Maria Dixon Hall: An open letter to the mad Methodists

MadMethodists

During this time of the year, I am usually knee-deep in the early drama of another semester’s classes. Students petitioning to graduate, others needing a space in a closed class, and the unfortunate waifs who have no idea what they are going to be when they graduate–all fill the halls outside my office seeking “just a minute” of my time. So in all frankness, the drama of the United Methodist Church, while often mildly entertaining is not my first concern in the month of February. After all, I am usually basking in the glow of another Crimson Tide BCS Championship. Thanks to a series of unfortunate incidents, I now have some free time on my hands.

While I’ve been focused on St. Nick and the boys, trials and rumors of trials have filled the blogosphere and the Huffington Post. Your antics and disputes (not our service, mission, or love of Christ mind you) have garnered national media attention in our all-consuming sexuality battle royal. Most exciting is that mild-mannered UMC elders and bishops are becoming media stars in their local papers and delivering manifestos that would make Martin Luther proud.

As much as I like a good argument, I believe that the best arguments require separating myth from facts especially when passions are running high. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to offer a little reality check while y’all are loading up for the next round of buckshot.

Myth 1: People are leaving the United Methodist Church in droves or refusing to join the United Methodist Church because we do not ordain gays and lesbians or allow them to marry.

Reality: People are not coming to our churches or filling our pews because we are BORING. Rather than giving them the fount of living water in a way relevant and contextualized to their own reality, we give people stagnant homilies or self-help sermons devoid of any realistic attachment to the awesome and life-changing revelation of Jesus Christ. Frankly, our services and our preaching is not compelling enough for most people to miss “Meet the Press,” “SportsCenter,” or a “Law & Order” marathon. We simply have forgotten that the Gospel of Jesus Christ requires us to TELL THE STORY of Jesus Christ in the language of the people. Don’t forget that George Whitefield didn’t have a PA system or a PowerPoint, yet he could compel thousands of working class people to give their lives to Christ by preaching the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel.

Myth 2: Being able to conduct same-sex marriages is the central pastoral issue of our time.

Reality: Uh, it is important, very important; but it is not the primary pastoral issue we face, and to call it that is self-serving. In states that have granted this right, our LGBT friends are granted full access to the right to enter into relationships recognized and protected by the state. The injustice of a system in which same-sex partners are not permitted to inherit, adopt, file for tax relief, spousal support, or equal recognition under the law is a federal issue that I believe must be remedied. But there is no inherent right to being able to hold your ceremony where ever you want, however inconvenient, impractical, or frustrating it maybe for those involved. We can’t keep moving the goal posts on this one. At first, the battle was over whether or not the Book of Discipline needed to be changed to either a) reflect the reality that United Methodists are not in agreement over our statement on human sexuality, or b) reflect the removal of the phrase “incompatible with Christian teaching,” thus opening up new possibilities for LGBT Methodists to participate in the life of the church.  Yet in blog after blog and press conference after press conference, somehow these two central outcomes have been obscured by what we call “down the line” concerns of same-sex marriage. Basic argumentation would hold that if you haven’t affirmed the premise that the sexuality of LGBT members is not incompatible with Christian teaching OR that there are multiple ways of understanding the issue, then affirming the right to have their marriages performed by United Methodist clergy is a rhetorical bridge too far. Stop muddling the real issue. This is not a “pastoral issue.” This is a question of theological ontology. Simply put, the question is, “Who are those persons entitled to the rights and privileges of a United Methodist Christian–including the right to serve as clergy, to participate actively in all the rites and rituals of the Church, and to be embraced by a community that claims an open table?”

You see, in my opinion, as long as we have: children going to bed hungry; women and men living in fear in their own homes because of the abuse happening at the hands of someone who claims to love them; incarceration exercised above rehabilitation; our elderly choosing between food and medicine; families going bankrupt trying to find care for their mothers and fathers who have dementia; and as long as there are those who – regardless of sexuality – haven’t heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, we will always have a full plate of pastoral issues with little room to proclaim one more dominant than another.

 Myth 3: If you break the Book of Discipline, we need to put you on trial.

Reality: Fine. But if we are going to make this argument, then EVERYBODY needs to go on trial. Frankly, I am tired of seeing my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and their allies on the court docket. But if this is the game we are going to play, then I want every one of my colleagues who is having sex before getting married (uh huh, I went there), any of my clergy colleagues who purchase or imbibe alcoholic beverages purchased with their salary from a United Methodist entity, or everybody who affirmed that they would fast, reduce their debt, visit congregants from house by house, or pledged to never fritter away their time in their answers to the questions for admission to their Annual conference but hasn’t to be brought up on charges. If we are going to apply the law, then we need to apply the law equitably.

 Myth 4: Trials and/or the acts of disobedience that force a trial will settle this issue once and for all.

Reality: Frankly, neither strategy has a real endgame that is sustainable. For all of you who think that by putting elders like Frank Schafer on trial you will weed out “those liberals” you are as misguided as everyone who thought Nick Saban was leaving Alabama for Texas. For all of you who believe that by performing more “weddings” you will force the hand of the “bigots,” you are as misguided as Robin Thicke was for thinking it was a good idea to do a duet with Miley Cyrus. Neither side has a sustainable endgame that does not require a showdown at General Conference 2016, or as I like to call it, “WesleyMania: The Grudge Match – Part 15.” So doing weddings will not change our legislation. Conducting 100 trials won’t change it either.

Myth 6: We would have enough votes to change the Book of Discipline if the African church wasn’t controlled by the Good News Movement. (Or its twin: They may have the people, but we control the money).

Reality: If you have said or thought this, let me be perfectly clear: you need to check your racist assumptions at the door. First of all, there is NO African church. Africa is a continent, not a country. Second of all, to assume that all those poor uninformed black people a) cannot come up with a theological argument on their own, b) need the Great White Church to help them form their thoughts, and c) cannot possibly be self-determining, is no different than the precepts of Kipling. Somehow both sides in this debate have the belief that our brothers and sisters from the Central Conferences are pawns to be played in their legislative games. While one side appeals to the most insidious fears and irrationality regarding AIDS and HIV, the other is engaged in a patronizing pablum that has often been the fallback of white progressives when dealing with people of color. One side says: “If you don’t vote the way we want you to, we will cut off your funding” (Imperialist/Colonialist). The other says, “If you don’t vote the way we want you to, we will advocate for kicking you out of the United Methodist Church because you are biased” (the progressive guilt trip). Sadly, both views continue to render the voice and views of people of color as secondary to their own selfish agendas, which is nothing more than American racism at its best.

 

As entertaining as y’all are, I really wish for nothing else but for us, even in our disagreement, to model for the world, the way in which the Body of Christ, can engage in vigorous debate while still seeing each other with the reality of Christ. In Christ’s reality there are no litmus tests on who is more Christian than the other, each of us realizing that in our flawed humanity that we are all Christ’s beloved. In Christ, straight or gay; lay or ordained; black or white; blue or red—we are loved and valued.

What a novel idea. Seeing each other as Christ sees us.

Mmmmm. Nah, not nearly as entertaining as the Mad Methodists.

 

Dr.Maria Dixon Hall(University of Missouri) ,is an Associate Professor of Organizational Communication at Southern Methodist University. A graduate of the University of Alabama and the Candler School of Theology, Maria is a member of the General Commission on Communication (UMCOM) and frequent consultant to religious, corporate, and non-profit organizations throughout the US and Africa.

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  1. “In Christ’s reality there are no litmus tests on who is more Christian than the other, each of us realizing that in our flawed humanity that we are all Christ’s beloved. In Christ, straight or gay; lay or ordained; black or white; blue or red—we are loved and valued.”

    This was a good post overall, I must say. But this last little bit is, at best, overly simplistic…and at worst, refrigerator-magnet theology. Jesus seemed to indeed have a criteria that distinguished his genuine followers from those in their midst (goats, weeds, bad fish, or whichever parable imagery one prefers) whom he would one day say “Away from me. I never knew you.”

    Likewise, Paul’s charge to the Christians in Corinth regarding the consenting adult relationship of a sexually immoral nature between two of their members would no doubt get him labelled “mad” or “unloving” by many of our standards today, no doubt.

  2. Thomas Coates says:

    Myth 1: No, the young adults and LGBTQ allies care very much about this issue of justice, a change in policy may not get them to come to UMC churches, but it certainly keeps them away, and will do so far more in the future. There’s countless thousands of people, lay, candidates, and clergy who’ve left the UMC over the past 40 years because of the homophobia in the Book of Discipline–yet we only seem to hear of the fear that conservatives will leave if the policy changes…

    Myth 2: Yes, LGBTQ people have second-class membership (and largely citizenship in the USA), it may not be THE pastoral care issue of our time, but it’s certainly ONE OF THE pastoral care issues of our time, and it intersects and overlaps the others (far more LGBTQ youth are homeless and commit suicide versus their cis-gender/hetero peers) it is an equal issue of justice. Our more progressive (socially, not necessarily theologically) UMs are suffering, for them it certainly is the primary pastoral care issue. Whether symptom or cause, the treatment of LGBTQ people, and defrocking of LGBTQ people and allies, including the bad press, is certainly one reason for continued membership decline.

    Myth 3: Amen! You didn’t even mention the ungraceful attitude many elders have about baptism, or lack of UMWs, or (my sarcasm) the need to be both anti-RCC, like Wesley’s works, and then apologize for being so (both in the BoD).

    Myth 4: Ecclesiastical disobedience is largely a sign of last resort, when there is no other options. Non-violent resistance has certainly worked in other cases before (whether civil, like the very different, but overlapping (Bayard Rustin comes to mind) Civil Rights movement, or ecclesiastical, like Wesley and Luther), we “liberals” have no other choice to fulfill God’s call for us in the UMC. I will concede the other point, many conservatives don’t realize their children are LGBTQ– since they cannot acknowledge it’s not a choice, another generation of LGBTQ people will grow up in homophobic, increasingly conservative (as liberals are forced out) UM churches, a tragedy in several ways, but this “issue” (as our bishops call it, these “LGBTQ children of God”, as I call LGBTQ people) will never go away.

    Myth 6 (5) – Well you’re right, too often people on both sides forget about LGBTQ people of color, particularly movements such as United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church (UMOC), twice marginalized here in the USA. We must also not forget the horrific acts of white colonists in Africa telling Africans polygamy and homosexuality must stop and are evil, while spreading a super-conservative Christianity, which remains propped up by conservative churches, such as some in the UMC and other Evangelical churches (IHOP) today. For many in Africa, the question is why have many in “The West” changed their minds on homosexuality?

    On the other hand, I’ve met and heard of some very affirming African UMs (and Anglicans– like Bishop Tutu), but this is not an academic argument: many African UMs and Independents cause true harm and advocate violence against LGBTI people in Africa, and in partnership with Good News, they are able to impose conservative values on conferences here that do not share them. For me, it’s personal and this prevents my call in the UMC. It’s all imperialism: American UMs are responsible because of colonial action, but (since with the homophobic language in the BoD our membership of affirming laity and clergy is not likely to grow) our fate in the US depends on the work of LGBTI and allied UMs in Africa, and far more importantly, the continued movement of the Holy Spirit both in Africa and the US, and in all peoples.

  3. Wow, what a great article. I tire so much of being pressured to be far left or far right. You bring words of comfort, challenge and insight to the people called United Methodist. Oh, and that boring comment…..I want to take offense but I just re-read a couple of my sermons and I pledge to do better!! God’s grace and peace to you.

  4. Great article. No matter where you are on these issues it is valuable to read this article and pray about it a bit more before responding further.

  5. Very impressive, Dr. Hall. A post like this might just unite Methodists for a moment — because all will disagree with something you said! But I greatly appreciate your effort to explore the middle ground in this most-divisive issue. In doing so, you’ve united us in one more way: We all have some soul-searching to do.

  6. DL Herring says:

    Thank you Dr Hall, you have given us much ‘food for thought’! I do have a substantial difference of opinion on two of your points: Myth #3 and #4.

    “Myth 3: If you break the Book of Discipline, we need to put you on trial.” – Yes, we do in cases of flagrant, premeditated, intentional, and unrepentant violations to the core orthodox doctrines of the Church. There is a big difference between Clergy that have broken their personal relationship with God in matters of divorce, infidelity, fornication, and substance abuse in comparison to the schismatic Reconciling Ministries Movement. These personal sins should most definitely be dealt with at the level of the District Superintendent but only the most extreme cases would require advancement to trial. Reconciling Ministries, and clergy who support them, are not only in gross violation of sound Biblical doctrine and almost two thousand years of interpretation, but they propose to force this major doctrinal perversion on the Church as a whole. The trials are our public affirmation of the sanctity of our doctrine and that we will not bend to the misguided notions of the “progressive” politically correct.

    “Myth 4: Trials and/or the acts of disobedience that force a trial will settle this issue once and for all.” – Yes, with perseverance and solidarity the trials can end this. The message that needs to be sent is clear: If Clergy preforms a same-sex marriage, their credentials will be forfeit. Already when Clergy are defrocked this automatically removes their membership from their Annual Conference. I would extend this to bar them from rejoining the UMC, in any manner, until they’ve publicly confessed and repented in keeping with Matthew 18:15-18.

    • I suspect I’ve been involved in more “judicial processes” than most in our denomination. I’ve been Counsel for the Church twice (in both of which we resolved the matter short of a trial), and Defense Counsel three times: one which never got resolved nor went to trial, and two which went to trial in spite of my best efforts to work out a just resolution. I also served as a mediating officer working our a resolution in another case of a judicial complaint.
      From this experience, I can give a hearty “Amen” to Dr. Hall’s assertion that trials will not solve anything. Part of the problem is that by the time we get to the final levels of judicial complaints, the Respondent is so hurt that s/he insists on going to trial “to prove my innocence.” If s/he loses at trial, s/he almost always wants to appeal.
      The cost of this is high: a typical trial, from filing of complaints to trial and to appeal, runs from $80,000 to $100,000. Keep in mind that the clergy who serve as counsels receive nothing for their extra work—it is considered part of our ministry in the covenant.
      There is no financial cost for the Respondent, either, unless and until a matter goes to appeal.
      There is a high emotional cost to those involved in a trial. Those of us who have served as counsels in trials, if asked, will admit that by the time the process is over, we are emotionally wrung out. Those who serve on a trial court will, almost to a person, admit that they felt personally and professionally soiled sifting through the evidence, and having to make decisions that will affect a colleague’s career, and the life of his/her family. Further, we have to keep all of what happens in a trial, confidential—the only thing reported out of a trial is if the Respondent is found guilty, and sentenced to have his/her orders rescinded by trial. It rates on line in the “Business of the Annual Conference” section. No discussion of the issue, or vote on the issue at clergy session is allowed.
      In most cases, the DS and Bishop have bent over backward in the hopes that a resolution can be achieved (or that the offending clergy will wise up and quit on his/her own.) Often, matters have dragged out for over a year. Complainants end up being hurt, and want to file lawsuits against the Annual Conference, whereas most issues could have been worked out if we didn’t start out aiming for a trial. It is that pre-direction of the process that ends up hurting the Respondent so much that there is no dis-incentive for him/her NOT to go to trial.
      It may surprise people to know that trials are rarely about sexual misconduct. More often than not, they are about clergy who made some decisions on their own about how they would conduct their ministry that was beyond the boundaries we typically expect within our ministerial covenant.
      Our Book of Discipline says that trials “are an expedient of the last resort.” Yet, even though the Discipline encourages that trying to work out cases with just resolutions should be the first effort involved in processing a judicial complaint, too often hierarchies are unwilling to put much effort into that. They feel that they have worked so hard, on their own, trying to resolve a complaint that they just want to give up and “let the system work.”
      The biggest problem I’ve seen in dealing with judicial complaints is that Counsel for the Church and the hierarchy are bound by confidentiality, while a Respondent can call as many Press Conferences as s/he wishes. The secular press does not understand our polity; they simply think it is novel—almost medieval—to have an ecclesiastical trial, and so it gets lots of play. Most of us should know by now that life in the church is never as simple as how those outside the church would like to portray it.
      Trials solve nothing except whether to terminate a particular clergy. It is done at high cost, both financial and emotional, in ways in which we ask clergy to pretend that they are attorneys, and members of trial courts to consider the sins or lack thereof, of clergy whom they may know and care about.
      There is an expanding number of clergy in our denomination who have served as counsels, on both sides, who have experience in handling these kinds of cases. A counsel does not have to be from the same Annual Conference as the Respondent. I suspect that bringing in some clergy to be counsels, on both sides, early, from among the experienced, would work to bring about just resolutions long short of a trial, and be far more just in the long run.
      There are many ways you can find the names of clergy experienced in our judicial process: call the Legal Department of the GCFA. Contact Associates in Advocacy (aiateam.org). Ask retired Bishops who have presided over trials. Ask the staffs leading the various “caucuses” attached to (but not officially a part of) our denomination. Call upon our own denomination’s program specifically designed to resolved disputes with the church: JustpeaceUMC, whose office phone is (202) 488–5647.
      No matter what the “official” issue in a case is, (or even the underlying, “unofficial” issue is), Just Resolutions are a far better way to deal with our clergy personnel problems.

  7. Wes Andrews says:

    Myth 1: People are leaving the United Methodist Church in droves or refusing to join the United Methodist Church because we do not ordain gays and lesbians or allow them to marry.

    Reality: “because we are BORING…We simply have forgotten that the Gospel of Jesus Christ requires us to TELL THE STORY of Jesus Christ in the language of the people.”

    Yes, yes and yes! Wesley spoke to the people and lead worship in the contemporary language and method of his day. We can take our Wesleyan principles and theology and do the same… tell the story of the transforming unconditional love of God through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit in contemporary language and methods of worship. This would actually be a great issue that should dominate General Conference, rather than the issue of sexuality.

    May I add that in many cases our denominational relationship is weighing down the local church, rather than providing an uplifting partnership. Partially this is because the national agencies, Universities, and Seminaries seem disconnected with the local church relationally and even theologically. This distracts the faithful in the local church and even demotivates them in their enthusiasm for proclaiming the Gospel as UMs.

    Myth 2: Being able to conduct same-sex marriages is the central pastoral issue of our time.
    Reality: ….. This is a question of theological ontology….”

    You are so correct! This is not a pastoral issue, it is an authority issue based the source of truth for the church which should be Scripture as soberly interpreted by Tradition, Reason, and Experience. We must wrestle together with this, and we have, and the UMC has taken a very graceful and Biblical stance, yet the Biblical stance of the UMC is rejected, ridiculed and attacked by a very vocal, yet powerful minority.

But I DO think that we need to be kind, respectful and pastoral in our interactions as we deal with these issues.

    Myth 3: If you break the Book of Discipline, we need to put you on trial.
    Reality: “Fine”

    Certainly! These issues at the practical day to day level are addressed by a local Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry. We DO have actions taken by local Board of Ordained Ministry about bad behavior, but only the ones regarding homosexuality seem to make the presses. Personally, I think the local Boards should be more stringent regarding the issues you list. I think the local D.S.s should be more involved both as Pastors to the Clergy and as supervisors. Unfortunately, leadership on the part of the D.S. was rarely the case in practice, at least in my experience.

And the point is NOT to make us legalistic, the point is to help us be effective.

     Myth 4: Trials and/or the acts of disobedience that force a trial will settle this issue once and for all.
    Reality: “Frankly, neither strategy has a real endgame that is sustainable.”

    Agreed, but there is a very practical and basic problem. We have clergy who are supposed to honor the doctrines of the UMC as they lead. It makes sense for people who work and serve in an organization, especially a church, to believe it it, and in that organization’s foundational principles. YET, we have a minority of clergy who work for our church in which they will not/can not agree with the foundational principles and identity of that church. And there is a process to make changes which is found at General Conference. Yet, when those people find the church again and again standing firm, they remain, rather than change their thinking or find a church that agrees with their thinking.

    And the problem is compounded by the fact that we have University faculty and agency employees who are “free” to completely disagree with the identity and foundational principles of the organization that pays them. I understand and embrace academic freedom, but there is an integrity issue. If one can not agree with the identity of the organization (church), then they should not remain in that organization. I’m not Southern Baptist, or Pentecostal, or Unitarian because I can not agree with some of their foundational identifying principles. There are great people in those churches, but I would not fit in those churches so I don’t serve or lead in those churches. If clergy, or other employees don’t “fit” in the UMC then they should have the integrity to find a more adequate “fit.”

    Myth 6 (5): We would have enough votes to change the Book of Discipline if the African church wasn’t controlled by the Good News Movement. (Or its twin: They may have the people, but we control the money).

    I agree completely with your statement. It unfortunate and unjust that debaters point to people within our church (because they agree or disagree with “us”) and exploit our brothers and sisters to fit our arguments.

  8. MethodistPie says:

    Thank you for this wonderful common-sense piece of writing.

  9. Steven M. Smith says:

    Myth 1: I have people in my congregation who attend worship faithfully, tithe, and are active in the ministries of the congregation, but won’t become members because of the denomination’s exclusionary practices? They’re not bored, they’re taking a principled stance.

  10. Gary Bebop says:

    You can’t paper over a crumbling marriage with talk, and the church can’t be healed by flipping cheap grace at the problem, either. We are in deep trouble, and we are in denial about it, especially in our academic ranks. The theologians who should speak out with alarm are silent. The church is not being ruined by debate, but by audacious disobedience.

    • The denomination is being ruined by audacious disobedience to Christ’s message of love and acceptance. The stubborn insistence on the offensive and libelous idea that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity and, flowing from that fallacy, casting gay, lesbian, and transgender Christians as second-class members of the denomination has made unity impossible. I welcome the inevitable split because bigotry cloaked in religion is no less bigotry. I cannot be a member of a denomination whose theology has become more akin to that of Fred Phelps and Fred Robertson than John Wesley.

  11. I for one will say this issue has kept me from attendance or support of my church. I attend a reconciling congregation which has stood firmly against LBGTQ discrimination, but after recent events, I’ve found myself questioning if this is a church (a church my family has been a member of since the late 18th century) I want to reconcile with anymore. How can the church be this far off on an issue of social justice, something fundamental to the UMC core?

    • Wes Andrews says:

      Discrimination? So I guess anyone who affirms Scripture discriminates against anyone who rejects Scripture? Then that makes it permissible for anyone who rejects Scripture to bully the UMC for affirming Scripture…..

      The is clearly another example that these opposing world views, and views of the authority of Scripture will never meet in the middle. Seriously, let’s pass some resolutions at the next GC. 1) All churches own their property. 2) All Clergy (including Bishops) and agency, University/Seminary staff whose salaries are supported by UMC should be required to support the doctrine of the UMC as contained in the BOD. If people don’t fit into the identity of the UMC, please find a church in which you can fit! Let’s be honest, the pro same-sex marriage ordination folk have moved beyond and rejected the UMC, not the other way around.

  12. Good post, Dr. Hall. With regard to myth number 3, I agree that everyone who violates the Discipline need not be put on trial. However, I think we owe it to those who violate the Discipline as a matter of civil disobedience to give them a trial. Those of us who remember the Civil Rights struggle cannot help but admire the courage of the men and women who broke unjust laws and suffered the consequences to dramatize the injustice of the laws. Sadly, now days those who disagree with the rules don’t appear to have the courage to carry out the suffer the consequences part, which significantly weakens their witness.

  13. Christ is doing a new thing. There is a story about not putting new wine in an old bag. Your story is just another confirmation that our current denominations may or may not be part
    of that something new.

  14. Below, from the UMC website. Do we believe this, are we preaching this, are we experiencing this, and are we living this?

    http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.2310047/k.4669/Our_Wesleyan_Theological_Heritage.htm

  15. Wes Andrews says:

    WAD, those wonderful principles don’t fit into theological relativism that is the foundation of the thinking of those who reject the Biblical definition of sexuality and marriage.

    • Our traditional/orthodox WRITTEN theology, doctrine, and beliefs eagerly await rediscovery. Those of us hanging on have hope and trust that God will lead our church back there. When the awakening comes, those will be a significant centerpiece of a Christian renaissance.

  16. As one of the very conservative members of the clergy I saw much in your article I could resonate with. I do not want to be in this fight but am. One of the questions that puzzles me is the loss of so many young UMs to other Denominations such as the Evangelical Free Church and the Covenant Church. My own three children (ages 24, 26 & 28) have left the UMC for other more traditionally theogical churches. They felt they were unwelcome in UMCs they visited after their traditional positions on the moral issues of the day were questioned.

    • Wes Andrews says:

      Very true. The UMC just doesn’t realize how they are losing young, strong passionate leaders who are energized by the Gospel, not just overly politicized issues that are forced on others…

    • I, too, resonated with much of Dr. Hall’s article with which I resonated. I also share Rev. Larson’s concern about loss of younger UMs – not just 20-somethings, but 30-, 40-, and early 50-something. I was ready to shout “Amen” when reading Dr. Hall’s Reality corresponding to Myth 1. And, even though I tend toward the more “progressive” side of the spectrum, I share Rev. Larson’s concerns.

      Somewhere along the way we, as a denomination, become very adept at pushing people out – I’ve experienced it in different UMC’s from coast to coast – primarily in discrimination and lack of substance. I have been a “Bungee” Methodist for about 35 years – leaving for awhile, then returning in hopes things will be better. I can say that I have personally witnessed and/or experienced discrimination based on gender, age (“too young” & “too old”), ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, disability, and cognitive impairment (note that I did not include LGBTQ in that list). I have also noticed UM services have been getting shorter on substance & liturgy over the years – to the point of even omitting scripture & prayer.

      I am no longer a “Bungee” Methodist – I ultimately ended up becoming a Roman Catholic – the straws that broke my back were ongoing discrimination based on disability and services that were more chaotic than calming. Nonetheless, I still have a deep affection for my UM roots, and talk of a schism troubles me a great deal. After all, isn’t what unites us much deeper and more abiding than those things that divide us? If that is no longer the case, then why does the UMC continue to exist?

  17. Dr. Hall deserves credit for her points under myths 1 & 2, but the rest I find cringe worthy.

    Conflating other transgressions with clergy breaking covenant on the same sex marriage issue is silly (myth 3). Yes, clergy sin all the time, but there’s no RMN group calling the church to celebrate and welcome clergy candidates who openly admit to an abusive use of alcohol or debt, and then championing their continued behavior as courageous acts of “civil disobedience.”

    I know of no conservatives who are naive enough to think “putting elders . . . on trial will weed out those ‘liberals’” (myth 4). Conservatives advocate for trials as a last resort for holding one another accountable, not as a strategy for running other people out of the church.

    Myth 6 (sic) is absurd and offensive: Dr. Hall should have some serious evidence before charging colleagues with pedaling “the most insidious fears and irrationality regarding AIDS and HIV” among Africans.

    Finally, her flippant, “[a]s entertaining as ya’ll are, . . .” is rudely dismissive of people, both left and right (or as Dr. Hall derogatorily calls them, “mad Methodists”), who hold passionate views on issues, that whether we like it or not, are tearing the church apart.

    Styling one’s self as the adult in the room with those naughty extremists on the right and left feels good, but as Dr. Hall demonstrates, it typically leads to arguing with straw men, which is not very helpful.

    • But Walter, progressives have had a lot of conservatives in the denomination tell progressives that if they disagree with the church’s position they should just leave. As a progressive, I respond: This is my denomination too. I was raised in the faith, and I still believe that our theology of grace has meaning. Our LGBT brothers and sisters who stay in the church believe that too.

  18. Here’s a great article written by the progressive Bishop Minerva Carcano who clearly represents one of the best examples of myth #6. Here’s a great line:

    ” I sat there wondering when our African delegates will grow up.” ~Minerva Carcano

    http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2012/05/17/bishop-carcano-on-the-good-and-bad-of-gc2012/

  19. I tend to agree that LGBT issues are not the only issues our denomination faces. I likewise balk at the suggestion that simply because I support LGBT equality in the church I am a one-issue Christian or that I believe this is the only issue upon which we should focus our energies. I support bringing greater peace and justice to our communities in all sorts of ways, ranging from common sense gun control to a living wage to restorative justice. Having said that, I appreciate the article and the tone of the comments attached to it. Perhaps there is a way forward for our denomination.

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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