Blest Be The Tie That Binds

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*by Bishop Scott Jones

During the last four months, I have had multiple invitations to break my vows. Many people have suggested that, in the name of protesting against perceived injustice, I should disobey the discipline of The United Methodist Church and violate the sacred promises I have made at two key points in my life — ordination as an elder and consecration as a bishop.

I decline those invitations.

I will keep my promises.

I will be faithful to God’s calling on my life as a leader in our church.

Because American culture so little values obedience and discipline today, and because too many persons in the UMC are following the culture in this direction, it is important that I explain why such a refusal to participate in disobedience is the right course of action.

When we sing “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love” we express two aspects of our life in Christ. First, it is a life of love for God and neighbor. The love of Christ shapes our minds and hearts. This leads to love for sisters and brothers in the Lord. I deeply respect and love many people who disagree about key issues in the life of our church. They are friends and colleagues.

The second aspect is the binding nature of our unity in the body of Christ. It is Christ’s prayer that followers of Jesus should be one. While the body of Christ is fractured into multiple denominations, it is important to maintain as much visible, organic unity as possible. We believe as United Methodists that we are “united by doctrine, discipline, and mission through our connectional covenant” (¶101, Book of Discipline, 2012).

The gravest threat to our mission and our unity today arises from leaders who deliberately violate our discipline. Some are elders. Some are bishops. Some are annual conference boards of ordained ministry. Violations of the covenant by leaders have consequences and result in broken relationships.

Years ago a located United Methodist elder who was also the teacher of an adult Sunday School class and chair of the evangelism committee began an affair with a woman. He wished to continue the affair, remain married to his wife, and live with her and his children while continuing as a leader in the congregation. My conversation with him was bizarre. He did not understand that violating one’s covenantal promises carries consequences and results inevitably in broken relationships. He was removed from all church leadership positions. Eventually his wife realized the damage his behavior was doing and she divorced him. She did not want the divorce, but it was the least bad thing she could do when he refused to change his ways.

Some violators of our church’s laws will argue they are justified by allegiance to higher principles such as their view of justice. But it is the General Conference that determines our United Methodist definition of justice. Once a leader is permitted to substitute a private or even an annual-conference-wide definition for our connectional covenant, all sorts of violations of the covenant become possible. If individual leaders are allowed to violate the discipline of the church as a matter of policy, our common work as a denomination will be weakened if not destroyed. If such disobedience becomes the norm, what is to prevent the following:

  • Annual Conferences from withholding contributions to the seven general church funds as a matter of principle?
  • Annual Conferences from ordaining as elders whoever they find acceptable, regardless of which seminary they attended?
  • Local churches from hiring whoever they wish as their pastor?
  • Local churches from withholding apportionments as a matter of principle, not inability to pay?
  • Bishops refusing to appoint elders who are in full connection?

We are not talking about minor aspects of our discipline that can be violated without danger. When a local church has too many or two few members of a committee there is not a wide impact on our mission or unity. The bullet points above as well as the human sexuality issues are major aspects of our connectional covenant. They cannot be broken without serious consequences following.

The General Conference and the Judicial Council have no enforcement mechanism other than bishops and boards of ordained ministry. It is our covenant along with our doctrine and mission that bind us together. Almost all of us would prefer that some section of the Book of Discipline were different. But our covenantal commitment to the mission of The United Methodist Church requires that all elders and especially all bishops uphold the key aspects of our discipline for the sake of our mission.

When people justify their actions as “civil disobedience,” they are misusing language. It is not disobedience against the government. It is ecclesial disobedience. They are violating the rules of a church they have freely joined when other, similar churches offer acceptable ways of pursuing their calling. If I ever get to the point where I cannot in good conscience obey the key aspects of our discipline — and I pray such a day never happens — it will be time to surrender my credentials as a United Methodist bishop and elder and find some other way to follow Christ

 

*scott-j-jonesBishop Scott Jones serves the United Methodist Church Great Plains Conference, which comprises all of Kansas and Nebraska.

 

 

 

 

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12 Comments on "Blest Be The Tie That Binds"

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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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Scott
Guest

Very well written article by this bishop. And to those who want to argue that they should not be bound by the Discipline, then adhere to what the bishop says he will do if he ever reaches that position – leave the UMC which you freely joined and find a church more like-minded to your positions.

David
Guest

Thank You Bishop Jones for faithfully taking a stand. And yes (Bill Krill) Bishop Jones is submitting to Christ … who stated what God’s intention was in Marriage in Matthew 19.

Jim B
Guest

I wonder what Jesus would think of our “Discipline”? Seems to me that many United Methodist hold the “Discipline” in a higher esteem that the Gospel. For me it is more important to be accountable the the Gospel and Christ’s call than a book that changes every four years. My salvation comes from God through Jesus Christ my Lord and NOT the church or a book of discipline!

Adam
Guest

That’s a fine position to have. The answer the. Is to leave the denomination, not turn a vow into a lie.

Jim B
Guest

Interesting. This is also the position of those who were against segregation. My most sacred vow is to follow the commandment of Jesus Christ to “Love one another even as I have loved you.” To do otherwise is to mock the name of Jesus and put the laws of “men” above the laws of God.”By this they will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

Bill
Guest

For many of us the answer is “civil disobedience” to change the position of the church. God bless those willing to stand against an ungodly position.

Richard F Hicks
Guest

Like the Bible, the BOD is the lease read/understood book on the shelf. And, like the Bible, anyone spouting any opinion can use it to beat the opposition. Everyone is a selective literialist! The BOD is used to bash the scapegoat of the day and run her/him off. As Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady would say, “How convenient!” Take your toys quietly to your own corner and file for divorce. The children are tired of hearing the fight. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

LaRuth Morrow
Guest

It is so good to hear your voice again!

Rev. Charles Neal
Guest

Much of what Bishop Jones says is helpful. But what his words fail to recognize is that like women’s rights and the rights of African Americans, lgbt rights is a justice issue. The biblical witness indicates that justice takes precedent over rules ordering the institutional church.

Kevin Young
Guest

Demonstrate your “tie that binds” to LGBTQ United Methodists, their siblings, their parents and family members, their friends, their congregations; to homeless LGBTQ teens, to the closeted, the fearful, the questioning….
The “tie that binds” one to a dated, discredited, insulting, passing but stubbornly persistent heteronormativity is not something to be sentamentalized. It’s time for the United Methodist Church to repent for that tie, not to reinforce it.

Duane Anders
Guest

Bishop Nealry all of the things you list as possible disobedience are regularly done throughout the connection. Let the clergy serve their entire congregations. the love of God is for all. now is the time.

bill krill
Guest

I would submit that indeed, you HAVE broken a covenential relationship by submitting to the ‘discipline’ instead of Christ. For what if the ‘discipline’ is wrong? You are straining out gnats.

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