So Much For Doctrinal Integrity And Faithfulness To The Discipline
Faced with no good alternatives, the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference recently negotiated a wayfor its fastest-growing church to leave the denomination but keep the church property.
Theologically conservative Wesley United Methodist Church of Quarryville, Pennsylvania, is now simply Wesley Church, having in June paid the conference $100,000 for the church buildings and land, along with an additional $58,000 in other conference obligations. . . .
Bishop Peggy Johnson, who leads the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware conferences, said she tried and failed to get Wesley United Methodist Church to reconsider leaving.
After that, she said, negotiating made sense because of the specifics of the situation, including a nearly $4 million mortgage on the property. – Sam Hodges and Heather Hahn, “Fast Growing Church Leaves With Property”, United Methodist News Service, July 28, 2015
Well, it had to happen sooner or later. A combination of bad theology, a refusal to abide by the covenant of faith and Discipline of the United Methodist Church, ignorance and rejection of its doctrine, and a cult of personality around a pastor who has served far too long in a single charge have all led a congregation to leave the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, after a negotiation over property and other issues. To say that I’m not surprised but am angry about this turn of events would be correct. All the talk about faithfulness to The Book of Discipline, about the importance of doctrine, especially upholding our Doctrinal Standards is shown to be nothing but smoke and mirrors, a bunch of nonsense I have always maintained it to be. Rather than submit to the discipline of the Church, to act according to the vows the pastor made at ordination and the legal obligations of the Discipline, the Rev. Blake Deibler has encouraged teachings antithetical to the spirit and letter of the historic doctrine of the United Methodist Church; rather than accept that, while differences with the denomination are to be expected, he has actually heeded voices to leave the church; rather than accept the trust clause of the Discipline, the congregation paid a fraction of the value for the building and properties in order to continue to exist at the same spot.
For how many decades have we been hearing about the necessity of heeding our Articles of Religion, our Doctrinal Standards, and upholding The Book of Discipline? How many times have we read “leaders” in the denomination insist it is those among us who support full inclusion of sexual minorities who violate all these things, repeatedly and with impunity? How many of these same leaders protest their innocence when charged with supporting schism? All of it, every bit of it, has been shown for the lie is has always been. It’s about some folks believing themselves not beholden to our communal beliefs and practices; it’s about some folks accepting faulty doctrine, bad theology, and enjoying a cult of personality rather than rooting their theology in Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, always remembering that the Head of our church is Jesus Christ, not the pastor who’s been there for 22 years. To the good people of Wesley UMC, I bid a fond adieu and hope you enjoy your life among the Reformed Church.
What angers me most about this story is a bit offered by the authors toward the end.
The Rev. David Watson, a professor and dean at United Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Bill Arnold, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, have proposed a four-year suspension of the trust clause for churches at odds with the denomination’s Social Principle on sexuality. Under the proposal, such churches would be allowed to leave “with full ownership of their properties.”
Just last month, Watson insisted that neither he nor other “evangelicals” were in favor of schism. “The idea that evangelicals will vote the church into division at General Conference is simply unrealistic,” he wrote. Yet, this self-professed advocate for continued unity in the denomination – a Dean at one of our Seminaries! – wrote a year before that the rules of The Book of Discipline shouldn’t apply to some congregations. All through this earlier post, he insists his list of proposals are in defense of the unity of the denomination all the while they explicitly allow ease of schism, not least including suspension of the Trust clause for congregations who wish to leave. What little integrity he may have had, well . . . I don’t even know.
There are many questions still unanswered by the events in Pennsylvania, including Rev. Diebler’s status as an ordained clergy. Has he, or will he, surrender his credentials? Have his orders been recognized by the denomination into which he and his congregation have moved? And, this may sound needlessly and gratuitously vindictive, I have to ask just how trustworthy others should consider Rev. Diebler, taking a congregation that was not his to begin with out of a denomination to which he has vowed allegiance, accepting the good order and discipline of those appointed above him? What happens when he no longer has connectional resources to support him or his ministry? Is there, really, a matter of integrity involved in a person violating both his vows of ordination as well as the good order of a church that has nourished him, supported him, helped to educate him, acknowledged his call to the ministry of Jesus Christ, and offered him a place to serve for over two decades?
I have no idea if this action represents any kind of precedent, either in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the Northeast Jurisdiction, or the denomination as a whole. I do know that all the crap we’ve been hearing for so long is just what I and others have said it is – just that, crap. It is all lies, with which the self-serving self-righteous clothe themselves to hide the sad truth they earnestly believe being church is all about them, rather than bringing the Kingdom of God.