Professor John Goldingay has Old Testament at Fuller Seminary and now at Oxford. His most recent work is his translation of the Old Testament.
The church is starting to crack at the seams.
And by the church, I mean the United Methodist Church.
We’re in the middle of a fight – we want to know who is compatible with Christian teaching, and who is not.
We’ve been arguing about it for years. “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Pastors who dare to preside over a same-sex union are publicly punished and some are removed from their churches. Closeted clergy have to make the choice between staying where they are and keep their job, or being honest and losing it.
But we’ve got a plan.
Actually, we have a bunch of plans.
Beginning Saturday, February 23rd, representatives from the global UMC will meet in St. Louis, Missouri to prayerfully discern the future of the denomination with the adoption of one of the proposed plans.
The Traditional Plan
This plan will maintain the current prohibitions against self-avowed practicing gay clergy and same-gender weddings. It also broadens the definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” to include a person living in a same-sex marriage or civil union or persons who publicly state they are homosexuals. It will mandate penalties for disobedience to the Book of Discipline with a suspension of one year without pay for the first violation and a relinquishing of clergy credentials for the second violation.
The Simple Plan
This plan will remove the incompatibility clause and eliminates all prohibitions that limit the role of homosexual people in the church. It will allow, but not require, same-gender weddings in churches across the denomination.
The Connectional Conference Plan
This plan will replace the current geographic jurisdictions with three new connectional conferences based on perspectives with regard to sexuality: Progressive, Traditional, and Unity. Every single individual church across the connection will have to decide with which new connection to identify, and clergy will have to do the same. Eventually, a great re-shuffling will occur so that like-minded churches will be paired with like-minded clergy.
The One Church Plan
This plan will remove “incompatible with Christian teaching” from paragraphs in the Book of discipline, and removes prohibitions against same-gender weddings and ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. It also adds protections so that no clergy person, nor bishop, will be forced to preside over a wedding or ordain someone if they theologically disagree with the change in the Book of Discipline. Bishops would take into consideration the theological positions of clergy and churches when making new appointments.
And there are more that will be considered at the General Conference.
Rather than going through all the plans one by one to address their theological strengths and weaknesses, it is worth considering the strange task at hand beyond the actual ideological divide: we think we know how to save ourselves.
Or, perhaps even worse, we think we can save ourselves.
To borrow a line of thought from Robert Farrar Capon, I think one of the reasons we are struggling to find a way forward together, is that we are addicted to the religion of our own creation. Religion, here, defined as the belief that so long as we follow a certain set of rules, practices, and doctrines that life will properly, and perfectly, fall into order. Religion, here, as evidenced by the church’s constant and unwavering work of attempting to have control over itself. Religion, here, is seen in the never-ending requirements we assume to exist in order to be saved.
Religion, as largely practiced in the UMC, is a denial of one of the greatest verses in the entirety of the Bible (and ironically a phrase from the communion liturgy in the United Methodist Hymnal!): While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Instead, we practice and preach a faith that acts as if God in Christ only meets us after our sins, rather than in them. Or, to put it another way, God only arrives for us when we’ve gotten ourselves figured out. Or, still, yet another way to put it, God will only bless our church if we make sure we’ve got all the right rules established.
We love making plans. And I think we love making plans because it convinces us that we are somehow in control of our lives (or our church) when the plain and simple truth is that we are not in control. That’s kind of the whole message of the Bible: God is God, and we are not.
The longer the Book of Discipline becomes for the United Methodist Church, the more we draw lines in the sand about what constitutes incompatibility or not, the more we play into the sin that surrounds us all the time. It creates a version of the church where we will have only proclaimed salvation for a select few who are able to kid themselves into believing they can meet a bunch of requirements that simply aren’t there.
Before we attempt to pave a new way forward for the church, I think it would do us some good to admit, at least, the addiction we have to our own religion.
Because Jesus was frighteningly honest with his opinion of religion (as defined above) during his life. He ate and drank with sinners, broke the rules of Sabbath observance, and was murdered under capital punishment for blasphemy. And he had the gall to break forth from the tomb three days later with a declaration that whatever religion had been attempting to do, was now done once and for all in him, in his life and death and resurrection.
We cannot save ourselves. And, to be perfectly frank, we cannot save our church.
Only God can do that.
Why else would we call it Good News?
I am not Methodist. I know bits and pieces of the history of the UMC but I would never dare to speak on it because I don’t know near enough. I am not a clergy person and I don’t have a mantle full of theology degrees to boast.
I’m a lay person. I grew up Southern Baptist. The SBC believes in Local Church Autonomy which has it’s pros and cons. Pros being I get to proudly state that my church isn’t “that” kind of Southern Baptist Church, and my dad, a pastor, isn’t “that” kind of Southern Baptist pastor. I’ll save the long cons list for another day.
I fell out of love with the Southern Baptist Convention when I was in high school. Despite the ongoing support of my father, it didn’t take long to realize that due to changes made to the Baptist Faith and Message, my hopes to become a young female pastor were snuffed out by my Sophomore year of high school.
I spent a lot of time being angry that because of my gender I wasn’t seen as capable of leading anything more than a women’s bible study or a kids ministry. I read books about all different theologies trying to find where I could fit, trying to find a voice in the world of Theology that I love so much.
I didn’t know much about ya’ll methodists until I surprised my dad with a trip to meet his friends from the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast over a year ago. Since then I’ve dipped my toes ever so lightly into the Methodist pool and I must say the water is nice.
Don’t get me wrong, I know enough about denominational structures to know every tradition has it’s woes, it’s faults. But I have to say going from seeing no female pastors to not only seeing but getting to know female clergy in your denomination has given me hope. It’s sparked that fire I once had for ministry. It has reinvigorated my love for theology and discussion. Seeing women lead puts a pep in my step that I just can’t get rid of.
As a lay person I see what’s at stake with the looming General Conference from a different perspective than what clergy may see it through. If you’re a lay person, you may see it too. Despite the denominational divide, we both have committees full of delegates deciding things for us. Things that can exclude us and leave us feeling isolated, unseen, and unheard. Things that are opposing to the good news of the gospel itself. What they sometimes neglect to see is that a majority of the time, we lay people care less about statements of belief and more about sharing the good news of the gospel. To remind people less about their apparent wrong doings but that despite it all they are included. They are welcome. They are seen. They are heard.
On Saturday I’ll make the nearly eight hour drive from my home in Oklahoma to St. Louis for General Conference. I’m going because I want to see for myself what this looks like. I’m going with a hopeful heart that the laypeople aren’t forgotten in this conversation, that the politics of voting for things that aren’t central concepts of the gospel won’t blind your leaders.
Be praying for the Crackers and Grape Juice team, that we truly are able to give you honest coverage without using stained glass language.
Genesis 45.3-11, 15, Psalm 37.1-11, 39-40, 1 Corinthians 15.35-38, 42-50, Luke 6.27-38; Why does God work through fallen people? Should we expect to suffer for our faith? How painful is it to love your enemies? These questions and more on this episode of Strangely Warmed with guest Joshua Retterer.
Andy Doyle is the Episcopal bishop of Texas and the author of numerous books including his most recent work, The Jesus Heist.
The team is back together this week and taking on one of the most thought about things in theology: Theodicy.
Jeremiah 17.5-10, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15.12-20, Luke 6.17-26; What does it mean to be an internet friend? Can we really delight in the Law? Is it immoral to be wealthy? These questions and more on this episode of Strangely Warmed with guest Joshua Retterer.
Jason wrote a book. It’s out in paperback. Do him a solid and buy a copy for 10 of your favorite people. He’ll be eternally grateful.
This is not a book for people who have cancer. This is a book for people who are mortal.
–Brian Zahnd, Pastor of Word of Life Church
Isaiah 6.1-13, Psalm 138, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11, Luke 5.1-11; What happens when you go fishing with Jesus? Should preachers intentionally confuse people? What’s a spiritual hangover? These questions and more on this episode of Strangely Warmed with guest Josh Munnikhuysen.
This week the award-winning director and founder of Journey Films, Martin Doblimeier is back to talk about his newest film, Backs Against The Wall: The Howard Thurman Story. Listen as he talks about how the life of theologian, philosopher and civil rights activist, Howard Thurman is relevant and important for today’s culture.