Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Twelve Tribes of Methodism Pt. 2

In part 1 I made the case for twelve groupings (tribes) within the Methodist denomination:

Inclusive, Small Tent, Progressive
Inclusive, Big Tent, Progressive
Exclusive, Big Tent, Progressive
Exclusive, Small Tent Progressive
Inclusive, Small Tent, Centrist
Inclusive, Big Tent, Centrist
Exclusive, Big Tent, Centrist
Exclusive, Small Tent, Centrist
Inclusive, Small Tent, Traditionalist
Inclusive, Big Tent, Traditionalist
Exclusive, Big Tent, Traditionalist
Exclusive, Small Tent, Traditionalist

In part 2 I'll start describing what each of these groups may be like. We'll walk down each of the columns. The columns roughly line up with Rev. Tom Berlin's categories of Progressive Incompatibilist, Progressive Compatibilist, Traditional Compatibilist, and Traditional Incompatibilist. I'll start with a one sentence description and then gives some thoughts.

1. Inclusive, Small Tent, Progressive - A liberal theology that believes the Gospel can tolerate nothing less than full inclusion. An organization like Love Prevails could be in this group. This tribe would have natural tensions with every other tribe except for those directly adjacent in the table above. I have to think this group is very small within the UMC. The small tent nature would make it likely that most have already left. At the same time, some of these members have been fighting for justice for 40+ years. If they haven't left now I would expect them to keep fighting.

2. Inclusive, Small Tent, Centrist - In theory, this person is someone who is theologically in line with the large majority of our UMC doctrine, is inclusive, and for whom issues of justice for the marginalized are first order issues. One of my critiques of the Traditional Plan is that it puts full participation of LGBT+ people ahead of even the deepest pieces of our faith like the divinity of Christ. That happens with this group, too. For example, this person might be willing to remove the Virgin Birth from our doctrinal standards but simealtaneously will not live in the same denomination with someone who excludes LGBT+ participation. These folks could conceivably work with either of the groups in this column or, reluctantly, the second column. Theological centrists have fewer essentials than either progressives or traditionalists (traditionalists increasingly approaching fundamentalism and progressives increasing approaching relativism that rejects any absolute) which is why both ends will sometimes call them wishywashy. They (we) are not. If you challenge a centrist's essentials there will be a reaction. The centrist simply has fewer essentials to begin with. Anecdotally, I think this group is probably very small. The people I can think of who may fit here are Big Tent centrists who are weary of the fight.

3. Inclusive, Small Tent, Traditionalist - This person holds to orthodox views including an exceptionally high authority of Scripture, but rather than a literalist hermeneutic this person uses a hermeneutic of love. If the starting point for interpreting Scripture is 1 John 4:8 - "God is love" and if exclusion represents not loving then inclusion is a necessity. I had a friend in seminary who may be in this category. I remember him saying, "I take the Bible so seriously that I have to be a Democrat." For the record, I disagree with his assessment that any Christian must be in one political party or the other. I share that example simply to help the reader understand this position. Like the Inclusive, Small Tent, Progressive, I have to think this person has a hard time working well with others. 

Some notes about these tribes:

- The second and third probably have vanishingly small numbers. A small tent and inclusive ideology don't naturally fit well together.
- The most versatile of these tribes still cannot work well with at least half of the other tribes. 
- Especially if you are a traditionalist, I encourage you to think about all of the examples you have heard of the radical nature of those who are inclusive. I'd wager almost all of them come from the upper left corner of the table. All four corners represent a kind of extremism. They are loud, but they are not representative of as large a number of people as you might think. 
- When those of us who supported the One Church Plan say it was a compromise, please understand that this column is one of the groups that would have had to compromise. Nobody in any of these three tribes liked the OCP. Without exception, the people in these groups that I know saw the Simple Plan as a compromise. 

Part 3 will look at the next column. This is the column where I find myself and where I think most OCP supporters were. The failure of the OCP came in not translating our message for column 3.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Twelve Tribes of Methodism Pt. 1

In 2016 Rev. Tom Berlin began using a model that has been very helpful in understanding four different groupings of people that now divide the United Methodist Church. The short version: One is either traditional or progressive in regard to LGBT+ inclusion and one can either function in a denomination with those who disagree (compatible) or cannot function in that denomination (incompatible). You can lay the groups out from left to right and cover the ecclesiological landscape.

Berlin's language really has been helpful because it is both clear and simple. As our journey in these times continues we need a different way of describing the perspectives.

Take a person like Steve Harper. I was pleased to preview his latest book, a very readable personal and biblical story of how he came to change his mind. Dr. Harper is theologically orthodox by almost any definition - except that of the WCA which insists that LGBT+ inclusion is wrong. Harper is not a theological progressive; he is a theological traditionalist, or maybe centrist, who happens to believe in inclusion.

This distinction is critically important. In 2018 some evangelicals enjoyed quoting Rev. Roger Wolsey, a United Methodist pastor and campus minister, denying a whole host of traditional Christian beliefs. Wolsey has clarified some of his beliefs since, but there is no doubting that he is truly a "Progressive Christian." And there is no doubt that Harper (and me, too, for that matter) disagree with Wolsey. It really doesn't work to put both Harper and Wolsey in the same progressive compatibilist camp.

 We need to add a third dimension - the broader theological spectrum. It may also help to rename the existing categories. Here's my proposal:

1st Dimension: Do you believe that LGBT+ Christians should be fully included in the life of the church, including ordained ministry and marriage? Those who support this could be labeled "Inclusive" and those who do not "Exclusive". Please note that I'm not using the word exclusive in a derogatory sense - it is simply a descriptor.

2nd Dimension: Can you remain in a denomination with those who disagree with your belief in the 1st Dimension? If you can, you believe in a Big Tent rather than a Small Tent. Rev. Jeff Greenway, President of the WCA, has publicly shared that a big tent church is a bad idea. The proclamation from the recent UM Forward event in Minneapolis suggests a different kind of small tent. This tent welcomes the outcast and rejects powerful. The One Church Plan envisioned a big tent that supporters felt was in keeping with a long Methodist tradition.

3rd Dimension: The new, third dimension relates to a more wholistic theology: Progressive (like Wolsey), Traditional (like Harper), or Centrist (like perhaps my friend Dr. Rebekah Miles).

When we put these three dimensions together we get a table like this:

Inclusive, Small Tent, Progressive
Inclusive, Big Tent, Progressive
Exclusive, Big Tent, Progressive
Exclusive, Small Tent Progressive
Inclusive, Small Tent, Centrist
Inclusive, Big Tent, Centrist
Exclusive, Big Tent, Centrist
Exclusive, Small Tent, Centrist
Inclusive, Small Tent, Traditionalist
Inclusive, Big Tent, Traditionalist
Exclusive, Big Tent, Traditionalist
Exclusive, Small Tent, Traditionalist

Reading the table, the right side is exclusive, the center columns are big tent, and the rows moving down are progressively traditional. Each grouping is unique, and each grouping will have a unique set of other groups that they can work with.

Some implications of this methodology:
- the WCA and Good News led wing of the church really is a wing - a right wing that is likely not representative of the church. But the leadership has done a fantastic job of messaging.
- The UMC Next gathering in Kansas City invited people from nine of the twelve groups. And I'm not sure all nine will ultimately be able to stay in the same denomination.
- This methodology forces us to acknowledge that we are a complicated bunch. This is part of why our current impasse is so tricky.
- Note: the twelve tribes listed are theoretical. Four of these groups are probably only theoretical and don't exist in any meaningful way in the real world.

In Part 2 I'll describe characteristics of each of these groups and begin to look at where there are some affinities and tensions between the groups.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Another Glimpse Behind the Curtain

I just received an email from Good News  that is a reply to Dr. Rebekah Miles' excellent article that you can find here. Dr. Miles is fully capable of defending her work from Good News. I want to point out only one item. But it is an item that really matters.

Good News' reply states that Miles critique of the Traditional Plan begins at the wrong point in history. They say that Miles acts as if the Traditional Plan came out of nowhere and that the most important moment in the story really happened with a series of progressive actions in 2011.

Good News as an organization tells an intentionally selective, misleading history.

The story really begins in 2004 with this document. Note that the original document has been removed from the web. This link is to a mirror. Good News has never argued against the authenticity of the document and I have a hard copy myself from a completely independent source.

I hope you read the whole document. If you don't, then just read this excerpt that explains the strategy Good News and its allies have been working on implementing.

"This option is a type of Forced Departure, which is based on the model of church discipline, wherein the majority party within the church would essentially expel the minority party in order to create unity. The expulsion can be done either indirectly or directly. It would be done indirectly through making the environment of the church so hostile to the minority party that they choose either to leave or to agree to amicable separation. It would be done directly by requiring some type of "loyalty oath" or other enforcement mechanism that would require individuals and congregations to choose to leave if they could not live with the current majority policy."

Forced Departure
loyalty oath

These are not words that opponents of tradiationalists are using in a derogatory fashion. These are words that the right wing fringe is using to describe their own tactics. Good News and its allies are attributing a kind of rigidity and hostility to progressives and centrists that they perfected themselves more than ten years ago. 

To my theologically traditional friends, and you are many, I share this: 

I agree with you on so many things. Those who know the breadth of my own personal theology will recognize me truly as a centrist. To dismiss another false claim, I can sign off on our doctrinal statements in the Book of Discipline without "crossing my fingers." I can even sign off on every statement on the WCA's "what we believe page" - with the exception of the one they care most about.

You have concern about a progressive slippery slope leading to a denomination that you would not feel welcome in. I get that. I don't think that is what will happen, but I understand that concern. But it is a hypothetical concern. We are actively watching a fundamentalist slippery slope that most of you don't believe in either. That slide is actually happening right now. The document proves it is a planned slide.

Don't let yourself be used by a hidden agenda that is not true to who you are.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

After UMC Next

We wrapped up the UMC Next gathering just a few hours ago. A few thoughts as we prepare for what comes after.

1. The event was good. In the earliest stages of organization there was concern about having an inclusive leadership team. The concerns were heard and addressed, and a fantastic group of 17 led us through the three days together.

2. The event was hard. After the 2016 General Conference, Tom Berlin gave us a really helpful map for understanding the different groups within our denomination - four groups based on progressive/traditional and compatible/incompatible. The map was helpful but I discovered this week that we are much more complicated. I'm hoping to blog tomorrow on an expanded version of this map with 12 groups instead of four. nine different groups in my twelve group format would have felt welcome to attend UMC Next. It will not be possible for all nine to live in the same denomination. So if our goal was to reach complete consensus we were set up to fail.

3. We were able to reach some significant consensus. We adopted four principles to guide our future work. That's a significant accomplishment. As we journey forward and further refine our principles I expect three of the nine groups will find they can't continue in the long term - but it's not clear which three.

4. The key question for the moment - Is resistance futile or is resisting the resistance futile? One of the four commitments that we agreed to is rejection of the Traditional Plan and resistance to its implementation. Frankly, some forms of resistance are pretty easy to accomplish. It will begin with some annual conference sessions this year. It will expand after new rules take affect January 1. It will continue at General Conference 2020. Those of us in the One Church Coalition worked very hard at ensuring there would be no protests at General Conference 2019. It will not be possible to stop at least one of the twelve groupings within the denomination from significant protests in 2020. I really mean that. It will happen - it cannot be stopped. I don't think every group represented at UMC Next will vocally resist. Some probably will choose not to resist for a long period of time. But I guarantee that a significant number will resist for a significant period of time.

"Traditional Incompatabilists" - one of Rev. Berlin's groupings - are going to be the first people with a hard decision to make. They need to understand that when we said in St. Louis that we will not be moved we meant it. Our baptismal covenant to resist evil and injustice is part of our commitment to the United Methodist Church. A General Conference decision does not take precedence over our baptismal covenant.

Monday, May 20, 2019

UMC Next, John Wesley, and Star Wars

I'm spending three days at UMC Next having learning and conversing with about 600 people. Everyone who has been part of any church committee knows that after the meeting adjourns there's a meeting in the parking lot where you talk about the meeting that just happened.

So that's where I was tonight. Except it was raining really hard so we weren't actually in the parking lot. I was drinking a milkshake. It was delicious. Then I drove home.

The meeting after the meeting, just like the UMC Next gathering itself, was a mix of centrists and progressives. I heard some hurt from progressives, which I think it's fair to say was also heard in the full gathering. I also shared my own kind of hurt. Mine is of infinitely less quantity and quality than those who are LGBT+. It is real, but I acknowledge it is much, much smaller. The hurt I spoke of stems from a frustration that I want to be an ally and an advocate and also sometimes feel like I get attacked or yelled at simply for being a white heterosexual male. Some of you reading this right now are saying YES! and others are saying YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! and I acknowledge that both of those view are correct. I'm telling you how I feel sometimes, and I'm aware that it may be analogous to a person complaining about stubbing his toe while kicking a turtle. I have more sympathy for the turtle than for the jerk that kicked it. Let me explain my frustration in Wesleyan terms, and then with the help of Rey and Finn take a step back.

My hope for UMC Next is that a large majority of United Methodists, at least United Methodists in the U.S., will be able to walk together into the future hand in hand in the spirit of Wesley's sermon Catholic Spirit. Wesley takes as his text 2 Kings 10:15. Jehu meets Jehonadab and says, "if your heart is as my heart, take my hand." If our hearts are the same, even if we disagree on particulars, then take my hand and let's walk together. That's what I want to do.

Now go back a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away to one of my favorite scenes in The Force Awakens (which in this Star Wars geek's opinion is one of the best movies in the series). Finn (John Boyega) is on the run from the First Order. He's standing next to Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is now guilty by association. When they're spotted by stormtroopers, Finn grabs Rey's hand and tells her to run. He keeps tugging her hand while they're running until Rey says, "Let go of me! I know how to run without you holding my hand!" After hiding briefly they take off to run again. Finn - again - grabs Rey's hand and Rey yells, "Stop taking my hand!"

So here's my aha moment on the drive home. I want to put myself in the role of Jehu (Finn) and not Jehonadab (Rey). I want to say, "If your heart is as my heart, take my hand," or "I want to help save you, so take my hand."  In today's context, that's not what I need to say. I do believe that we need to hold hands and move forward together. But I don't get to demand it. I don't get to offer a hand to someone on my terms.

A better approach in today's context for me, and maybe for some of you reading this too, is a question instead of a command. "I think my heart is as your heart. Can we hold hands together?"

I hope the answer is yes.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church?

I had never really thought about it before. For 20 years I've confirmed students into full membership in the United Methodist Church. I've always used the prescribed liturgy from the Book of Worship. So I've always read that question and expected an affirmative answer.

Last Saturday we took the Confirmation Class of 2019 through a rehearsal so they would know exactly what to expect and when to do what. I read the question in a new way. "Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries?"

I had a brief internal crisis. I have been clear that I do not intend to leave the denomination. I have been equally clear that the February passage of the Traditional Plan is unacceptable, unworkable, and unenforceable. So how can I ask our Confirmands to be loyal?

I can ask them to be loyal in the same way that I am loyal - by supporting that in the denomination that can be supported and holding our denomination accountable when it does not live up its own ideals.

I said as much during the Confirmation service itself on Sunday. I interpreted the question before the Confirmands were able to answer to clarify what I understand the question to me in the context of a Reconciling Congregation and our current denominational dispute. In that way, our public Confirmation Sunday became also for me a private reconfirmation moment.

I confirm that I will be loyal to the United Methodist Church by strengthening its historic ministries, including ministries of love and reconciliation.

I confirm that I will be loyal to the United Methodist Church by continuing to follow Wesley's First General Rule, to do no harm. I will fail at that, but I will continue to strive to do my best. Doing no harm includes treating all people as whole people even when the Book of Discipline makes some people "less than."

I confirm that I will be loyal to the United Methodist Church by fulfilling my baptismal covenant to "resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves." I will fulfill that covenant even when the actions of General Conference itself perpetuate injustice and oppression. I will not oppress those who disagree with and I will not oppress those who are harmed by our current position.

I confirm that I will do this by "accepting the freedom God gives me" to resist. I will not be coerced to disregard the Spirit's clear leading by threats of punishment. I will not reject the oppressed

I confirm that I will be loyal to the United Methodist Church through my:
Prayers - that we may be healed from division and distrust and constant prayer for discernment
Presence - that I will be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves out of fear of retribution
Gifts - that I will use my God-given gifts including financial gifts to support equal treatment
Service - that I will use a portion of my time and energy to move the denomination in the direction I believe we are compelled to move
Witness - that I will share the Good News of God's love and redemption through Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and my Savior. It is this love that calls all people to turning toward God and working for God's Kingdom.

I will be loyal to the United Methodist Church - not to the Church as it is, but to the Church as God is calling her to be. And so I pray that "The God of all grace, who has called us to eternal glory in Christ, establish [me] and strengthen [me] by the power of the Holy Spirit, that [I] may live in grace and peace." So may it be for all of us.

**quotes taken from Baptismal Covenant 1 of the United Methodist Church.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

What Has Changed with the Judicial CouncilRuling

Methodist watchers already know that the Judicial Council has issued their ruling on the actions taken at the special 2019 General Conference. So what does it all mean?

1. The UMC is officially anti-gay. But I want to put a caveat on this. The only true change in the UMC position comes in one petition that references "self-avowed homosexuals" instead of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals." Even though our language is archaic this change is significant. Proponents of the Traditional Plan said that this petition's language was a mistake - that they accidentally left out the word "practicing" - and they were prepared to amend the language had we not run out of time. I can't ask the authors because while we have been told a small group of bishops were involved in writing the petitions none of them have ever come forward and taken credit. I believe that it was a mistake. I also believe it speaks to the subconscious. When we have been using the same phrase for 40+ years it seems incredulous that the same word was left out twice in the same petition completely on accident. I think it speaks to the true intent and a tacit acknowledgement that the phrase "self-avowed practicing" is nonsensical - which will be a blog for a different day.

2. There were no real surprises. Some hoped for a different decision, but ultimately Judicial Council ruled the same way that they ruled prior to General Conference. There were no surprises.

3. With one exception. Judicial Council did surprisingly reverse their decision on an exit provision. For the record, I think that from a legal perspective their original decision was incorrect. Now that there is a legal exit plan I invite you to read the WCA's interpretation of the rulings. Because,

4. The WCA is revealing their true intent. My last speech at General Conference was in favor of the exit plan. I said that if they want an exit plan so they can leave then they can have it. The exit was advertised as a plan for progressives, which importantly no progressive said they wanted. In the interpretation above, the WCA notes that some traditionalists will welcome the exit so that they can leave - and makes no mention of the possibility of progressives leaving. In the days ahead you will see more traditionalist congregations preparing to leave than progressive or centrist congregations.

5. Finally, I encourage you not to make any new decisions based on the Judicial Council outcome. In the course of greater events in our denomination this is a minor occurrence. It confirms what we already knew would be the case, mostly beginning January 1st and lasting only until May 2020. Stay the course. Resist the harm. Something new will emerge and you will want to be part of it.