Tag Archive | Dr. David Watson

The Prayer Cop Out

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. – James 1:22-26

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Violence seems to be the order of the day in our country. Reports of shootings are ever more commonplace. We cast about for solutions, but none seems to be forthcoming. We ask for new laws, and laws can change behavior, but they cannot change hearts. Only Christ can change hearts, and he does this by the power and work of the Holy Spirit. . . .

Thirty days of praying for peace and reconciliation….Will you join me? It won’t take very long. Can you think of a better way to spend a few minutes of each day? – Dr. David Watson, “Thirty Days Of Prayer For Peace And Reconciliation”,  Musings And Whatnot, Aug 27, 2015

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Few things are as important as reconciliation. Few reconciliations are accomplished by people sitting around and praying about it.

Few things are as important as reconciliation. Few reconciliations are accomplished by people sitting around and praying about it.

It might seem more than a little odd to read someone who claims the Christian faith to call prayer a “cop out”. What about “pray without ceasing?”; even the Epistle from James reads, in chapter 5, verse 16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” How dare I say that prayer is a cop out, to write that nothing is accomplished by prayer!

Except, of course, I’m not “calling” prayer “a cop out”. I am, rather, pointing to a particular piece of writing, linked above, in which readers are invited to spend thirty days in prayer for peace and reconciliation. Both personal and social it would seem, at least from the opening paragraph. We are reminded just how difficult reconciliation is. We are told that real forgiveness – of ourselves, of those we consider “enemies” – is only possible through the power of God. The opportunity to spend even just a few moments each day in prayer for peace and reconciliation is offered.

There’s not a single word that even hints at the following sentence: “And when you’re done praying, get up off your asses, contact the person with whom reconciliation is needed, and get busy.” Or, perhaps: “Say ‘Amen’, then get together with folks who want sensible gun legislation; who want to work to fix the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.” Just . . . 30 days of prayer.

Should I assume, perhaps, that action follows on prayer? I would except the powerlessness and helplessness of human beings in the face both of social injustice and violence as well as interpersonal conflict is presented as nearly insurmountable. Yes – through prayer, we may indeed find the strength to do what needs to be done. Offering 30 Days Of Prayer For Peace And Reconciliation without offering 30 Days Of Action Toward Peace And Reconciliation is a bit like telling the poor, hungry, homeless person “Go in peace!” (James 2:16).

As Wesleyans, we believe ourselves to be co-workers through and with the Spirit both for making disciples as well as for the transformation of the world. This Spirit is the Spirit of Life, the Holy breath of God that moved the first human beings to live, that blew across the primordial chaos bringing light and Creation. We are not just a praying people, although Lord knows we do indeed need to do that. What we do not need to do is accept an invitation only to prayer. We need, rather, 30 Days Of Prayer And Action For Peace And Reconciliation: Spend time in prayer each day to be reconciled with God, with our fellow Christians, with those toward whom we may feel anger or enmity. Then get up, walk out the door, and get busy reconciling. Get busy being peace makers. I’m not denying that real peace and forgiveness and reconciliation comes through the presence of the Spirit; I’m only saying if that Spirit isn’t prompting you to act right now, despite strong emotions and overwhelming obstacles, then perhaps the first thing for which you need to be praying is a clean heart, reconciled to God.

One final note. Presenting us as helpless without the Spirit in the face of a social issue like gun violence is absurd. Solutions abound; political corruption and cowardice, combined with our current poisoned political atmosphere, make any action on any vital national issue impossible. Saying that law don’t change hearts, if followed to its logical conclusion, is counsel to inaction. After all, why have laws for murder, since we know people are going to commit murder? Laws against theft obviously offer no deterrent because the hearts of thieves aren’t changed. Whether or not laws change hearts is not the issue: Changing laws to reduce violence, to increase justice, for a more fair society really do reduce violence, increase justice, and make for a more fair society.

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God Will Carry On The Divine Work

Generally, when these truths, justification by faith in particular, were declared in any large town, after a few days or weeks, there came suddenly on the great congregation, — not in a corner, at London, Bristol, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in particular, — a violent and impetuous power, which,

Like mighty wind or torrent fierce, Did then opposers all o’er-run.

And this frequently continued, with shorter or longer intervals, for several weeks or months. But it gradually subsided, and then the work of God was carried on by gentle degrees; while that Spirit, in watering the seed that had been sown, in confirming and strengthening them that had believed,

Deign’d his influence to infuse, Secret, refreshing as the silent dews.

And this difference in his usual manner of working was observable not only in Great Britain and Ireland, but in every part of America, from South to North, wherever the word of God came with power.

Is it not then highly probable, that God will carry on his work in the same manner as he has begun That he will carry it on, I cannot doubt; however Luther may affirm, that a revival of religion never lasts above a generation, — that is, thirty years; (whereas the present revival has already continued above fifty;) or however prophets of evil may say, “All will be at an end when the first instruments are removed.” There will then, very probably, be a great shaking; but I cannot induce myself to think that God has wrought so glorious a work, to let it sink and die away in a few years. No: I trust, this is only the beginning of a far greater work; the dawn of “the latter day glory.” – John Wesley, “The General Spread Of The Gospel”

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There is an unfortunate myth floating about that evangelicals want to divide the UMC. The fact of the matter is, I know a lot of evangelicals, and while a few of them really want division, the vast majority want us to work out our differences and move forward without any kind of major separation of the denomination. If the majority of evangelicals wanted to divide the church badly enough, they would do so. As we have seen with the Episcopal Church, property and pensions cannot hold a denomination together. – Dr. David Watson “The Myth of Evangelical Divisiveness”, Musings And Whatnot, June 15 2015 (emphasis added)

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Of the many things that frustrate me about the current dialogue in the United Methodist Church, few things get me more riled than the way labels are tossed around without thought. As the above quote from Dr. David Watson of United Theological Seminary shows, “evangelical” has come to mean a particular group within our denomination, a label that sets them over and against those obviously not evangelical. I am part of a group on Facebook calling itself “Progressive Methodists”, a name that confounds me in many ways. We would all be better served if we tossed labels aside and agreed, at the very least, on some basic identifiers about being United Methodist.

The first and most important is that we United Methodists are, and have been since the days of John Wesley and Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke (referred to as “the Father of Methodist Missions“, dying in what is now known as Sri Lanka on a missionary journey) an Evangelical denomination. As John Wesley himself makes clear in the above sermon, we spread the Gospel, sometimes in power, sometimes in the simple practice of being who we are; whether it’s a revival meeting or the mundane administration of the Church, what marks us as those who follow in the footsteps of John Wesley is our commitment as a body to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Our mission statement is Evangelical, rooted in the Great Commission, making us heralds of the Kingdom. For Watson and others to make of the name something that sets them apart from others among us in our denomination is theologically ignorant and unnecessarily politically divisive.

The labels we use as identifiers within our Church – evangelical, progressive, liberal, traditionalist – are all words that have meanings. Unfortunately, they are not the meanings those who are just a bit too quick to use them believe them to be. If one is a United Methodist, then one is by definition Evangelical. That is who we are. That is what it is to be a United Methodist. To be a United Methodist, however, is also to be progressive. We work for the forward movement of the Gospel, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. That automatically makes us workers in the fields where those who have nothing are seeking something. We offer the naked clothing; we offer the lonely hospitality and community; we offer the hungry food; we name our brothers and sisters whom the world deems inhuman beloved children of God. That is what it means to spread the Gospel.

To be a Christian who adheres to Liberal Theology is to be one committed to a refusal to sacrifice the intellect. Liberal Theology’s great gift to the Church is the critical spirit that has opened up our past and future. From the first historical critics of the Bible; from Friederich Schleiermacher’s Christ-centered insistence on faith being an orientation to God granted as a gift from God; to the Personalist Philosophy of turn of the 20th century Methodists and the great flowering of mid- and late-20th century protest, process, and post-modern theologies, Liberal Theology has kept alive the intellectual rigor so necessary to “faith seeking understanding”.

Traditionalist/fundamentalist Christianity returned our eyes and ears to the Bible; to the centrality and necessity of the Word as the primum inter pares when it comes to authority. While Barth began that movement within streams of neo-orthodox and crisis theologies, here in the US, it was the fundamentalists and traditionalists who have reminded us that the canon is not only the body of writings but the rule by which truly faithful Christian theology is measured.

To be a United Methodist, then is to be evangelical, progressive, Liberal, and a traditionalist. They are ours by birthright, our history, and our traditions. We are not divided by these labels. They unite us, mark us as The People called Methodist who trust the work begun through us in the Spirit will be completed in God’s good time. I pray for our understanding that all of us and each of us will grab hold of these words in the fullness of their meaning as the special identifiers for who we are and what we do.

Building Up

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.’ Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. – 1 Corinthians 8

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Newark's Episcopal Bishop Mark Beckwith hugging a woman outside Newark's Penn Station

Newark’s Episcopal Bishop Mark Beckwith hugging a woman outside Newark’s Penn Station

After I wrote yesterday’s post I got thinking about the tensions inherent in a position such as the United Methodist District Superintendent. When Lisa began her appointment, I thought of the position as roughly akin to corporate middle management with all the headaches that entails. Over the past couple years, however, my mind has changed. It isn’t at all like “middle management”. While certainly existing within the tensions from above and below, unlike corporate managers, Superintendents in the United Methodist Church also exist within networks not only of prayer, but far more important, the bonds of Christian love and fellowship that tie clergy to clergy, congregation to congregation, Bishop to local church, and local Church to our global church. Rather than cursed with unwinnable and untenable struggles, District Superintendents are blessed to be the face of that thing local churches far and wide keep hearing about – “The United Methodist Church”. Rather than not having a congregation to serve, Lisa serves nearly 70 of them, the clergy and laity the largest she may ever serve. With all the drama and politics, all the headaches and complaints, all the sorrow and joy, in a very real sense the Rockford District is her congregation.

Of course, my perception is limited. This is her approach to the position: the Administrative work is always in service to the larger goal of carrying on the mission and ministries of the churches in the District; addressing the needs both of the congregations and clergy, the other Superintendents and the Bishop, are little different except in scale, from those clergy face dealing with various factions, committees, and constituencies within the local church; always making clear to all parties that she both has the backs of the congregations on the District as well as her colleagues and Bishop helps keep her both in the thick of things as well as a voice apart that can help smooth out rough edges and calm frayed nerves. I have always had respect for the Superintendents under whom Lisa has served, both because of who they were and the office. Now, I have an even deeper respect for both because to do this job, one need remember what St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

The whole of chapter 8 of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is an example of the Superintendency at work. The congregation has issues – boy, does it have issues – and it becomes difficult to discern an answer when Scripture seems unclear on how to proceed. The law against idolatry is very clear; does that mean, however, that sitting in a pagan temple and eating food offered to idols is forbidden? What if one understands that the idols are not gods at all, making the food offered to them just food? Does that mean that person, in the maturity of his or her faith, can eat in a pagan temple?

St. Paul’s response begins with a gentle rebuke to those who seem to believe that, having some kind of “knowledge” that gives them special indulgence, there is no harm done by continuing to fraternize with their pagan friends in their temples. Throughout the chapter, St. Paul seems to agree with the position that eating food sacrificed to idols is fine. Salvation coming through faith after all, it doesn’t hurt the person who does so, and refraining from doing so adds no beneficence.

Still, St. Paul isn’t all that impressed with folks who claim such knowledge. Of more importance than such knowledge is the love members of the congregation should have for one another. Acknowledging the lack of clarity in Scriptures, St. Paul understands the matter to be of little consequence. At the same time, he understands some within the congregation are scandalized by those who continue to act as if they are still believers in pagan gods. Rather than promote either some strict adherence to some principle that, well, just isn’t that clear; or insisting that those who don’t understand simply accept that what some folks are doing is OK whether they feel it is or not; rather than either of these alternatives, St. Paul offers something very different.

Folks in the Corinthian church should love one another. Not some sappy, huggy emotion. They should love in the ways St Paul describes later in the letter, in Chapter 13. Out of care and concern, folks should be considerate of the feelings of others, living their lives not from whatever knowledge they possess, but from the love we all share from Jesus Christ. If some in the congregation are scandalized by others eating in a pagan temple, it’s far better not to do so. Not because those who do so are committing a sin. Rather, because those doing so are creating unnecessary stumbling blocks for others. Knowledge doesn’t matter in the end. Only love matters.

Such advice, I think, needs to flow from Superintendents across the country to those who demand conformity to an orthodoxy that is neither universal nor eternal. It needs to be given to Seminary professors who seem to believe unity in Christ is adherence to words about Christ rather than the Person who has died and is risen, the Savior whose love holds us forever. This advice needs to be offered to those who insist the Bible is clear in its prohibitions regarding same-sex love and marriage. This advice needs to be given to those who insist the Scriptures aren’t so clear if we take a critical look at the Scriptures in question. Remember: Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.

We need Superintendents like St. Paul who insist that love rather than some knowledge or understanding, some tradition or set of doctrines, should be our guide through the thickets of our struggles. Our unity is not rooted in human words; our leaders are not those with knowledge or understanding; our brokenness will not be healed by appeals to this or that understanding of obscure and unclear Scriptures.

District Superintendents are in the unique position to offer love not just in words but through their example to the clergy and congregations under their care. Particularly in matters where neither Scripture nor tradition seem to offer a way forward, no DS could do better than to remind everyone that our overriding principle is love. Heard in faith, lived in hope, this love is at the heart of who we are together as Christians. This is how Superintendents, like St. Paul, are the tangible face of that all-too-abstract idea of our universal Church.

Was Paul Crucified For You?

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:10-14

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Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.


Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. – Philippians 2:3-13

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The problem with claiming unity in Christ goes back to the matter of theological pluralism,as I have argued before. The simple fact of the matter is that we don’t all confess these truths about Christ. – Dr. David Watson, “Unity In Christ?”, Musings and Whatnot, August 2, 2015

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The descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Did the Spirit bring doctrine along? I can't remember if that's in Acts 2 or not.

The descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Did the Spirit bring doctrine along? I can’t remember if that’s in Acts 2 or not.

The incessant demand that we in The United Methodist Church all assent to doctrine before we truly become “United” is getting more than tiresome. It does, however, need to be addressed both in love and with clarity. Denying that we are united by the words we say or the things we think about Jesus, God, etc. is not to say that doctrine is unimportant. On the contrary, doctrine is the church’s continually evolving sense of what it believes, which defines who it is. Precisely because the time and place and collective language are always changing, however, we must always be aware that doctrine is always changing, because our collective sense of our own identity is always changing. None of this means that the Gospel has changed, or that the Spirit has left the Church, or that innovation is a mark of heresy. It is what it is: We in the Church are always reflecting on our sense of Scripture; allowing it to interpret our experience, as well as allowing our experience to enlighten our hearts when reading Scripture; we discover new things about our collective tradition that offer insights we might not have had before; reason graced by the Holy Spirit moves through this person or that person, offering new ways to think about God.

Even if there are those who would dismiss what I just wrote, we should always remember that confessing the faith in English is not confessing the faith in French is not confessing the faith in Hindi is not confessing the faith in Russian is not confessing the faith in koine Greek. These languages are all too human, all too historical constructs, each different. Speaking words in one have no exact equivalent in any of the others. To claim that our collective confession in either the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed provides unity pretends that language, at least language about God, has some essential quality that all other language does not have. Isn’t it more fruitful for faith to acknowledge our unity in the Spirit, and to hear in the words of the Creeds spoken in different tongues the possibilities of different insights, different ways of living the faith, ways that have never occurred to us?

Yet, as noted in the link above, there continues to be an ongoing insistence that it just isn’t enough to declare that we are the Church of Jesus Christ. Not only do we have to have the right words; we have to make sure when we speak them, we all have the same understanding of the words. Otherwise, we aren’t confessing the faith properly. Dr. Watson brings up our now-outdated statement on our theological task – yet again – declaring it “theological pluralism” without either defining the term or defending his claim (again). Perhaps he means a pluralistic approach to religious understanding, which is the affirmation that our sources and norms of God-talk are not restricted to the Christian Scriptures, but could incorporate non-Christian and even secular sources as authoritative. Whatever he might mean by “theological pluralism”, it’s a red herring, a non-issue because the General Conference in 1988 set new Doctrinal Standards and a theological task before us as a Church. Continuing to reference anything prior to that as having any relevance to us as a church is a bit like insisting we need to affirm the supremacy of the Papacy because the Christian churches used to do that before 1517. Just as our understanding of doctrine is ever-changing, so to are the reference points for beginning a discussion on doctrinal matters. We are in a different historical period as a denomination. We have firm guidelines, with our special Wesleyan emphases offered as tools to become a more fruitful Church.

Our unity in Christ, as St. Paul noted in many places in many letters, is rooted in our collective experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit revealing the grace of the Father in the Son. Ours is a unity rooted in the Persons of the Divine Trinity. Ours is a unity rooted in the Great Commission, to go make disciples of all nations, a commission itself rooted in the revelation of the risen crucified Christ. We are not united by our declarations of our current identity contained in our doctrinal statements, our creeds, our words, or how we define or understand those words. The insistence that is the case flies in the face of the Scriptural testimony and two thousand years of Christian practice. I cannot say it enough: Doctrine is our collective understanding of our identity. Our unity is rooted in the grace made real in us by the Holy Spirit in the Son for the glory of the Father. These reference events in our collective life – events that continue to shape our mission and ministry, our preaching and teaching, and, yes, our ongoing discovery of who we are as those claimed by the crucified and risen one.

I’ll just close with some more words from St. Paul:

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. – Galatians 1:11-12

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

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Dear Wesley UMC, please don't let the door hit your collective ass on the way out.

Dear Wesley UMC, please don’t let the door hit your collective ass on the way out.

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.

“Satan’s Children Hate God’s Children”: What The People Supporting The UMC Status Quo On Sexuality Are Saying

she is an enemy of GOD!!! – Comment in Facebook Group United Methodists For Truth

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Witch Hunt by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Witch Hunt by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

When surfing around the United Methodist blogs, news aggregators, and what-not, it’s easy enough to believe that those who consider themselves “moderates”, “centrists”, or otherwise principled supporters of our current status quo regarding human sexuality were not only sincere, but high-minded, motivated by some (albeit misguided) desire to remain true to their faithful commitments. If you read, say, comments by Bishop Scott Jones of the Great Plains Conference, Dr. David Watson, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary, or even Dr. William Abraham, the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, it would be easy enough, even when disagreeing, to believe there might well be something high-minded and thoughtful in their support not only of our current policies regarding sexual minorities, but their insistence on the centrality of doctrine, confession, and good order in the denomination.

Then, perhaps, you might stumble upon “United Methodists For Truth: Doctrinal Discussions For All Who Are Unafraid”. This is a private Facebook group whose name certainly seems high-minded. What could be more excellent than a place to discuss doctrine? It turns out, however, that there isn’t much “doctrine” under discussion. There isn’t any pursuit of “truth”. And it seems some of the most vocal persons at the site aren’t even United Methodist! The respectable public face represented by, among others, those gentlemen mentioned above, is like a rock.  When you turn it over, what squirms, wriggles, our creeps away, afraid of the light, are some of the most hateful, ignorant, and conspiracy-minded expressions of pure bigotry at any site I have seen. The comment above that serves as epigraph to this post was directed at a FB friend of mine, a faithful United Methodist lay person, happily married to her wife, living a faithful, quiet life in Atlanta, GA, and offering some of the most gracious attempts at real dialogue with folks who despise her very existence. Imagine for just a moment that a stranger with whom you are trying to have a conversation suddenly yells out that you are an enemy of God. How would you respond?

The discussion was prompted by a posted article from something called the Illinois Family Institute. A journalist being interviewed offered her personal view that marriage laws do not allow people legally to represent the complexity of relationships created by serial monogamy, multiple sexual identities, and how these create webs of relationships that the law as it currently exists cannot acknowledge. I think these are important matters. Not enough attention is paid to how our legal system is stymied in its ability to reflect the many de facto changes in family structure and life. Instead of a thoughtful discussion of how the church might be a partner in such discussions, what follows is just awful (because this is a private group, I will respect personal anonymity and not attach names to any of the comments):

Every truth and salvation-historical act and person and institution of God is under attack … By many anti-Christs.

” (This will ultimately include efforts to silence and punish some churches that openly adhere to their religious teachings about marriage and sexual morality.) “. ‘Nuff said.

Whether or not it is the intention of most marriage redefinition activists to destroy marriage that is what will eventually happen. Once you expand something beyond its natural parameters there is no way of knowing where to stop.

Homosexuals are quite chatty. This speaker is revealing the truth, whatever activists in the UMC might say, even of those whose “spontaneous demonstrations” on the floor of general conference are calculated and coordinated with the bishop.

Remember the Assyrians & the Babylonians? They destroyed Israel & Judah. They are embodied today in the LBGTQ but the target now is the Church and what remains of civilized society. Anarchy & chaos are almost here. Are we ready?

Protect your soul from who? God and His Word? Outrageous! “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! Isaiah 5:20-21 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” Romans 1:26

if you think there has not been a chilling effect on the free speech of Christians in recent years then you are painfully out of touch. Here is an article–complete with external references–giving several examples. (And, as always, when there is a chilling effect on free speech there are many other examples that will never be known due to self-censorship)

The members of a church that are led by a minister who supports ‘same-sex marriage’ should immediately withdraw, leave, and not look back. He is a false teacher.

the Left is organized and relentless, and conservatives in the UMC are not.

All through the scriptures, in Jesus’ words, Paul and the Apostles, the history of the church, and countless other minds as well. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” Ephesians 5:11-12

And so much more . . .

When I see self-identifying “centrists”, or even “respectable” advocates that our current discriminatory policies remain in place, I want to point to the folks who wrote these comments and say, “Here is your constituency. Here are the people who support what you are doing. Here are the people saying what you dearly wish you could say but fear you cannot and retain credibility.”

Any thought that folks who wish to retain our current policies are united in a love for doctrine, for a healthy human sexuality, or love for all disappears like a wisp of smoke when it becomes abundantly clear how hateful, ignorant, bigoted, and conspiracy-minded (and let’s not forget supporting now-discredited “reparative therapy!) the rank-and-file really are. And some folks think “both sides are to blame” for the ugliness of some of our discussion? Really?

One-Two-Three-Go!

Geoffrey, you seem to appreciate the chance to give feedback on others’ writings. It’s a shame you don’t extend that same courtesy to your readers.

—–

When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters? If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that?

In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that. – 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

—–

 

When I started poking around the Internet, nine years ago, I thought it was a great opportunity to engage in serious conversations with all sorts of people on all sorts of topics.  I envisaged writing a high-minded blog that would stimulate long conversations and debates from which all would benefit.  I insisted that discussions follow rules little different than those were we face-to-face.  It took me a couple months to realize most people, most of the time, aren’t in the least bit interested in “debate” or “discussion” on the Internet.  It’s a contest, a game with no rules except winning – kind of like Butch Cassidy’s rules for a knife fight.  It became most apparent when, in a discussion forum on Huffington Post, someone whose name I can’t recall, carried on and on about “science” disproving “religion”, to which I responded, in a rather lengthy, pedantic way, that the post itself demonstrated this person didn’t know what he was talking about when using either word.  I went on to insist on definitions, to let readers know specifically what he was talking about, and so on.  To which I received in response . . . well, the Internet equivalent of a shouting down.  Incidentally, it was also around this time that I realized I needed to ditch anonymity and my nomme de Web.  I started a new blog, using my own name, making clear who I was, giving readers the opportunity to judge for themselves if I was qualified to say what I was saying.

I still allowed comments.  From 2006 through 2013, I wrote thousands of posts.  Some had no comments at all.  Others had interesting comments.  By the end, however, I was stuck with essentially two persons whose sole desire was to argue.  One of them was really quite ignorant and stupid.  I say this out of no pride in my own intelligence and learning; it’s just an objective fact.  The other person was far more intelligent and educated at an Ivy League School, with which he would beat others as a point of some pride.  That he carried a five pound bag with ten pounds of baggage around with him, well, it was obvious to any and all but him.  My favorite example was when I made an offhand comment that Freud invented the subconscious.  My Ivy League commenter insisted he “discovered” rather than invented.  So, I turned in my library to an article Freud wrote in which he basically says he invented the notion of the subconscious in much the same way Immanuel Kant invented the “thing-in-itself”, an empty concept that served an explanatory purpose without itself being anything real.  As such, the subconscious is whatever people wish it to be, much as dark matter and dark energy in physics are current place holders for actions we do not understand and do not fit conventional theories.  Even confronted by a rather lengthy series of quotations from Freud in which he freely admits making the whole thing up, this commenter insisted, over and over, that I was wrong.

I tired of both.  When I started this new site on a new platform, my very first resolution was simple: No comments.  Like so much of the Internet (exemplified by Twitter, to which I used to belong but have since left because it is a sewer, much as the comment sections of newspaper articles are pits of despair), my comment section, when populated at all, was little more than opportunities for people to try and pick fights and engage in argument.  Coming to realize, several years before, I had no interest in debate, the best way to avoid it is not to allow space for such.  This is my choice, rooted in experience, and I stand by it for a variety of reasons.

First of all, as a Christian, I’m not the least bit interested in arguing my faith.  With anyone.  I declare my faith, profess my adherence to the Living Word, confess my faith in the Triune God, and folks can take it or leave it.  I have neither the time nor inclination to explain to those who want to pick fights why I am who I am and live as I do.  It’s no skin off my nose they disagree with me; their lack of faith and fervent belief they have a mission to tell me how wrong I am means less than nothing to me.  They certainly have the right to create their own websites or blogs and praise their own greatness, and have others join the mighty chorus of self-righteous praise.

When I write my blog posts, I’m stating what I believe and how I live.  Simple as that.  It isn’t up for discussion.  If you agree with me, that’s great.  If you don’t, that’s great, too, because Lord knows I wouldn’t want a world filled with me’s.  If someone feels a serious need to take me to task, they can write a blog post, detailing my errors, to which I am welcome to respond in one way or another.  Indeed, by and large, that’s the approach I take.  With you, Rev. Drew McIntyre, with Dr. David Watson, even with Cynthia Astle over at United Methodist Insight.  That I decided to take to the comment section of Watson’s blog and engage in a discussion, well that’s not only my prerogative; it’s a privilege he extends by including a comment section, in which his praise chorus can come along and tell him how marvelous he is, while those who seriously disagree with him are treated as unworthy of serious consideration.  He even treats serious criticism as personal attack, refusing to engage at all.  He has a single rule for comments: Agree with me, and I’ll thank you; disagree with me, and I’ll either claim your disagreement has nothing to do with my writing, or it’s a personal attack and I won’t engage at all.  And it’s his spot, he’s free to do as he wishes with his site and his comments.  I am free, however, to point this out to any curious reader.  Which, except on this rare occasion, I do here, on my own site.

As for the implication either of hypocrisy or cowardice (neither of which are original or even interesting) or whatever you might have been hinting at with that somewhat snarky comment, I would merely repeat myself: My blog, my rules.  Like a knife fight, there really aren’t any rules, which allows each of us and all of us the freedom to act according to what feels best.  If you don’t like it, well, since I do not know you, I’m not sure why you would think I care.  I certainly don’t show up in your comments telling you how wrong you are for allowing comments, nor would I ever be so presumptuous.  That you see fit to do something similar to me says far more about you than it does about my policy of not allowing comments.

As I have spent far too much time repeating myself than I ever prefer, I shall just leave with this thought.  I do you, and those with whom I disagree, the honor of taking time to write a lengthy response on my blog, which offers me the opportunity to make my own position clear, which creates a far better contrast than showing up in your comment section and typing, “You’re wrong!” in as many ways as I can imagine.  I treat you, and others, with the respect and seriousness the subject matters, if not any of the people (most especially me) deserve.  Because, you see, my operating principle is simple enough.  I don’t matter a whit.  Nor do you.  Nor does anyone else.  The subjects about which we write, however, life-and-death, and deserve to be treated with all the seriousness that entails.  I have no interest in making myself a name, a mover-and-shaker, or impress those who are (or at least think they are).  My thoughts, while certainly rooted in all that comes before, is all mine.  I take full responsibility for it, especially for the weaknesses and flaws therein.  I would far prefer folks read what I have to say, and think about what I’ve written without caring about me one whit.

So that’s my response to your comment as to why I don’t offer others the same opportunities they make, especially comment sections.  I’m not interested in an argument.  I’m not interested in being right.  I’m not interested in impressing anyone.  I’m only interested in making my position clear, hopefully stimulating thought among others.  As for the rest, it’s a game that has no rules; those who understand that win because they don’t play.  Most especially when others insist on setting arbitrary rules that can neither be enforced nor exist anywhere except within their own heads.

And you’re welcome to respond with a blog post of your own, if you wish.  If not, well, OK.