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.

 

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
kevin@circuitwritermedia.com
.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
kevin@circuitwritermedia.com
.

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27 Comments on "Maria Dixon Hall: An open letter to the mad Methodists"

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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)
 

Guest
1 year 6 months ago

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.

Guest
Brandon
1 year 6 months ago

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/

Guest
Walter
1 year 6 months ago

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.

Guest
1 year 6 months ago

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.

Guest
1 year 6 months ago

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.

Guest
K-Bee
1 year 3 months ago

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?

Guest
Wes Andrews
1 year 6 months ago

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…

Guest
Wes Andrews
1 year 6 months ago

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.

Guest
WAD
1 year 6 months ago

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.

Guest
WAD
1 year 6 months ago

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

Guest
1 year 6 months ago

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.

Guest
1 year 6 months ago

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.

Guest
1 year 6 months ago

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?

Guest
Wes Andrews
1 year 6 months ago

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.

Guest
Gary Bebop
1 year 6 months ago

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.

Guest
Jay
1 year 6 months ago

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.

 
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