Keep Calm and Pray

There’s an old curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” For better or worse, the times we live in are indeed interesting, at least in the UMC. The actions of a number of clergy and some bishops in the UMC have seriously undermined the force of our canon law. The status of the actions of the General Conference is up in the air. The restoring of Frank Schafer’s credentials throws these matters into sharper relief. In light of recent events, one might ask to what extent the actions of the General Conference are binding and whether they have any de facto force. To put the matter differently, our method of self-government has broken down, and we don’t really know how to fix it.

I have no idea what the future holds. I feel like the denomination is being pried apart by a relatively small percentage of its members and leaders. We are considering changing our internal governance structures in significant ways in order to accommodate the ideological divide that has become the focus of much of our public discourse. I don’t have the wisdom or insight to see a way forward. I pray someone else does. I’m grateful for those folks who have offered plans for how to move forward, but I haven’t come across one that I can affirm in good conscience.

Meanwhile, great work is going on at the level of the local church. The people I most care about in all of this are those sitting in the pews, faithful women and men who want to know God, do good, and fellowship with other believers. I think of my mom and dad. My mom is a life long Methodist, and my dad has been a Methodist for at least fifty years. They have always loved and tried to serve the church. They have served on United Methodist Women and Men, driven for Meals on Wheels, given their money, sung in the choir, served on church boards, taught Sunday school, and attended worship just about every week. They are not particularly ideological people. The last thing they need is for the high-level politics of the denomination to come crashing down into their local church life. I pray that doesn’t happen. There are many people like them.

For those of us who are elders and deacons in the denomination, let us remember that regardless of the state of our church, we are still under the mandate to care for the spiritual well-being of our charges.

This is a time for cool heads and reasoned responses. No, the present state of affairs cannot continue, but let’s remember in all of this that we’re Christians. That should mean something with regard to the way in which we engage one another. Whether we stay together, separate, or find some happy medium between the two, let’s remember to do no harm, do good, and attend upon the ordinances of God. Whatever comes next, it should be discerned in prayer, repentance, and humility.

We live in a society that is increasingly polarized. Mainline Protestantism reflects this. Now is the time for us to set an example of disagreement without malice. We’re Christians. As we move forward through this mess, let’s act like it.

29 thoughts on “Keep Calm and Pray

  1. Here is my take. The Schaefer decision is not really a victory for either side. It is a very narrow legal determination. The court found (properly, it is an incredibly carefully written opinion) that his punishment was improperly imposed. For Schaefer, it will probably allow him to move to the Western Jurisdiction (probably California) where he is far less likely to be brought up on charges for such activity, and far less likely to have the Bishop pursue charges to a trial even if charges are brought. However, it does not prevent the imposition of more severe punishments for others in the future, which is likely in other Jurisdictions. This is likely only to further stir up the bees nest (if that is possible). Viva la Don’t Do Anything option.

  2. If pastors choose not to discuss this (pro or con), by and large the laity won’t get “worked up.” I’m in a new church that is doing a LOT to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. That’s where my energy needs to go.

  3. David, I am intrigued by your use of the term Canon Law. Others have used it too to refer to our Discipline. Can you flesh out what you mean by this? I think it causes confusion because it has a very clear (and to my mind very different) meaning for most Christians (those who are Roman Catholic).

      • I take your meaning but I wonder if the use of that term might muddy the waters – it carries a lot of connotative meaning for many Christians which may distract from the discussion.

  4. This question keeps being responded to with incomprehension, but, really what difference does it make if another UM pastor does something appropriate to his/her context that I would not do in mine? Maybe it’s a personality thing, but I seriously don’t “get” why some folks get so worked up.

    • Who determines if something is “appropriate” to their context? The individual UM pastor?

      I think that pastors should be given a lot of room to work but not in the area of sexual ethics. Can you imagine if that sort of leeway was given? “Oh well, I felt that adultery was O.K. in this context . . . I felt like it was O.K. to watch pornography; there’s two consensual adults on screen and nobody’s getting hurt . . . I feel like blah, blah, blah.

      Does that answer your question as to WHY some of us get so “worked up”?

      • Where do you get this assumption that sin (at least, sexual sin) should is defined in terms of victimization?

      • John, why does Exodus 20 have authority for you but Leviticus 20 does not?

        Lev. 20:13 reads: “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.” (NLT)

        If sin is about creating “victims” and homosexuality is only sinful where it makes someone a victim, why are both men – the perpetrator and the victim – condemned to death in the above verse?

      • You get a sexual ethics of victimization from the Ten Commandments? Well . . . I guess one could derive an ethics of victimization from the Ten Commandments (but it would be a stretch) and then apply that to sexual ethics . . . but what about the Genesis metanarrative that the Ten are couched in? Aren’t you pulling the Ten out of their context? I’ve heard a lot of Fundies take the Ten out of their context and make some very weird statements.

        Anyways, I think these arguments have been rehashed enough times across the internet. It’s sort of senseless to spar with faceless people. As I told a young woman in a seminary class last semester, I love you and hope the best for you but we are not going to be in the same body of Christ for too much longer. I pray that God have mercy on all of us who serve as His ambassadors and lead us in truth.

      • Adultery is a property crime in the Bible? Where do you get that assumption from?

        The Genesis narrative as well as traditional orthodox theology roots our worth/value in the imago dei. That’s what is behind the BOD’s declaration that all “are of sacred worth.” We can not only “victimize” other imago dei’s but our own imago dei as well. Paul speaks about this Romans 1 (where he mentions people committing willful homosexual acts with one another – i.e. not victimizing the other but gratifying their lust.)

      • I got my interpretation from the words and context of the text. Your elaborate theology seems to derive from Augustine’s interpretation of Paul.

      • O.K. then what biblical text would you root the BOD’s assertion that “all are of sacred worth” in?

        And, are you O.K. with the supposed idea that adultery is a “property crime” in Exodus? Also, how would describe the imperatives against mistreating the “foreigners among you” as property crimes? The “foreign sojourners” found in Exodus are not slaves but other immigrants. The text says to not mistreat them because they (children of Israel) were once “sojourners.” My point is that the ethics found in Exodus cannot be boiled down to some sort of “victimization” ideology but are rather rooted in the Genesis metanarrative. An exegetical reading of the Pentateuch clearly reveals themes that intertwine throughout the books. The ethics/morality go hand in hand. It is wrong to separate ethics/morality from the story that it is couched in. We live in a post-modern world in which we are now more aware than ever of the relation between metanarratives and ethics/morality.

        In Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, there are some pretty hard ethical issues to deal with but one thing that is helpful is recognizing that humanity took a very hard fall from God’s origination intentions and purposes for us.

      • None of that can be taken to condemn the contemporary expressions of love such as those found in the relationship between Frank Schaefer;s son and his husband.

      • Love between the relationship of Frank Shaefer and his son is the same as “love” between his son and the dude he’s in a sexual relationship with? Chad Holtz put the question out “how do you define love?” and that question gets to the point: eros and agape and phileo are not the same kind of “loves.” Our contemporary, Western, Americanized versions of “love” are sloppy, vague, and egocentric. If you use those definitions of “love than . . . oh yeah, you can make some sort of pro-homosexual behavior argument . . . heck, you can make any sort of sexual behavior argument based on those sorts of “love.”

        Frankly, I am sick and tired of all these sloppy, vague, ill-defined arguments based on the command to “love your neighbor” that rip the text from its context and metanarrative. I have a been a youth pastor and now am a pastor and I have seen so many instances where a mother defined her actions as “loving her child” but she was actually harming him/her by not disciplining them for their behavior and letting anything go. You can say all day long that you are “loving people” but you are actually harming them tremendously. And that’s why we will not be in ministry together for too much longer. I refuse to join hands with those who hurt people.

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