see the presence of the Holy Spirit even here as all sides, not just the extremes struggle both to have their voices heard and to get their positions part of Church life, then we might as well hang up our stoles, desacralize our buildings, and find something else to do. If we are so weak in our faith that we would rather imagine ourselves outside the all too human politics of Church life, then how is it possible to proclaim the Good News, if we do not trust it enough in our common life?
Church politics isn’t a test of faith. It’s a practice of faith. Accept that, and so much of the dross can be discarded. – Me, “And Another Thing”
Nothing cheers my heart more than to read a “Manifesto” or “Platform” as they prefer to call it, that describes itself as “centrist”, opposed to politics, then demanding radical, fundamental change in the structure, ministries, and accountability of the Church, in the name of “effectiveness” and “efficiency”. It’s like some folks read a couple graduate level management textbooks and created a model for “church” that somehow left out the whole “grace” and “Holy Spirit” part of the process. Personally, I love the idea that bishops – and by extension, cabinets – could, would, or should set aside “politics” in the appointment process. Political reasons are as legitimate as any other to consider in making appointments; to insist that our Conference decision-makers somehow do something that no human organization has ever done, and certainly no church should ever do as long as it embraces a theology of incarnation.
There is literally nothing in this “Platform” that makes sense theologically, pastorally, historically. It is a desire to end arguments and debates and create some kind of administrative mechanism that ignores the realities of deep divisions over theologies of human being, human sexuality, grace, salvation, and the Church. It asks for a cap on apportionments lower than the current rate, which might work in the short run, but would starve much needed ministries and mission work in the long run. It disrupts the basic connectional nature of the denomination, while disbanding our most fundamental and important institution – General Conference – because it is large, ungainly, occasionally dysfunctional, and doesn’t always represent the will at least of a non-vocal plurality. Nothing represents the disingenuousness of so-called centrism than a demand for Constitutional change in the name of efficiency and against democracy. Nothing is more anti-democratic than the demand for an “end” to politics in the name of efficiency.
Nothing is more authoritarian, unaccountable, and a formula not so much for mediocrity as for failure as the demand that real humans, real churches, not enter into the consideration of the ministerial and episcopal decision-making process. Precisely because “ineffective clergy”, “clergy-killer congregations”, and other such terms go undefined – perhaps a project to be completed later? – the smell of the most dread word “politics” is all over this document. Who decides who is and is not effective? These are arguments and decisions through which we went in the run-up to 2012 and no one liked the allegedly “non-political” criteria of effectiveness? Why are some churches labeled “clergy-killer”, when it might well be the person serving that particular congregation just isn’t a good fit – because cabinets are human institutions and make mistakes?
I could go on and on, but the point, I hope, is clear enough. The plan set forth in this document is not only unworkable, impossible from a human and theological standpoint, and steers the church toward authoritarianism and away from mutual accountability in the name of ridding ourselves of the messiness of “politics”, the nastiness of some of our discussions. Most of all, it sets aside our very real connectional nature for some alternative that would, in the end, leave us little better than Mars Hill Church in Seattle. We see how well that worked out, didn’t we? An effective pastor, with diffuse accountability structures, in which politics was set aside in the name of “success” in preaching the Gospel and getting butts in to the pews.
I said it before, as you’ll notice above, and I’ll say it again: Politics isn’t a challenge to faith. It’s a practice of faith. And as Winston Churchill noted, democracy is the worst form of government (including church government) except for all the others.