Fighting That Which Doesn’t Exist

I have used my imagination to create the unusual meeting between Judas and the resurrected Christ as both an exercise in theological reflection and as a literary device to involve the reader.  The exercise is not meant to be frivolous, however, but an attempt to explore in a new and relevant way the depth of the grace and mervy of God in Jesus Christ revealed for all persons.  My attempt is to question and to “think in  Jesus Christ,” as my own theological mentor, Thomas F. Torrance, likes to say.(emphasis added)- Ray S. Anderson, The Gospel According to Judas, p. viii.


A force that draws a body away from center? Wow. We have a lot of those.  All those boards and agencies, all those programs, teams, and sub-sub-committees, each vying for attention, energy, and resources. – Drew McIntyre, “Centrifugal Forces In The Church,” United Methodist Insight, February 26, 2015


Centrifugal Force, in physics, the tendency of an object following a curved path to fly away from the center of curvature. Centrifugal force is not a true force; it is a form of inertia (the tendency of objects that are moving in a straight line to continue moving in a straight line). Centrifugal force is referred to as a force for convenience—because it balances centripetal force, which is a true force. – science.howstuffworks


I asked the question back in October: Are we United Methodists adults?  It popped in to my head again reading Drew McIntyre’s latest.  Not only because he seems convinced that it is impossible for the United Methodist Church to do all sorts of things because all these things pull us from our center, which is Jesus Christ.  He uses the analogy of centrifugal force as part of his picture.  He even uses the Wikipedia definition of centrifugal force in his article.

If he knew anything about physics, however, or looked beyond Wikipedia, he might have had at least a second thought before doing so.  See, even a high school physics student knows that centrifugal force isn’t real.  Oh, I know, we all “feel it”; as Drew notes, fairground rides are rooted in it, am I right?  Doesn’t make it any more real than Santa Claus.  As an actual science website notes, it is just a manifestation of inertia in objects moving along a curve.  See, the actual force for such objects, called centripetal force, is to move toward the center.  If Drew knew his Newton, he would understand that inertia is the tendency of objects in motion, to remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by another force (or the tendency of an object at rest to remain at rest unless acted upon by a force sufficient to move it).  Centrifugal force is just the inertia objects moving along a curved path experience when centripetal force pulls them toward the center.

So he’s using something that doesn’t actually exist as an analogy for what ails the United Methodist Church.  And, really, that in and of itself is the best, most perfect analogy I could come up with.  I mean, really, I wish I’d thought of it, but I do have to give credit where credit is due: Rev. Drew McIntyre, you managed to write an article that demonstrates everything that is wrong with all those who refuse to acknowledge the need for drastic changes in our denomination, and not just regarding our policy toward sexual minorities.  The fact of the matter is, all the things of which you speak, from the need for a renewed focus on doctrine to a renewed focus on Jesus to a renewed focus on how to read the Bible – none of these things are any more real than centrifugal force.  They are, rather, inertia disguised as movement and pressure to move in a particular direction, movement and pressure that in fact is not there at all.

I used the quote from the preface to Ray Anderson’s The Gospel According To Judas because I believe it is important to recall that all we do in the church, from committees to missions to all those other things Drew claims pull us away from the center, are actually thought and lived in the resurrected Jesus Christ.  Unless, of course, Drew believes the Holy Spirit, the subjective presence of the Risen Christ in the lives of believers and the movement of the Church, is somehow excluded from meetings and programs and even forces outside the Church moving it toward a more just, Biblical, Christ-centered faith.

I would submit that Drew’s entire piece, flawed by ignorance of what centrifugal force is (or rather, is not, i.e., that it’s not real), demonstrates the emptiness of so much of what passes for argument among a certain segment of our United Methodist brothers and sisters.  Somehow, they insist, the God who created the Universe cannot keep our distracted and still sinful lot centered on Christ, even as we wish to wander away.  Somehow, despite St. Paul’s admonition that all things work together for good for those with faith in the God of the Risen Jesus Christ, these folks – here represented by Rev. Drew McIntyre – just don’t have faith enough to believe we in the Church can do all sorts of things, because a non-existent force might pull us away from our center.  If he only understood that in fact the real force always pulls toward the center, he might perhaps understand we can do all sorts of things from carry on missions to have meetings and set up study committees to reform our denomination’s approach to gender and sexual justice, all the while remaining centered in Jesus Christ, as T. F. Torrance instructed one of his proteges.

So I’m not all that worried by all the busyness of the United Methodist Church.  For one thing, we are adults who can actually do several things, and well, all the while remaining in the faith that calls us, saves us, and perfects us in and through Jesus Christ.  And since the “forces” the might pull us apart don’t actually exist, I’m even less worried, particularly since Drew seems to be so concerned about something that just doesn’t do anything because it isn’t real.


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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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