True reform in the UMC requires integrity

I write in response to the recent article “UMC high court upholds guaranteed appointments“. By naming those advocating for the legislation “reformers,” this article lacks objectivity. Those who opposed the rejected legislation to end security of appointment also seek reform.

Reform is a central tenet of our historic mission, “to reform the nation, especially the church, and to spread Scriptural holiness across the land.”

I am concerned that much of our coverage of the security of appointment issue has missed the true warrant for this security and promoted an anxious, cynical image of a declining UMC in North America held hostage by a labor union of straw-men incompetent pastors and threatened with a takeover by foreigners.

This focus on decline, ineffectiveness and scarcity has emboldened antagonists, scandalized the public against our church and ministry, and exacerbated the painful sense of inequity among those working at the margins. Blaming the straw man has also given us a pass from dealing with the real and complex pathology of top-heavy bureaucracy, demographic disconnect with the ministry context and local church decline.

We cannot solve problems of integrity in our pulpits by dispensing with it in our polity. We cannot reach the poor by having longer pastorates for the rich. We cannot claim that security of appointment corrupts good administration, but only for others. Giving the most powerful clergy less responsibility will not help us deal with clericalism. If we truly want to make “missional appointments,” we cannot arbitrarily tell some pastors that there are no missional appointments.

In a moment of remarkable unity, diverse groups across our denomination laid aside their differences and celebrated this decision as have many others among the rank and file.

They recognize that reform cannot be purchased at the price of integrity.

Integrity requires us to honor our principles and values. Because we value every human soul in our context, we require our episcopacy to send itinerant ministers as fully and broadly as possible into that context. Because we value stewardship, connection and justice, we provide for this deployment through the equitable distribution of church resources. Because we value each other, we reserve the power to elect and to discipline to the conference. Because we value scriptural holiness, we honor fair process in dealing with conflict and seek to serve out of love rather than fear. These principles are at the core of our identity and are embodied in our constitution. They are the essence and criteria of true reform.

The Rev. John P. Feagins
Elder, Southwest Texas Conference
Director, San Antonio United Methodist Campus Ministry

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Join the conversation....

  1. clark_2012@comcast.n says:

    Perhaps local pastors or the bi-vocational could serve the 75% (if I have my numbers right) of local churches that have under a hundred members. Guaranteed appointments and forced itineration could be left to just the "professional" clergy. We are already a hierarchical church – might intensify that element – or better –
    transfer those smaller churches to a revitalized Methodist Protestant church and see what happens!

  2. John,
    Excellent post as always. You have identified the core of the prolem but you know as well as me it's much easier going after the "Straw Man"! Keep up the good work my old friend!!!

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