Thursday, April 12, 2018

To marginalize or Not to Marginalize: Why the local option is the worst possible option for GC 2019

Can you imagine what would happen if an annual conference decided that it would refuse to ordain candidates of color?

What if a Bishop refused to find appointments for female clergy?

What if a Pastor decided they were unwilling to officiate inter-racial marriages?

All of United Methodism would lose their ever loving minds.  And rightly so.

Here is the deal, if the 2019 GC embraces any sort of local option with regards to questions of human sexuality, what it is really doing is making the official position of the church one in which homosexual practice is affirmed while at the same time, sanctioning church-blessed discrimination.

This is wholly unacceptable.   It is every bit as unacceptable as if we were to say that Pastors, churches, conferences, and jurisdictions can decide whether or not they will do interracial marriages or refuse to ordain female clergy.

I am just a thirty year old dude from Central Ohio, and my opinion, my experience, my best guess should not be able to override the wisdom of the global church.

In 2019 we can keep our language the way it is or we can change it, and either way will be okay.

But if the wisdom of the global church leads to a change in official theology and language while not only allowing, but sanctioning discrimination, then woe to us.

Squatting on a swedish ball: a better idea than the local option

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Craziest Thing

This evening at dinner I was watching the Yankees and the Red Sox and the craziest thing happened.  In the bottom of the second inning, the Red Sox centerfielder was on first base and attempted to steal second.  He was didn't get that good a jump and the catcher made a good throw and they got him by a mile.  But he wouldn't go back to the dugout.  So manager Alex Cora used his challenge, the call was upheld as the runner being out at second, but he still refused to go back to the dugout.

At this point, Yankees manager Aaron Boone went to the home plate umpire to have him get the retired baserunner off of the field so that the teams could continue playing.  So the umpire walked out to second base and had a conversation with the baserunner.  He returned to home plate and explained to Boone that the runner felt like the tag was unnecessarily forceful and he was unwilling to return to the dugout, so the umpire had decided that they would let the runner stay out on the base paths.

Boone sauntered back to the dugout shaking his head, in disbelief of what he was seeing, but the game went on.  And that runner who should have been out ended up scoring two batters later.

Again in the third, the Red Sox had a batter who grounded into a double play.  This time, neither runner complied with the rules of the game and returned to the dugout after being forced out.  Both of these runners scored as well.

By the end of the fifth inning, the Red Sox had pulled this charade 5 times and the game was tied 7-7.

In the top of the sixth, the Yankees scored three runs to take the lead 10-7.  In the bottom of the sixth, the first Red Sox hitter struck out on three straight pitches, but he refused to go back to the dugout, instead he demanded to be allowed to hit until he put the ball in play.  And he did, 9 strikes later, the hitter doubled to right field.  The next hitter was struck out on three pitches as well, but this hitter too was unwilling to leave the field of play.

So the Yankees pitcher, utterly frustrated, plunked the hitter in the back with a 95 mile per hour fastball.  The batter took his base and the umpire warned both teams against throwing at opposing batters.  The third hitter of the inning worked the count to 2 balls and 2 strikes. And on the next pitch hit a towering fly ball that drifted just a few yards from being a home run, resulting in a long, loud foul ball.  But the hitter rounded the bases as if the ball had been fair, and the scoreboard read 10-10.

At this point, the Yankees left the field, unwilling to waste their time with a team that was not going to follow the rules and unwilling to be subject to umpires that refused to enforce the rules.

After the game, the 'AL East Insight' blog wrote a scathing rebuke of the Yankees for being quitters.  And 'Hacking Baseball' accused the Yankees of conspiracy against the integrity of the game. 

But can you blame the Yankees?  The umpires showed no intention of upholding the rules of the game; and while it is terrible sportsmanship to walk off the field before the game is over, what is gained by sticking it out to the end?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

UMC Disagreement: It's Worse than You Think it is

If you are reading this, you are surely aware of some of the challenges facing the United Methodist Church.  In the popular spheres of media, our disagreements have been framed as fundamentally a disagreement around whether or not our connectional church should choose to change its polity so that those who engage in non-traditional sexual intimacy are welcome to 1. be married in our local churches and 2. be candidates for ordination by our annual conferences.

But what if I told you that this particular disagreement is the tip of the iceberg... That even if, by some act of divine grace, tomorrow morning every United Methodist had the same view on this issue, we would still be a church in schism.

I think the deepest divide in our church is not between those who want to hold to a traditionalist view of marriage and those who wish to change it; I believe the true divide is between those who privilege tradition as the primary tool to interpret the Bible and those who privilege experience.

Just yesterday, on the United Theological Alumni page, a debate was raging between an alumnus who is convinced that the Holy Spirit has spoken and that the polity of the UMC is in defiance of the will of God and a different alumnus who found it suspect that the Holy Spirit would wait 2000 years to reveal this truth to the church, allowing the church to be in error for two millenia.  And as I read through the thread it became painfully clear: the difference in the interpretive lens between these two is so dramatically different that they can't even comprehend how their debate partner could come to the conclusion they come to.

I would argue that Outler/Barth/Wesley do a good job of describing the ideal way a person might interpret the Bible in saying that everything read in the Bible should be filtered through the lens of experience and of reason and of tradition... what they fail to recognize is that every single person naturally favors one of the three.  And we know these people (and here are somewhat hyperbolic sketches of them):

The traditionalist:  Mark is the typical traditionalist's favorite Gospel because it was first.  And being first, it was most likely the most accurate commentary on the life of Christ.  Undisputed Pauline epistles are better than the undisputed because they were written earlier.  Augustine is better than Aquinas because he wrote earlier.  You get the picture... When in doubt, the traditionalist will side with the tradition.  It's not that the traditionalist has a different set of experiences than the experientialist, as has universally been assumed by the progressives in this debate; rather, it is the decision to error on the side of the wisdom that has been passed down over and against the wisdom of one's personal experience.

The experientialist: The experientialist typically prefers John to the other Gospels because of it's vivid imagery and relational tone.  The experientialist prefers to read and gives preference to the narratives of others over other types of literature.  The timeline doesn't matter nearly as much for the experientialist, however, for the experientialist, the narrative of a marginalized person is privileged and accept these narratives without critique.  In fact, I would argue that the cardinal sin for the experientialist is to critique the truth of someone else (especially their truth).  It is important to recognize that the experientialist, for the most part, comes from the same tradition as the traditionalist, however, when in doubt, the experientialist will error on the side of their experience and the experience of others, especially the experience of the marginalized.

The reasonist:  The reasonist is hardist to find, because they are least likely to enter into social media debates.  The reasonist will often prefer Luke because it came latest as a synoptic Gospel and has the most information.  The reasonist wants to live on the cutting edge, and will tend to privilege recently published material over things from the past.  The reasonist typically will seek the wisdom of other areas of study in order to make sense of difficult questions.  Notice that both the traditionalist and the experientialist will use outside scholarship when it supports their position, but it is only the reasonist who uses the outside sources as a key feature of their interpretive process.  The reasonist shares the same experiences as the experientialist and comes from the same tradition as the traditionalist, but is skeptical of both tradition and experience as sufficient lenses by which to interpret and to determine truth.

Can you see how these differences in interpretative privilege have caused our current impasse with regards to the question of human sexuality?  Can you also see how these differences are not limited to creating the impasse surrounding human sexuality?

It is important to note that this isn't the only factor at work and everyone use all three to some degree, and I am sure that someone who is smarter than me will likely be able to pinpoint something with an even greater influence; however, as I have conversations with the self-identified progressives and the self-identified traditionalists, I am encouraged that almost everyone wants to be faithful to God.  Almost everyone wants to grow in holiness.  Almost everyone wants a church where everyone is welcomed and everyone is given the opportunity to grow in Christ-likeness.

But, in the information age, the gap between those who error on the side of tradition and those who error on the side of experience is not a gap but a chasm that has been supercharged by the postmodern turn.  And even if the miracle occured and this issue was no longer a source of disagreement, the next one would be just as ugly, and for that reason, I don't think it would be a terrible idea for the church to seperate.  Allow, those who are committed to a democracy of the dead have the opportunity to live out their mission without the pesky experience terrorists getting in the way.  Likewise, those who privilege experience shouldn't have to deal with the prison of tradition as they do their best to faithfully follow Jesus.  And honestly, the reasonists don't need their own denomination.  Because the reasonist operates best as the faithful opposition and the reasonists I know would likely split based on who they respect and who they are already most deeply connected to.

So please, Commission on the Way Forward, draw up a plan for getting us out of our own way, but don't fall into the trap of thinking this is primarily a disagreement on human sexuality.  Define the theological process for the new denominations and allow them in their first independent general conferences to elect their own bishops. 

Post Script: After the writing of the blog, Rob Renfroe over at Good News Magazine posted an exerpt (likely the introduction) of a new book calling for an amicable separation in United Methodism.  I often find myself critical of Renfroe, but I found very little to criticize with this most recent post.  His lens is different than mine, but his reasoning is sound and I appreciate that someone with the clout that he possesses had the guts to say it, knowing that he will be labeled a schismatic.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Love as Lip Service and the Divide in the UMC

Last night I was scrolling through my social media feed and one of my "friends" (who I have never met, but with whom I am a co-laborer) posted this passage from Romans:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9, NIV)

And it got me thinking, in the UMC, both sides like to affirm their righteousness with regards to the inner-turmoil by publicly saying things like, "I love all my colleagues" and "we are better together;" however, these phrases are little more than lip service.

The truth is that in progressive safe spaces, there is no love lost for traditionalists who are keeping the denomination in the dark ages.

And behind traditionalist closed doors, there is little more than vitriol for progressives who have forsaken their first love for an Oprah-fied version of Christianity.

I once dated a girl who didn't really like me all that much.  She might say that she loved me and daydream about an idyllic future with 3 kids and 2 dogs in the suburbs, but when it came down to it, I was an interchangeable piece to her future puzzle.  It wasn't me that she loved, it was the idea of what she could turn me into.

And this is where we are as a denomination.  We love the idea of a truly United Methodism where (if you lean to the left) everyone is united in self-discovery, living one's personal truth, and living in harmony with nature and neighbor; or where (if you lean right) we are united in self-control, spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land, and orthodox affirmations.  But, we don't love our adversaries (and yes I chose this word on purpose) enough to allow their vision of the future to influence our shape our own.

Rather, in private text messages and while carpooling to conference events, we angrily decry "those people" who are killing our denomination in the safety of our echo chambers.

I ended up breaking up with the girl.  It was a really good decision.  In the freedom of no longer trying to live into her vision for me, I was able to embrace a more authentic, less anxious version of me. 

Neither faction of United Methodists are willing to live into the other side's vision for the church, which has meant that at every opportunity, we flex our muscles to demonstrate that we won't submit to the other's vision for our denomination.  What might happen if we did just break-up? What if these competing visions no longer had to coexist under the same roof?  Would we too have the opportunity to embrace a more authentic, less anxious version of ourselves, both individually and corporately?

I have friends in both camps, and it will be a bummer to miss out on our annual excursions for ice cream and to play shuffle board; but, for the sake of the mission(s), because we seem incapable of loving each other sincerely, it is probably time to break up.

Now, I admit that I could be wrong.  So, by all means please leave comments that are kind and truthful and if there is a way to keep this thing together, we can figure it out together.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Big Hairy Question: What does the Bible say about Science?

This month, we are working through big hairy questions.  One that came up a couple times in survey responses was, "What does the Bible say about science?"  There were questions about climate change, evolution, and what happened to the dinosaurs.

What does the Bible say about science?  I recognize that this may be unsatisfying, but the short answer is that the Bible says very little about questions that we view as part of the scientific inquiry.  One of my professors in seminary said it well when he said that science is the study of how the universe works; however, science is incapable of answering the question of why the universe works the way it does.  On the other hand, religion tells the story of why the universe is the way it is, but is not primarily concerned with the processes that govern how the universe works.

A prime example: in the first two chapters of Genesis, we get two different origin of the cosmos stories.  In the first story, the universe begins as a wet, chaotic, formless nothing, which God hovers over and by speaking, introduces order.  God separates light from dark, day from night, sky from surface, land from sea, plants from animals, birds from fish, mammals from reptiles, and as the final act, God separates, from the rest of creation, a human.  All of these acts are seen as good and all of them flow from evening into morning.

In the second account (beginning at Genesis 2:3), the earth is dry and dead, but God brings forth life, water flows from the surface of the dry, dead surface of the earth, and God takes dust from the dry, dead surface of the earth, forms that dust into a human form, and breathes life into Adam.  In the first narrative, everything is good, but in the second, Adam is working in the garden and God says, "it is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him."(v.18) God then brings forth even more life out of the dry, dead ground.  Animals of every shape and size, but no animal is found a suitable companion.  Until God finally puts Adam in a deep sleep, removes one of his ribs and from the rib creates a woman.

Now, science might ask the question, which of these creation possibilities is true?  Was the earth a wet, formless void that God separates to create order, saving humans for last?  Or was the earth a dry, dead planet that God brought life to, beginning with humans?

But religion asks the question what is true about these creation stories?  As Christians we don't say that one creation narrative is true and the other is false, we recognize that neither narrative is presented as a scientific or historical telling of the origin of the universe, rather these two creation stories are given to us to teach us from the very beginning of the Bible some fundamental truths about who God is.  And what are these truths?
  • When God speaks, things happen.
  • God is a creator of order, not of chaos.
  • Creation is good.
  • God is a giver of life.
  • God has created humans in the image of God.
And if we continue reading, the next set of stories teach fundamental truths about what it is to be human.

Additionally, we should point out that the vast majority of scientists throughout human history and according to a 2009 study, 60% of scientists working today believe in the divine and 40% have a religious practice.  Science and religion aren't the competing worldviews the media makes them out to be.  Science and religion continue to exist as partners in the pursuit of truth.  We need not be afraid of learning about how the world works from our brothers and sisters pursuing the scientific inquiry.  We shouldn't feel the need to defend the narratives of the Bible against scientific scrutiny.  The Bible is a religious text, whose primary purpose is to tell us about God.  It wasn't written as a scientific hypothesis, and it is unfair to treat it in that way.

Rather, we can affirm, like St. Augustine, that all truth is God's truth and sincerely do our best to understand how the world works, and praise God throughout the process for God's creativity and care to even the smallest details.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Central Untruth that Unravels Centrism

The Uniting Methodists met over the last two days in Georgia, and I didn't attend.  I like most of the people associated with the caucus group, and find their goal of discerning a solution that will save the United Methodist marriage to be noble.  However, it is pretty clear that their efforts are doomed; and they are doomed for one central reason.

Compatibilism is not a theological position.

According to the "centrists" there are essentially four theological positions in the UMC with regards to the question of affirming the practice of homosexuality.  Tom Berlin, says more here, but the gist of what he says is this:

  • Position 1 is progressive non-compatibility, meaning one believes that full affirmation of the practice of homosexuality is the correct course of action and the only solution is for every UM church and every UM pastor is fully affirming LGBT practice.

  • Position 2 is progressive compatibility, meaning that one believes that full affirmation of the practice of homosexuality is the correct course of action, but is willing to let individual churches and pastors make their own decision.

  • Position 3 is traditional compatability, meaning that one believes that full affirmation of the practice of homosexuality is not the correct course of action, but is willing to let individual churches and pastors make their own decision.

  • Position 4 is traditional non-compatibility, meaning that one believes that full affirmation of the practice of homosexuality is not the correct course of action, and that churches and clergy should be held accountable to the current standards of the denomination.

Here in lies the problem.  Compatibilism, by definition, is not a theological position.  Because there are only two possible theological claims with regard to the full expression and practice of homosexuality:

  • Claim A: God can be glorified by the full expression and practice of homosexuality. (Given a kind, self-giving, committed relationship)

  • Claim B: God can not glorified by the full expression and practice of homosexuality. (Even in the presence of a kind, self-giving, committed relationship)

Now, it is legitimate to be unsure which of these claims is true.  But it is wholly insincere to suggest that both claims can simultaneously be true.

Compatibilism is a strategy of progressives to keep the institution together, with the assumption that those who do not agree with them will one day "grow up"

And honestly, it is far and away the best strategy for UM progressives.  But it is a strategy, not a theology.

Because a sincere progressive is unwilling to let the official position be that churches within their denomination may exclude an expression of God's creativity and grace.

And a sincere traditionalist is unwilling to let the official position be that churches within their denomination celebrate sin.

A Caveat

I do believe that there is a significant number of people who find the evidence muddy and have chosen to withhold judgment, and for this group especially compatibilism is very attractive.  Why not let both my friends on the right and the left do what they feel is right?

But even for the person who finds the evidence inconclusive, compatibilism should be a frightening proposition, because compatibilism institutionalizes relativism.  How can the official position of the church be that M Barclay and Rob Renfroe are both right?

To be fair, I don't think the Uniting Methodists are actually saying that both M and Rob are right.  I think what they are actually saying is that M is right, but that we don't have the guts to tell Rob he is wrong.  Which gets back to the whole issue of truth telling...

Monday, July 24, 2017

#NextMethodism will have a Better Logo

The bureaucrats in the United Methodist Church love our logo.  See here, here, here, and here.

And if you follow these links, you will find really good theological foundations for a logo with a cross and a flame.  And there in lies the problem, we have really good theological reasons for a cross and flame branding; however, I will never forget bringing a friend of color to my home church and his first reaction being, "Caleb, why is there a burning cross on your church?"

Consistently in the methoblogosphere (I think that is a word) we find folks lamenting the lack of diversity within the UMC.  And while we might assume that the church is slowly getting more diverse, the data says otherwise.  In 1998, the UMC's North American membership was 87% white.  By 2008, it was 90% white.

Surely there is a plethora of reasons for our shameful history of connecting with minority populations; however, one might assume that having a logo that approximates a symbol of terror against black bodies in the United States has something to do with the pasty whiteness of the United Methodist Church.

Again, the theological underpinnings of our current logo are great, and I would suggest that we keep them in the design of a new logo.  Christocentric, excellent. High view of the Holy Spirit, fantastic.  But, isn't there another way to brand these virtues that doesn't look painfully similar to the klan's device of terror?

I think there is, and I think we will see it in #NextMethodism