Tag Archive | United Methodist Church

Some Things For The Commission On The Way Forward To Remember

LGBTQ and Allies protest the silencing of their voices at last year’s United Methodist General Conference. Photo courtesy of United Methodist New Service.

There’s been a flurry of activity among prominent spokespersons (all white men) from the Wesley Covenant Association (WCA) as the Commission on the Way Forward begins its work. With Annual Conferences scheduled to begin around the United States in a week or two, the pressure on delegates to act certainly seems to be rising.

There are several things I think all Annual Conference members, Bishops, members of the Commission on the Way Forward, and the average lay person in the pew should consider as the politicking becomes more intense and the rhetoric ramps up.

First, we need to be very clear what the WCA is and is not. It is a gathering of largely older, white, male clergy and academics whose goal is one thing alone:

“I think that the way ahead lies with an exit plan for those who cannot accept the canonical teaching and practice of the church rather than a plan for division,” Abraham announced, coining the term “Mexit” for this Methodist departure.

Abraham suggested “those who disagree with the teachings and practices of the church should follow through on their own convictions and recognize the moral obligation of exiting The United Methodist Church.” – Mark Tooley, “‘Mexit’ For United Methodist Sexual/Theological Dissenters”, Juicyecumenism.com, March 29, 2017

There’s nothing Wesleyan or Covenantal about their organization. Indeed, I think it’s more than fair to say that, rather than the spokesmen for some silent majority, the WCA represents an ever-shrinking minority. Recent polling of the denomination, according to the linked Christianity Today article, has been consistent with a plurality favoring the removal of the discriminatory language from the Book of Discipline. The vast majority (90%!) want nothing to do with schism, split, or kicking anyone out over matters of sexuality, insisting the constant attention is diverting the larger church from its mission. So when Chris Ritter claims, “The majority of United Methodists believe what the Book of Discipline teaches about human sexuality whether they are vocal about this or not.” he is not only making an impossible, self-contradictory claim (how is it possible for anyone to know what the vast majority of any group believes if they also insist they are silent about it?), the claim is contradicted by actual surveys that show the UMC in America would far prefer we set aside the discriminatory language and lay the issue to rest to get back to being the Church.

As Daniel Gangler writes in his response to Ritter:

From my own experience of more than four decades, I would venture to say the majority of United Methodists don’t even know there is a Book of Discipline or if they do know, only know it is a book of law for the denomination. I also observe that most United Methodists don’t live their lives on a denominational level but on a congregational level where they learn about and exercise their Christian faith far from any Book of Discipline.

This is a fair picture of my own experience as well. Which is not to say that church members consider matters of church law irrelevant. As they should be, and as surveys show, members of our United Methodists congregations around the country are far more focused on the mission of their local churches and how that fits into the mission of the United Methodist Church. Matters of human sexuality not only aren’t a priority; they’re a distraction.

The WCA claims to be the guardians of something one of their spokesmen calls “the Wesleyan/Evangelical/Orthodox tradition”. Yet none of the statements of the WCA regarding their beliefs – other than endorsing other statements of faith – has any theological content at all. Indeed, as I noted the other day in a piece linked at the top of this paragraph, what few statements I have seen are deliberately designed to be void of content while presenting to those outside the group a particular image: guardians of a tradition that is as old as the Church itself. For all they carry along a few big name United Methodist academics, there is nothing theological about their statements, about their attitude toward the larger denomination, and their insistence that either people who don’t accept the current Book of Discipline must leave or they will. They misrepresent who they are, who they represent, and how they should be perceived.

As we move into the always contentious Annual Conference season; as some observe from afar the working of the Commission on the Way Forward; as we all pray for discernment and peace; we need to bear in mind the WCA is the exact opposite of what it claims (as has its previous incarnations as Good News and The Confessing Movement): an aging conglomerate of the same older white men who have held far too much power far too long who deliberately mislead people regarding their intentions, often offering easily disproven claims as fact to bolster arguments that wind up being internally incoherent. They only have any power and authority because some people choose to grant it to them.

Their membership is relatively small, but there are members across the United States. We should love and honor these people who may have become members for any number of reasons all the while making clear they do not now and will not in the future represent some hidden silent majority of members of the United Methodist Church. They exist solely for the purpose of enforcing discrimination against sexual minorities, and will do anything to achieve their ends.

The easiest way to strip them of any power  is not to grant them any; to speak plainly and honestly about who they are, how they operate, and that they just aren’t representative of even a large plurality of church members. Their goal, schism over questions regarding human sexuality, is rejected by the vast majority of the persons for whom they claim to speak. As they aren’t trustworthy conversation partners on a way forward for all of us, they should be rejected as part of that larger conversation.


The “T” Word: A Response To John Meunier

In the end — and let me apologize for the rambling nature of this post — I find myself wondering why we have Social Principles at all. If they really are just a list of carefully thought out opinions about various social issues, then what purpose is there in putting them in our Book of Discipline? Opinions — in either the classic or contemporary sense — are no basis for unity or uniformity. They are things over which we expect difference.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to found our unity and our discipline on truth? – John Meunier, “Do We Have More Than ‘My Truth’?”, United Methodist Insight, July 17, 2015


Personally, I agree with Richard Rorty that questions of truth are not so much wrong-headed as uninteresting. Because “reality” is opaque to language – because many of our arguments over the truth-value of science are, in essence, arguments over wor’ds about reality, not reality itself – and because there is no meta-lingusitic judge to which all can appeal for the correctness of one’s view, we end up arguing over definitions. More interesting are the ways we figure out, through language, story, and our readings of various texts, how to live in the world. There is nothing special about “truth”, nothing talismanic, nothing final, nothing ultimate to the view that, if we grasp the truth, we have a hold of something that definitively addresses all sorts of matters. – Me, “On Truth”, March 17, 2007


Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ – John 14:6


In a world filled with questions, few are more annoying than those who insist they have the answers.

In a world filled with questions, few are more annoying than those who insist they have the answers.

I had made a resolution to myself that I wasn’t going to “go after” other writer’s expressed views. My goal was and is to be positive, to present a particular set of options that promote discussion, or at the very least thought. Reading John Meunier’s article at United Methodist Insight, however, seemed to offer me an opportunity to say – what turns out to be again – something that is central to how I live. My eight-year-old post, linked above, says much and it would probably be easiest to copy and paste it here. To be fair to Rev. Meunier, however, I need to deal with the specifics of what he wrote in order to make the points I wish to make. Furthermore, I’m not “going after” John at all. I am, rather, offering a different perspective, one I believe offers something fruitful for the Church in its struggles. And I will apologize here and now because some of what follows will be a bunch of philosophical and theological mumbo-jumbo. I do hope I can present what I want to say clearly and intelligibly. If I don’t, it isn’t because the concepts are difficult; it’s because I’m a lousy writer.

Meunier’s musings on the difference between truth and opinion cover familiar ground: Plato gets a shout-out, of course, as well as the United Methodist Articles of Religion. In the midst of his discussion, however, are assumptions that are both rarely spoken aloud as well as, lets be honest, pretty parochial. We in the West have multiple traditions regarding matters regarding “truth”, and while Plato certainly offered one answer, he was hardly the first and definitely not the last. In the mid-20th century, German philosopher Martin Heidegger taught a course in which he offered the view that, in fact, much of the western tradition of metaphysics is rooted in the distinct opinions of two men who taught centuries before Plato: Heraclitus and Parmenides. Heraclitus is remembered among philosophers for his dictum, “No one steps in the same river twice.” The only constants are change, which brings conflict. Nothing is ever settled, even human identity. Parmenides, however, insisted precisely the opposite is the case: all that is exists as a single, dimensionless whole. There is no distinction between things; there is only this singularity, both infinite and infinitesimal. This, for Parmenides, is “truth”. Our human inability either to perceive or understand this is the result of “opinion”. Thus, for Heidegger, was born our western obsession with “truth”.

Much of our tradition, whether we acknowledge it or not, follows Parmenides. The kind of unity of which he spoke was rooted in the assumption that, to all questions there is now and can only ever be a single correct answer. Pushing this assumption to its logical conclusion, then, Parmenides insisted that not just truth but existence itself is undifferentiated, a single Being that is indistinguishable within itself, yet also imperceptible, leading to differences of opinion and the (false) perception of movement and change.

Recently, however, the idea that some “thing” called “truth”, a property that inheres in particular words, sentences, and texts, has not so much been attacked as it has been set aside. This isn’t a matter of “relativism” as it is too often portrayed. Rather, it is a matter of people finding far more interesting questions to ask about how it is we human beings work out living in a world we now understand to be governed by the theories of quantum physics and general relativity as well as the theory of evolution. Philosophy no longer has dominion over questions that science addresses both more clearly and more definitively. That leaves philosophers wondering less about things like being and truth and more about how best to be human and negotiate our differences in ways that are fruitful for all of us.

Richard Rorty, the most prolific and clear proponent of this view, offered the following justification for his life-long philosophical project: In the late 18th century, Immanuel Kant asked whether there was really something called “being” that humans could discern and understand. Did “being” add anything to our understanding of really existing things? Rorty asks the same question about “truth”: Does the idea that a sentence is “true” add anything to that sentence that wasn’t there before? Do human beings react differently to sentences that are “true” than to those that are not “true”? Like Kant, Rorty’s “No” didn’t so much end discussion as become fruitful for a completely different set of questions, questions about how human beings structure what Rorty called their webs of belief, adding and subtracting particular words and sentences to their stories over time. For Rorty, this offered fruitful thought and discussion about negotiating differences among stories, understanding different sentences as important to some while meaningless to others. Bridging that gap is the philosopher’s – and the poet’s, and the novelist’s – task.

For Meunier to set to one side centuries of skeptical discussion over the concept of “truth” – really from William Ockham through Hume up to the analytical philosophers and pragmatists – is misleading, to say the least. It is uncomfortable to assent to the idea that a word as important as “truth” should probably be set aside. All the same, particularly at a time in our United Methodist Church’s history when all sides in our conflicts brandish truth about like cudgels and swords, I think it would be far better for all of us if we accepted the emptiness of “truth” as a philosophical category worthy of any attention.

As for the theology of the matter, the famous quote from St. John’s gospel above is the starting point for any Christian attempt to define “Truth”. Truth is not a quality of facts or sentences. It isn’t something that inheres in things or words. It certainly isn’t something we human beings can “have”, or at least some of us can have and others can lack. Truth, for Christians, is the Person of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity Incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Truth isn’t a thing. It isn’t something that exists within particular words or phrases. It most definitely is not something we sinful mortals can ever claim to have. On the contrary, truth is a Person, a distinct, specific, individual Person whose ministry, passion, and resurrection are not “truths” to which we assent. Rather this Person in and through these events grasps us in our lives and define us. The Christian churches are not truth-tellers. The Christian churches are those communities who believe themselves in the hold of Truth, a Truth to be shared with the world in word and deed in the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord.

To understand Christian truth in this way offers us a way forward through the morass of arguments and difference our Social Principles call us to recognize without allowing such differences to create barriers to community. To understand Christian truth as Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead, is to understand ourselves as sinners even while we declare ourselves redeemed. As such, the Truth bridges the gap within our lives, offering us the opportunity to share the Good News without worrying overmuch about whether or not our words are true.

Theological truth as an inherent quality of the words of our proclamation disappears in a puff of air when we understand our Truth is Jesus Christ who saves us. That is the basis of our Social Principles, as well as the acknowledgement of our many differences. It is the heart of who we are as Church, as the people called Methodist. It is how we will continue to live and move and have our being once our current worries and conflicts have passed.

Who’s The Victim?: Claims Of Persecution, Loss Of Free Speech Rights, And Other Right-Wing Nonsense

[I]f 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). – Comment On Discussion In FB Group United Methodists For Truth


You are taking the words of a few and using them to misrepresent a much larger whole that does not take stock in those things. By doing this, all that happens is you take those who are more moderate in their approach and push them toward the right. You have not allowed for any opinion that is contrary to yours and because of that force people to choose a “side”. That is going to take the majority of the UMC which is most likely somewhere in the middle of two poles and force them to choose. If history is any indication, that will result in most of those going toward the conservative “side” and harm the idea of full inclusion. – Comment, Closed FB group Progressive Methodists, directed at me.


Of course, there is a plan and conspiracy to take over the Churches for the Leftist agenda. Karen Booth documents that in her excellent work. Bottom line: follow the money.

By accident I once sat in a meeting with a bishop and his joint cabinet when they were coached by Tex sample to be power brokers. He described in detail how to break the evangelical coalition and advance the socialist agenda in the UMC. It’s right out of Alinsky and I’ve watched it play out for 40 years.

It split the Episcopal Church and I hope it will split the UMC, too. The Anglicans are ready to gather up any stray sheep that need a loving, orthodox fold.

John Wesley, BTW, called homosexuality a “vile practice.” – FB comment in closed group United Methodists For Truth


I wonder if IRD sells these on their website?

I wonder if IRD sells these on their website?



This is kind of an addendum to yesterday’s post. The conversation I reported carried on well in to yesterday evening, demonstrating that, if nothing else, some folks have nothing better to do than engage in pointless arguments on the internet. Most folks who read news and political stories online see this kind of thing a whole lot: folks on the right are so quick to proclaim themselves the victim; they insist their free speech rights are infringed; they relate anecdotes that they insist prove there is a conspiracy not only to silence conservative (or “traditional”) voices, but perhaps eradicate them.

And I will admit guilt in doing a little bit of “guilt by association” when I linked yesterday’s post on Facebook. By claiming that the voices I quoted yesterday were in fact the constituency both of groups like the IRD and individuals who support our current UMC status quo, I was making a claim that might be construed as slandering those who would try to distance themselves from such comments as those I quoted yesterday. Yet, isn’t it the case that when an individual, or group of individuals, write things that agree with views expressed by particular individuals and groups, some kind of association can be made? Is such “slander” really playing guilt-by-association? Only if the people protesting my doing so do not, in fact, hold the beliefs they have expressly insisted they do hold, or the groups to which they pledge their allegiance do not hold the views they have claimed to hold. I will always insist that if people are insulted when others say things in more coarse and hurtful ways that nevertheless agree with their own views, the problem is not mine for pointing it out. The problem is with them, their views, and how they line up with those of others.

Now, to claims of victimhood. Let’s begin with the claimed denial of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. The intent of the Amendment is to make it unconstitutional for the states of the federal government to arrest people for saying something. It has absolutely nothing to do (a) with discussions between persons, or interactions between individuals and private organizations; (b) whether or not individuals, groups, or businesses who operate for the public welfare, with the expectation that goods or services are offered to the public without prior restraint (that whole “restraint of trade” thing). In such cases, it is perfectly acceptable for the state, in whatever form, to insist on particular behaviors and actions that persons, acting in their roles not as individuals but as persons engaged in a particular vocation or action for the general public, not to allow their personal predilections or beliefs to create barriers between themselves and the public. When a person owns and operates a business, they do so not as themselves, but under state laws of incorporation, or under laws regulating limited liability partnerships or privately held businesses. As such, they are not Jim or Mary Jane. They are, in fact, So-and-so’s Photography Studio, or The Bakery, or a member of the staff, a doctor or nurse, of The Hospital. There are already protections for particular types of businesses – Kosher and Halal delicatessen’s say, or Roman Catholic Hospitals – that allow them to operate under the religious practices of their particular beliefs. Just because, say, I as a Christian disagree with the religious beliefs of a Mormon – or even a Presbyterian! – does not mean that, were I a butcher or baker or candlestick maker, I could insist that I do not wish to do business with them. I’m not me when I’m practicing my profession. I represent a business operating for the general public, which means I serve the public without prior restraint.

As for the alleged “chilling” of free speech rights, every example cited in the link above comes from FoxNews, World Net Daily which is famous for spreading conspiracy theories and already debunked claims from the far-right, or some other news source of less than sturdy reputation. If people are really “afraid” their speech might get them in trouble with state authorities, the best way to check if that’s true or not is, well, to speak. Indeed, if all these things had happened as claimed, wouldn’t it seem obvious that any report of them would be punished? That the reports would be removed? Perhaps I’m missing something here, but I have yet to see any site, right-wing or left-wing, disappear because of state interference or silencing.

As for conspiracy-mongering – the ultimate in persecution! – let me just note that, in the last quote cited above, I cannot imagine someone just showing up to a UMC cabinet meeting and being allowed to stay if they were not invited. That just doesn’t happen. Furthermore, I cannot imagine Tex Sample saying or doing any of the things alleged about him. That just wasn’t who he was. Which means, of course, the story is made up. Do I know the story is untrue? This is a case of inference. I have not asked the person to offer any proof – what year did this happen? what conference? who was the bishop? – that would satisfy criteria that might verify such a thing. All the same, I would guess if I did the answers I would receive wouldn’t satisfy me. Why? Because the truth or falsity of such claims aren’t nearly as important as the ongoing narrative of the persecution of right-wing, or “traditional”, Christians by the treacherous, false “liberal” church. For some reason, despite holding the reins of power in our denomination for over forty years, the real power-brokers are some weird cabal of secret “leftists” who are organized and powerful and really run things, despite all the empirical evidence to the contrary.

And none of this is new, or interesting. These rhetorical strategies and moves are not unique to conservatives in the United Methodist Church. Whether religious or secular, the structure of the arguments and the claims made are all the same. When calling it out, some folks insist that others treat their arguments seriously. Except, of course, it’s all been written before, all been heard before, and I, for one, see no reason to treat them any more seriously than the countless times they’ve been trotted out in other forums, under different names but always the same words, the same strategies, the same rhetorical shifts, accompanied always by claims of victimhood as they insist that not taking them seriously is a violation both of their religious and free speech rights. It’s tiresome. I just kinda wish I could rejoin that group and let them know all this.

Teach Me Some Melodious Sonnet

Doth not all nature around me praise God? If I were silent, I should be an exception to the Universe. Doth not the thunder praise [God] as it rolls like drums in the march of the God of armies? Doth not the mountains praise [God] when the woods upon their summits wave in adoration? Doth not the lightning write God’s name in letters of fire? And shall I, can I, silent be? – Charles Spurgeon


Large Or Small, It Is In Worship That We Learn Again Our Identity As Christians

Large Or Small, It Is In Worship That We Learn Again Our Identity As Christians


I sometimes think God looks down upon us, sees our constant bickering, and facepalms. We can become so caught up in arguing for argument’s sake, in being right, in being the top dog, we forget something so basic, so fundamental, it gets missed. Last week, the Commission on General Conference of the United Methodist Church offered for consideration an alternative process for considering legislation regarding sexuality. Along with a different process, the Commission offered a different set of categories, keeping the Church and its mission front and center, through which to consider the legislation. At the link above, you’ll find comments from folks who don’t see the boon being offered. A chance to have fruitful dialogue that sets to one side all the preferred ways one side or another has insisted the matters be discuss actually offers a chance for us all to come to the table with something to offer and, more importantly, receive.

To the categories of mission, identity, and ministry, I would add a particular context. It is this that I think we are missing, this that continues to cause strain, confusion, and distrust rather than offer hope and real freedom: Our context for these discussions (and I believe all matters of controversy within the Church) should be our gathered presence as those who worship our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is worship where we both proclaim and receive our identity. It is through doxology that we come to know who God is, God for us. It is in our voices joined in song that we become one with the great cloud of witnesses who sing before the throne of the Father and the Lamb who was slain. It is at the table where in the mystery of the Eucharist, reenacting the Passion, our lives are sealed by God for the purposes to which we are called. It is when we are blessed to go forth that we receive the promised power of the Spirit to be the Divine Presence in our lives in the world.

Doxology is the center of the Christian life. The old dogmaticians understood this. That’s why their ethical teachings always began with our obligation to worship, and what worship should be. We may well declare our faith in the silence of our hearts, and through our varied experiences of the Spirit of the Risen Christ in each of our lives; it is only in worship, however, where we gather together that this is confirmed, challenged, denied, and an offer for yet another chance is given and – we always pray! – will be received with open hearts.

Isn’t it odd how little this fundamental reality is set to one side? Isn’t it strange that this place, where all the differences we carry with us from our world-weary lives are denied even as our identities as children beloved of God are not only affirmed but reshaped each week through song and word and table, the visible signs of the presence of the invisible Spirit that calls us, blesses us, and sends us forth to be the church in the world? It is only in and through worship and its elements of songs of praise, the reading and preaching of the Word, and the great mystery where simple things become vehicles of Divine Power and acceptance, that we are marked with the cross of the risen Christ. It should be simple enough, then, to understand that it is only in this setting, as the people gathered to worship and praise God and sent forth with the power of the Spirit to be the church in and for the world, that real, fruitful conversation can take place.

Yet, we don’t. We ignore it. It’s all about Rules of order and what Church law allows and doesn’t allow. It’s about, of course, being right, being charge of the conversation, telling others what’s right and what’s wrong. Instead of coming to that one place, the only reality that sets in blood our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ, we demand some arbitrary place from which we can stand above the crowd and lead them to our preferred conclusion. In worship, through our songs of praise, hearing the proclamation of the Word, and around the Lord’s table, we might well have the chance to recall whose we are. In worship, we might have the humility to remember that it is not through any virtue or deed on our part are we together in this assembly. Each of us and all of us are here only through the love and grace of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thus it seems to me it is only in the context of worship we should even attempt discussions that all hope will bear fruit for us as the Church called United Methodist, our particular part of the Body of Christ. Songs of confession, songs of supplication, and songs of praise for the daily gift of grace that is the only reason we are who and what we are, should accompany our discussions. The Word read and proclaimed should remind us at each moment whose work we are about. At the table, where we are not just called, but offered renewal, strength, freedom, hope, love, and faith, we might yet remember the sister to our right and the brother to our left, regardless of what they may seem for all our worldly differences, is just that: our sister and our brother, worthy of love and therefore respect as we try to move forward with being the Church.

These Are Not The Reasoned Debates: A Response To Cynthia Astle

Some people's view of ongoing discussions in the UMC

Some people’s view of ongoing discussions in the UMC

Contradictions At The Heart Of Ministry

The people of Green St. UMC In Winston-Salem, NC

The people of Green St. UMC In Winston-Salem, NC

A United Methodist pastor is facing a complaint under church law because he declined to officiate at a same-sex wedding.

A gay couple at Green Street Church, a United Methodist congregation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has filed the formal complaint against their pastor, the Rev. Kelly P. Carpenter.

The couple, Kenneth Barner and Scott Chappell, charge Carpenter under the Book of Discipline with “failure to perform the work of ministry.” Their complaint also accuses Carpenter of “gender discrimination” in not officiating at their ceremony. Gender discrimination is also a chargeable offense under church law.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of church law and teachings, also states that all people are of sacred worth but the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” It is a chargeable offense under church law for clergy to preside at same-sex unions.

In the complaint, the couple says the denomination’s rules are contradictory. – Heather Hahn, “Gay Couple Files Complaint For Refusal Of Wedding”, United Methodist Insight, Nov. 12, 2014

When I saw this story yesterday, my first thought was, “Here we go.”  After a day’s thought, it occurred to me that by highlighting the contradictions our current anti-LGBTQ policy create for real ministry to all persons, we take the argument away from the hurly-burly of the Internet, Charge Conferences, Annual Conferences, and even General Conference, and ask a fundamental question about what ministry means, in church law.  While perhaps less welcome than an actual multifaceted discourse among so many in our church, this case brings to the fore the heart of problem: What kind of church are we?

Going forward, I have no idea what the outcome of this case will be.  I’m not even sure if the church’s Judicial Council will consider it having merit, precisely because the members are gay.  If rejected on these grounds, that at least answers the question about what kind of church we wish to be.  On the other hand, if the courts take the case, it will be a matter of weighing ministerial and pastoral priorities under church law.  This will require not only a deft legal touch, but also a subtle theological touch as well.

So I say, let’s all follow the bouncing ball as it takes this case wherever it leads.  We may all be surprised by the result.

“Let Christ Be Christ”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1939

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1939

Listening to voices from the church’s past is always a delicate balancing act.  On the one hand, we always have so much to learn from the experience of the saints who have traveled the road on which we now make our way, resting from their labors in peace.  On the other hand, their times and thus their concerns, their points of view, their assumptions, their languages are not our own.  We should always be careful when we venture through time; we can very easily, without knowing we’ve done so, changed the very nature of the past by appropriating for the present something that was not meant for us.

Nevertheless, I had been thinking over the previous few weeks of the sermons and speeches of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Last week, in the midst of helping my wife move her office, I rescued from exile my copy of A Testament To Freedom: The Essential Writings Of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Scanning through it, I found parts of a speech given in 1932 at the International Youth Conference of the Universal Christian Council on Life and Work and the World Allicance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches (quite a mouthful).  The meeting was held in Gland, Switzerland on August 29, 1932.  The speech, entitled “The Church is Dead”, was, as editors Geoffrey Kelly and F. Burton Nelson note, “pessimistic” in its “inspiring examination of the church’s call to help Europe and the world”.  Yet, Bonhoeffer continued that “the Christian cannot sink into pessimism or get overly buoyed up in optimism.”

The World Alliance is the community of those who would hearken to the Lord as they cry fearfully to their lord in the world and in the night, an as they mean not to escape from the world, but to hear in it the call of Christ in faith and obedience, and as they know themselves responsible to the world through this call.  It is not the organ of church action, grown weary of meditating upon the Word of God, but it is the church which knows of the sinfulness of the world and of Christianity, which expects all good things from God, and which would be obedient to this God in the world.(pp.109-110)

This radical call to be the church in the world, despite the insistence from the world that, as the title of the speech suggest, “the church is dead”, echoes down the years to us, from a time of totalitarianisms, of war still ravaging Europe and the growing threat of war even then casting a shadow across everything.  We in our times are no less conscious of the claim that the church is dead.  We are no less pessimistic, even within the churches, that the claim may well be right.  We look around at shrinking numbers, at decreased giving, at the irrelevance of so much of what we as the people of God do and say, and we despair for the future, even as the threats we face are far less extreme, and the future in many ways far more congenial than when Bonhoeffer gave his speech.  Bonhoeffer continues:

Christ must become present to us in preaching and in the sacraments just as in being the crucified one he has made peace with God and with humanity.  The crucified Christ is our peace.  [Christ] alone exorcises the idols and the demons.   The world trembles only before the cross, bot before us.

And now the cross enters this world out of joint.  Christ is not far from the world, not in a distant region, of our existence.  He went into the lowest depths of our world, his cross is in the midst of the world.  And this cross of Christ now calls wrath and judgment over the world of hate and proclaims peace.(p.110)

The call to let Christ be Christ is a call to the Church to place itself not only at the foot of the cross, but behind it, letting it lead us forward as we bring the love and grace of God to this “world out of joint”.  This is no simplistic message.  Bonhoeffer is far from naive.

But the Church also knows that there is no peace unless righteousness and truth are preserved.  A peace which does damage to righteousness and truth is no peace, and the church of Christ must protest against such peace.  There can be a peace which is worse than struggle.  But it must be a struggle out of love for the other, a struggle of the spirit, and not of the flesh.(emphasis in original, p.111)

In particular, we United Methodists need to remember that our church struggles are just that – struggles of the spirit, struggles for discernment, struggles for truth and justice in a world that is still, and shall remain, out of joint.  The enemy is not war, however, or the terrible toll it brings with it, at least not for us United Methodists.  The enemy, rather, is a spiritual sickness that has turned us against one another; has turned us deaf to calls for prayer for one another; has pitted us against one another in a race toward self-righteousness, against the struggle that should happen and toward a far worse struggle that can only leave all of us people called Methodist wounded, heart sick, separated by words and wounds that no appeal to unity in Christ might heal.  Ours is the worst kind of struggle – one for truth and righteousness within the Body of Christ itself as it ministers to the world out of joint.  For that reason alone, we should heed Bonhoeffer’s call to let Christ be Christ, and celebrate that God makes alive what the world calls dead.