Question for UMC: Why should I trust you?

By Ben Boruff, Special Contributor…

As conversations about denominational vitality and increasingly global mission efforts move to the forefront of the UMC’s mind—as they should—trust-related issues pepper our thoughts.

In a recent United Methodist News Service report about the Connectional Table, Bishop Bruce Ough, the group’s new chair, noted “the intense level of distrust that exists within the United Methodist Church.” Bishop Ough continued, highlighting the possibility of “reformation and reordering and re-energizing,” but his initial diagnosis should not be overlooked.

Given the frequency and certainty with which we mention our denominational propensity for distrust, we must consider what we mean. Because if we believe that distrust is harmful, then we probably believe that trust is a virtue, and that means that we are asking others, Methodists and non-Methodists, to trust us. We must, then, address the question: Why should I trust you?

Ben Boruff

In the aftermath of General Conference 2012, many bishops, pastors and lay leaders—including myself—concur with Bishop Ough’s analysis. Texas lay leader Ricky Harrison discussed the “culture of fear and distrust which surrounded the entire mess” of General Conference in a commentary in the United Methodist Reporter. The Rev. Sky McCracken, a district superintendent in the Memphis Conference, asserted that “we are a denomination united by our mistrust.” The Rev. Craig Parrish of the Pacific Northwest Conference said that “suspicion and distrust . . . permeates some quarters of the church.”

Some have attempted to pinpoint the cause. The Rev. Øyvind Helliesen of Norway observed that “the church in the U.S. is more divided and more political than the rest of the denomination. . . . For the rest of the denomination, as I know it, I don’t feel distrust is strong.” In other words, this trend may be U.S.-specific.

These are all important observations, worthy of consideration; but I want to offer a different approach. Though unearthing the origins of our distrust disorder may offer clues regarding the source of our denominational dissolution, we must nonetheless learn how to operate effectively in our current reality, a reality of pervasive distrust. Instead of looking solely to the past for answers, let us boldly face our current situation. To do this, we must ask and be asked, “Why should I trust you?”

In a rapidly changing, globalized world, the UMC must justify its existence to societies that are less membership-oriented than those of past eras, and this requires us to show others that we are worthy of their trust. Walking into a church is an act of vulnerability. Why should I walk into your church? Why should I trust you with my spiritual life?

Likewise, we must address that pressing question, “Why should I trust you?” to those inside the denomination. Rather than vaguely moralizing about the value of trust, we must substantiate our trustworthiness.

Pastors must earn the trust of their congregations and of the bishops who make appointments rather than relying on the itinerant system to provide a sense of purpose and a paycheck. Lay leaders, including young people, must demonstrate responsibility if they wish to be leaders in a global organization. And, finally, bishops must lead with a sense of purpose, as visionaries, as giants of Wesleyan theology.

I believe that the fact that our bishops do not have more power within our denomination is absurd, but I also believe that bishops must earn our collective trust. We spend thousands—possibly millions—of dollars and countless, arduous hours electing and appointing our bishops through an elaborate, prayer-filled process, and then we give them minimal leadership opportunities outside of annual conferences. By indulging this odd phenomenon, we are being ineffective, poor stewards of our resources. Still, bishops must give United Methodists reasons to trust, reasons to be proud of United Methodism and its leaders, and proud of the positive impact that our denomination is having on the world.

Amid the chorus of accusations and cries against distrust, we have the opportunity to address a pressing question. All levels of the church, all individuals and all groups associated with Methodism must ask and be asked the trust question. Then we must respond to it.

To ask, “Why should I trust you?” is to consider the possibility of reconciliation. To ask, “Why should you trust me?” is to consider who you are as a Christian leader and why you are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Mr. Boruff served on the UMC’s Connectional Table and Call to Action Steering Committee. He’s a member of Churubusco UMC in Churubusco, Ind., and children’s ministry director at Nashville UMC in Nashville, Ind.

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
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Join the conversation....

  1. Seems like we're making this too complex. For me, it's real simple: I don't trust people who explicitly or tacitly violate their commitments or our agreed-upon positions. The most obvious example for me is bishops (and other clergy) who elect not to aggressively support General Conference's positions on marriage and homosexual behavior, thereby making the official stance moot. You want my trust? Do what we agreed, through our General Conference, to do!

    On another front, don't lie to me. If you need to move me to accommodate a clergy couple, say so. If you have a problem with something that I am doing, say so. Avoiding confrontation does not build trust.

  2. talithacum says:

    Trust invovles both integrity and competency. I do not have much difficulty trusting that United Methodist in all levels (bishops, general agencies, pastors and lay leaders in local congregations) mean well. However, in handling the challenges we face in rapidly changing world, our church leadership seems to be engaged in the process that they are not prepared for. Call to Action, in its frame, present many good ideas and plans. However, it does not seem to have considered what our current leadership is able to handle. Our church has been operating in certain paradigm for a long time. While I agree that we need to adapt, we won't be able to do it with simply a good intention. One of the important steps we may be forgetting is an honest assessment about what we are prepared to handle and what we are simply not ready for. We have a serious competence deficit, which will lead to trust deficit unless we are more honest about our own limitations.

  3. Good article and good topic for discussion groups

  4. Trust is a delicate and complicated thing–something that is not easily earned but often destroyed very quickly. Generally speaking–one is more likely to hear a sermon in the umc about "social" issues rather than "gospel" issues. Bishops come from every ilk. Most are very liberal and very much more governed by political correctness than the Holy Writ. Denomination approved seminaries turn out pastors/preachers of the same pursuasion. Until the denomination–much less our once great country–returns to its first love of Father/Son/Holy Spirit, the umc will drift like a ship without a rudder–folks in the pews will continue to jump ship and go to a harbor where Father/Son/Holy Spirt is the sail and the rudder.

  5. Personally, I was taught that the COVENANT of the Discipline was what held us together. We agree to live our Christian lives together by all UMs following the Discipline as our agreed-upon way of doing Christianity. There are things I agree with and others I don't. Some things in the book do not make sense to me to even bother wasting the ink on those pages and paragraphs. But I abide by them because I am UM and that's a huge part of being UM.

    My trust turned to distrust when I began to read and hear and see UMs (including pastors and bishops) explain how we do NOT have to follow the Discipline, as has been most visible with the discontented over the ongoing, UM stand on homosexuality. If the Discipline is what connects us, and you disavow the need to support/follow the Discipline, then you need to be honest and become something else.

    Frankly, the analogy, to me, is similar to picking a restaurant. If you want lobster for dinner, then don't go to McDonalds. It's not on their menu. DOn't stand in the lobby singing songs about eating lobster or carry signs out front or stand close to those customers who are trying to order and/or eat their McDonalds meals. For Heaven's sake, if you want lobster, go find a restaurant that serves lobster as a part of their menu!

    Since 1972, the homosexual stance of the UMC has remained consistent. If that's not what you want to support, then don't. There are MANY churches that have what you want on their menu.

    When we hear of pastors and bishops, who've taken vows before God to support the Discipline turn and do otherwise, THEN we deliberately build DIStrust.

  6. Amen, dayton and garryruff!!!! It's more than just stances on sexuality!!!! How many ordinands vow to agree with Doctrinal Standards and then blatantly lie??? Where's the Trust???

  7. don6828 says:

    I am just one of the simple people but it seems to me this author is not seeking to understand why the dispersed UM members distrust the upper clergy. But is seeking a method to call distrust trust and move on as if the problem is solved.

Your thoughts?

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 

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