Thursday, June 1, 2017

From Pentecost to Babel

The United Methodist Church should not observe Pentecost this year.

Pentecost is the birth of the Church. It is also the culmination of a story that began centuries earlier. The story begins in Genesis 11:1-9 with the construction of the Tower of Babel. Remember in that story the whole world speaks one language. A prideful group gathers together and begins building a Tower to reach the heavens. To thwart their efforts God confuses their languages. They can no longer communicate with each other. Thus they have no choice but to separate one from the other into tribes and nations across the Earth.

Pentecost is Babel Part 2. As people from all across the world speaking all different languages gather in Jerusalem, the Spirit descends upon the believers and enables them to speak different languages. They share the Good News in multiple languages, or perhaps in a spiritual tongue that could be understood by multiple languages, and as the shared the news that has the power to unite all people 3,000 individuals were converted in one day.

It is not a complete reversal of Babel. The multitude of languages still exist. The multitude of tribes and nations still exist. But the multitude could exist together because even with the differences they were able to communicate. They were able to listen, share, and grow together. Diversity in the Church continued even into the writing of Scripture as we have four Gospels that tell the same story in four different ways.

The United Methodist Church should not observe Pentecost this year because we have gone back to Babel. We speak different languages literally (both in the United States and certainly across the globe) and figuratively traditional, progressive, centrist, exclusive, inclusive, conservative, liberal...) Our figurative language differences identify the tribe to which we belong (WCA, Love Prevails, Good News, MFSA...) Instead of being drawn together in Christ with our differences as happened at Pentecost we have chosen to withdraw to our tribes in the spirit of Babel.

We don't have to talk to each other. We can simply go our separate ways. We can associate only with those who think like us. But we can't do that and celebrate Pentecost. We have become people of Babel instead.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A New Methodist Map

Some helpful work has been done recently in attempting to categorize the various constituencies within the United Methodist Church as we inch closer to a report from The Way Forward commission and a special 2019 General Conference. Categories can be helpful handles for us to grasp as long as 1) we don't grasp so tightly that we can't unclench our fists when we find someone in a different category and 2) the categories fit with our lived reality. As Gordon Livingston (no relation) said, 

“If the map doesn't agree with the ground, the map is wrong”

Tom Lambrecht first developed the map that is now becoming well known. It was enhanced by Tom BerlinChris Ritter took it another step. In each design, the map categorizes United Methodists into four groups based on their position on LGBTQ inclusion and willingness to share a denomination with those who disagree. The groups are labeled Progressive Non-Compatibilist, Progressive Compatibilist, Traditional Compatibilist, and Traditional Non-Compatibilist. There is value to this map. It highlights well the immediate situation that we face. But it doesn’t reflect the broader ground around us. Once we get over the current hill in front of us the map becomes worthless. So I want to try changing the map. I want to try a map that speaks both to the ground we are walking on now and to the ground that we will inevitably walk on in the future.

If you are a reader of this blog you undoubtedly know that I have grave concerns about the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA.) It is ironic, then, that I'd like to change the map because of the words of Jeff Greenway, chair of the WCA, at a gathering in Memphis a few weeks ago. As reported by Good News Magazine, Greenway said, 
"... I believe human sexuality is the presenting symptom of much deeper theological fissures and systemic problems that are dividing The United Methodist Church. The foundation for our theological crisis has been in place since the very beginning when we embraced Theological Pluralism --resulting in a sort of ‘big tent’ Methodism where a variety of theological expressions were appreciated and valued. There was a sense of mutual appreciation and tolerance at that time. I can remember talking with some of my older, more liberal colleagues who would not agree with my more orthodox perspectives, but they would say there was room in their church for me. It was a generous pluralism whose limits had not yet been truly tested. Those limits are now being tested...."
He's right.

The reality is we are divided on a great number of issues, not just human sexuality. This is the presenting issue for a deeper crisis. Which means that coming to a final resolution on human sexuality would not solve the deeper issues. One who is a Progressive Non-Compatibilist on LGBTQ rights may be a Traditional Compatibilist on rebaptism, for example. Thus, using Greenway's language as a springboard, I propose three different categories. 



The New Categories


Progressive Exclusionary - this group consists of those who take a consistently progressive view. But to belong to this group one must not only have a progressive theology, but also insist that this progressive theology is unquestionably the future of the church. Individuals in this group might say something like "We know through science that miracles can't occur and never did occur and it's embarrassing to be associated with people who still hold on to old superstitions like that." This group is sometimes labeled as "tolerant of everyone except those who aren't tolerant," which can also become "tolerant of everyone except those who don't think like them." In Greenway's quote above, this group is represented by the phrase "Those limits [of pluralism] are now being tested."




Traditional Exclusionary - on the opposite end are the traditional exclusivists. This group consists of those who take a consistently traditional stance AND insist that the denomination must always do so as well. They will fight for the faith that was handed down to us. They conserve. When they say "The Bible is True" they mean "The Bible is True in the way that I understand Biblical truth as it was handed down to me. Period." This group is sometimes labeled (unfairly) as haters of anyone who is not like them. But they are naturally suspicious of theological innovation. I cannot speak for where Rev. Greenway comes down, but the quote we began with sounds like what one would expect from the Traditional Exclusionary group.



Wesleyan Inclusivists – This is the final group. They are inclusive in their thinking. In Greeway's words, they are in favor of "big tent Methodism." Theological Pluralism is a good thing, in part because I may be wrong and you may be right and the only way we'll find out in this lifetime is if we stay in relationship. But this group is not entirely inclusive. The Wesleyan Inclusivist holds in Wesley's sermon on a "Catholic Spirit" high regard. Wesley clearly communicates in this sermon the inclusive principle that people of different opinions can coexist in the same church. “Every wise man...bears with those who differ from him, and only asks him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question. 'Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?’” But there is more. In the same sermon Wesley also speaks against latitudinarianism, which today we could translate as an "anything goes" approach. A latitudinarian would end the story of the woman caught in adultery with "Is there anyone here to condemn you?" and skip the "Go and sin no more" part. Wesleyan Inclusivists, then, would hold to a core of the faith that the Progressive Exclusionary group would not hold to and simultaneously hold to a smaller core of essentials than the Traditional Exclusionary group. In the words of Albert Outler, "Here, then, is a charter for a distinctive sort of doctrinal pluralism - one that stands at an equal distance from dogmatism on the one extreme and indifferetism on the other." (from his introduction to “Catholic Spirit” in The Works of John Wesley.)



Making the Map

So now we can start making the map.

We need a new map because the Lambrecht/Berlin/Ritter map categorizes us primarily in relation to one topic, albeit a very important topic. The bigger question is the one Greenway named. "The foundation for our theological crisis has been in place since the very beginning when we embraced Theological Pluralism --resulting in a sort of ‘big tent’ Methodism where a variety of theological expressions were appreciated and valued." 

If you agree with Greenway that this is a problem and the solution is some form of denominational purification (aka enforcing the Book of Discipline) then you are in the Traditional Exclusionary camp.

If you agree with Greenway that the "big tent" is a problem but you think the solution is to enforce a deep pluralism and those who cannot accept the pluralism will need to exit then you are in the Progressive Exclusionary camp. 
Progressive Exclusionaries cannot agree with Traditional Exclusionaries. Again, Greenway is right. The limits of a generous pluralism are being tested. And we are failing the test. We are failing because, like the current culture of the United States, we are moving ever more rapidly to the poles - to the extremes. One extreme has forgotten how to be generous; the other has forgotten how to be pluralistic. And so we stand in opposition. 




In the middle of the map sits the Wesleyan Inclusivists. This is my preference and where I would place myself, so I’ll take a short tangent. As a Wesleyan Inclusivist I led the church I serve through the process of becoming a Reconciling Congregation. At the same time, anyone who has been a member of the congregation through the previous four senior pastors will tell you I am the most theologically conservative pastor this church has ever had. When I arrived we lost some members because I was too conservative. More recently we lost members because of our pro-refugee stance. Now I’m too liberal. Some will say we talk about sin too much and some will say you can only be comfortable here if you're a Democrat. And those statements will surprise the many Republicans in the congregation and those who thank God daily for saving them from sin. We've also baptized four adults in the last month who are finding a fresh, authentic faith.



In other words, the Wesleyan Inclusivist lives in the tension of the real world. Some say we will not be able to move forward as a church until we have a final resolution to the issues before us. I remind you that the first church fight is recorded in Acts 6, not long after Pentecost, "while the number of disciples continued to increase" (Acts 6:1, CEB). We live in tension not because of our current dispute, but because we are human. The church has always and always will exist in this tension.

The Wesleyan Inclusivist will embrace from the Progressive Exclusivist a spirit of Christian pluralism. The tent should be big because Wesley’s tent was big and Jesus’ tent was big. But there are pieces that the Wesleyan cannot take from the Progressive. For example, we must be able to say that Jesus is the Way. A universalism that says all religions are ultimately the same diminishes our own faith while also doing a disservice to other faiths (see Stephen Prothero's God Is Not One for a good survey.) We cannot succumb to a pluralism whose only boundary is excluding those who believe in boundaries.

The Wesleyan Inclusivist will also embrace pieces of the Traditional Exclusivist. In short, we would hold onto the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith in the Book of Discipline. And, to quote another WCA presenter, we would hold onto those statements "without crossing our fingers behind our backs." But the Traditionalist will have to let go of some things, too. The Traditionalist will have to note that our statements on Scripture include the phrase "Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith..." (Confession of Faith, Article IV.) This means that there are some things you might want us to hold as essential that...aren't. And we may have some legitimate disagreements about what precisely is revealed in Scripture.

Now to finish the map. In themselves, the Progressive and the Traditionalist cannot be reconciled. But the Wesleyan invites both into relationship, taking pieces that can be embraced by all in order to bridge the gap. Because the Methodist tent is big. It is not all-encompassing, but it is big. And that’s a good thing.



We need to be realistic. There will be those who are not able to stay united in this denomination. The person I interviewed years ago who held to the idea that God dictated Scripture word by word doesn’t belong in the same denomination as the person who believes the Bible is a human construct with divine inspiration.

Rob Renfroe said in the March/April issue of Good News that, “A win for the Kingdom is coming out of the present mess with as many faithful Methodists as possible connected to each other and working together for the Kingdom (p.3).” We will not stay entirely united. But if we can see beyond the presenting issue to the deeper issues, we can stay mostly united. We can work together towards common goals and allow differences in matters of opinion. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Even the Gentiles

Acts 10 tells the story of the conversion of Cornelius. As I preached on Sunday, the story could equally be referred to as the conversion of Peter. Not a conversion to faith, obviously. We're well past that time in his story. But Peter's conversion is incredibly important nonetheless.

As the story begins Peter holds the traditional understanding that a person had to essentially convert to Judaism before converting to Christianity. By the end of the story his understanding of how God is working is dramatically changed. Verse 45 is a key verse.

"The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the
Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles."


Did you notice that last phrase? "Even on the Gentiles." You can hear in this the way in which the circumcised believers felt about the Gentiles. It reminds me of John 1 when Nathaniel asks Phillip, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" The nerve of God! To go beyond our understanding, to go beyond our expectations, and bless someone who is different from me with the Holy Spirit! Yes, God blessed even the Gentiles.

Which group of people do we think of today as Peter and the others thought of as the Gentiles? What country, or gender, or economic status, or political party, or religion, or denomination, or sexual orientation, or skin color, or ... do you (we) assume God will not work through?

I pray that God surprises us again and again with the ones that God chooses to bless.

Monday, May 1, 2017

A Parable

A young man was walking home after a wonderful Sunday evening worship experience at the church. As he silently shared a silent prayer of gratitude to God for the light of the moon and chirps of the crickets, he heard a muffled voice from the crumbled sidewalk running perpendicular to his path. He crossed the familiar "work zone" tape that had blocked the walk for the last few days as crews worked to rebuild the old concrete. Quickly, he realized what had happened. Storms  had washed under the sidewalk, eroding dirt below. Over time, more and more dirt washed away until a large hole opened up. This was what the workers were trying to fix.

But now where the sidewalk should be he saw only the hole that the rain had left behind and heard, again, a voice, coming from below.

"Help! Anyone?"

The voice was weak.

"Hello!" The man replied. "I can hear you. I'll help get you out!"

"Thank God. I've been here for...I don't know how long."

"Well don't worry, I'll call for help. It's just after noon now."

A sigh...a deep breath...a word "so long."

"What?"

"It's been so long. I was working all night Saturday in the office and into Sunday morning. Things had to get done, you know. 9:00 maybe when I started to walk home. I just wasn't paying attention. Fell right into the hole. My leg is bent...I know it's broken. The blood coming from...I don't know where. I hurt. Everywhere."

"So you've been here for, what, 12 hours? Oh my gosh. That's horrible. You need to get to a doctor!"

"I'm so thirsty...hungry..."

"I bet. Well, I'll get you all taken care of. You just stay there and don't worry. Or...wait. I'm sorry, but I need to ask you another question. Are you a Christian?"

"Yeah. Sure. Isn't everyone?"

"No, not everyone. But I'm asking because it occurred to me that you said you were working all night and into Sunday morning. I mean, I'm busy too. I work hard five days a week and sometimes on Saturdays. But Sunday is the Sabbath."

"Yeah, so?"

"Well, it's God's day. You understand you were breaking God's law, don't you?"

"I didn't know it was that important."

"Well, it is. And if you had been going to worship like you should have been instead of working in the office you never would have fallen in this hole to begin with."

"Look, I appreciate your view but can't you just help me out of this hole? You don't even have to do it. Just call someone else who can help."

"I'm sorry, I just can't do that. You didn't just break one law, you broke two. You were working on the Sabbath and because you were doing that you weren't worshiping the Lord. That's why you fell down the hole. I'm sorry, I really am, but when you live in sin there are consequences."

"What? That's not funny."

"Oh, I'm not joking. If I help you I'm just making it worse. I'll be enabling you to continue sinning. Plus then I'll be working on the Sabbath, too."

"You're going to leave me here until tomorrow?"

"I might be able to help then, sure. Hang tight. If you find where you're bleeding make sure to hold something up tight to it so you don't lose as much blood. And elevate that part too. That might help. I'll pray for you, too, that you might have a change in heart. Just remember this all would have been avoided if only you had followed God's law."

"Come back! Please!"

"Don't worry, I will. Tomorrow. Bye for now."

The man walked on. He truly was sorry for the person in the hole, the poor soul who had so misbehaved. He too, was one of the Shepherd's sheep who had gone astray. It was so hard to do the right thing. And yet every person has their struggles. Every person must learn to obey...


You have heard it said that homosexuality is a violation of God's law. You have heard it said that someone who is gay must change their ways. I ask you: How many lives must we lose to suicide before we choose to pick a person up out of the hole instead? How many people must run from the Church that condemns before we will be open to the fruit that comes with acceptance? How many times must we run to "But the law says..." before we run to the Gospel of Grace that says "You are welcome to the table."
- Matthew 12:9-14

Monday, April 24, 2017

We're All Afflicted

Finley Peter Dunne was the first to use the phrase "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." He said it in reference to the job of newspapers. I've always been told it's the job of preachers. And, as a preacher, I've subscribed to the theory. After all, that's what Jesus did. To the lepers dealing with disease and ostracism he brought healing and hope; to the pharisees who self-righteously spoke of their faithfulness he brought affliction. The church I serve is a place where all people can come no matter their station in life - no matter their affliction, one might say. My hope is that every person who walks into St. Paul's on a Sunday morning will leave having found a place of hospitality and love. Comfort. Equally, I hope that every person will leave challenged to follow God more faithfully, no matter what that means for them. Affliction.

Here's the rub. As the days and weeks and now months have gone by post-election I'm having a hard time finding anyone who is comfortable. Affliction is easy to find. President Trump has continued to find ways to speak or act against almost every category of person that can be named causing all of them (and all of us who care about them) affliction. At the exact same time, many who supported Trump are also feeling afflicted by a media that keeps pummeling Trump and a perception that those who didn't vote for Trump don't see him as a legitimate president. The church I serve has not lost any members for months because of the "hot topic" of human sexuality. We have lost members because of our pro-refugee stance. We have lost members, or at least attendees, because people are tired of hearing about contentious issues. And yet there is no question that if we had not taken the stand we have taken or talked about what we have talked about we would also lose members. How do you preach comfort to the afflicted when everyone feels afflicted and what comforts one group is precisely what afflicts another group?

As is often the case, the United Methodist Church is a reflection of our society. Everyone feels afflicted. This week we essentially hold a trial for Bishop Karen Oliveto. That's not really what it is, but certainly that's how it is perceived. Here's the interesting part. As an advocate for change in our denominational position on everything associated with LGBT rights I feel afflicted. For more than 40 years we have argued back and forth and virtually every vote has gone against change. There is some hope that this one decision will go our way (because it is clear to me that the Judicial Council doesn't really have jurisdiction in the case), but even if that happens the demographics and previous votes suggest that there is little chance of making true progress at a 2019 called General Conference. But that's not all! While the "progressive" side feels afflicted, it is the "traditionalist" side that is actually leaving the denomination even before General Conference...even before the Way Forward commission makes a recommendation...even before the Oliveto case. Repeatedly, I hear traditionalists say the UMC is a lost cause - even though that's not how the votes have ever gone.

I've sometimes shared in premarital counseling that there are times when it is more important to be in relationship than to be right. Sometimes being right is more important - for example, spousal abuse is never right and should end the relationship. But what if my spouse says it's my turn to take out the trash and I am positive that I was the last person to do that? Is it worth an argument and grabbing video from the security camera to prove that I'm right? Or is it better to say "Yes, dear" and just take out the trash? Is it more important to stand by the principle that I am right or is it better to stand by the relationship regardless of who is right?

As I've written elsewhere, the movement from the progressive-center wing of the UMC is not to say we are right. Indeed, that large group includes some who would say same-sex marriage is not right. The movement is to a position that says we are willing to allow space for a variety of opinions - even those that we disagree with , even if we are really sure that we have this right - because we value the relationship of all our sisters and brothers.

In the local church I will admit that I haven't figured it out yet. I don't know how to comfort the afflicted when everyone feels afflicted. I know I have to preach the Gospel. And I know that unity even with those we disagree with is part of the Gospel. It's a quandary. Maybe a microcosm of the State of the Church as a whole.

As we sort all of this out, please pray for your preachers. Pray for the Way Forward Commission. Pray for the Judicial Council and those representing differing views. Pray for wisdom, for restored relationship, and for a way through the narrow path that we must navigate.

Monday, March 20, 2017

May Unity in Diversity Be Our Witnesss

In a commentary titled Misunderstandings and Mischaracterizations first published by Good News and later by UMC.org, Walter Fenton attempted to "clarify what United Methodists in the renewal and reform groups [like Good News and WCA] regard as misunderstandings or mischaracterizations of their positions." The commentary lists a series of "claims" that "centrists and progressives" make about "renewal and reform leaders" and then shows in turn how each of these claims is false.

Occasionally I'll hear someone who was raised in a church from the theological far right or left speak of why they no longer believe in God. Almost always I will reply, "I don't believe in that God either. Let me tell you about the God I do believe in." In the same way, I will not contend with Rev. Fenton's assessment of how the reform and renewal groups believe their positions are mischaracterized. As someone who travels with both centrist and progressive groups, I will contend that for many the mischaracterizations that Rev. Fenton sees are not ones that I am hearing. Indeed, the groups that I am familiar with are suggesting a very different future for the UMC than what Rev. Fenton seems to think they are looking for. Perhaps instead of Rev. Fenton telling us what the progressives and centrists believe to be the case it would be profitable to speak with them directly.

Instead of engaging in the mischaracterizations that, whether true or not, distract from the conversation (the God I don't believe in) let me tell you what I and many other centrists and progressives do believe.

We believe that theological diversity, including a variety of ways of interpreting the Bible, is good. There are limits to that diversity, both on the left and the right. For example, the Trinity is an essential belief in Methodism, as is made clear in our doctrinal standards. If a potential pastor denies the Trinity then that person should not be allowed to be a pastor. On the other hand, Christians have had rich debates about the exact nature of the Trinity. There is room for conversation and disagreement about the precise nature of the three-in-one God. Similarly, unlike some denominations like the Anglican Church of North America, the United Methodist Church does not restrict which version of the Bible can be used in worship. Every version is, in part, and interpretation and we recognize that a variety of interpretations helps us on our faith journeys rather than hinders us.

We believe the Bible is True. We also believe that there are various ways of understanding that truth. I believe the creation story in Genesis is beautiful poetry that describes the incredible truth that a loving God, out of love, created all. With God, we should celebrate that in creation God did something miraculous and "It was very good." Another pastor in our tradition (and in fact a pastor that I know who used to serve in the same conference as me) might argue that the creation story teaches us that everything was created in a step-by-step process over the course of seven days. We disagree about how Genesis 1-2 is true, but we agree that it is true.

We believe that the Church should not cave in to cultural norms. I have yet to talk to a person who has said "we should change our position on homosexuality because everyone else has changed their mind, too." In fact, the early proponents of change in our policy began their work at a time when concepts like same-sex marriage would be laughable. According to Pew, a majority of Americans remained opposed to same-sex marriage until 2013. Instead, I would offer that we are engaged in the common cultural practice, and unbiblical practice, of polarization. Jesus said that our unity would be a witness to the world. We are caving to the cultural notion that those with differing perspectives can't work together for the common good. Just as the Methodist church split over slavery at roughly the same time the country split, we find ourselves at General Conference as unable to work together "across the aisle" as our current Congress.

Because of this, we believe that there is room in the United Methodist Church for a variety of views and practices regarding same-sex marriage and "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" as pastors. Personally, I think there will come a time when we will look back on this in the same way that we do previous issues of equality with race and gender - we will celebrate the progress that has been made toward equality and note that there are ways in which we still fall short. However, I acknowledge that I could be wrong. In the meantime, I am more than willing to work in a denomination with those who disagree with me. Will I hope that they change their mind? Absolutely! Will I advocate forcing them to change their mind or leave the denomination? Absolutely not! In fact, there is no serious proposal to require any pastor to perform same-sex marriages or any conference to ordain "self-avowed practicing homosexuals." This is why I expect that if the denomination changes it's position there will be some on both the theological left and right who choose to leave. The choices at this time are very straightforward. We can continue something resembling our current arrangement, dig in our heals, and ultimately go our separate ways. Or, we can change our position to one that does not coerce pastors or conferences into practices that they disagree with.

Let's be clear. The Way Forward Commission and the next General Conference will not be choosing between whether our denomination is "pro-gay" or "anti-gay." They will be choosing whether or not we are willing to work together even as we disagree on particular positions and whether we will defy culture by staying united at a time when the world says we should divide.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Yes, WCA, God Is Good

You don't need to read much of my work to know that I have concerns about the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). So when I received an email from them asking me to watch a short video, of course I did. You can watch it too.

As is their habit, the WCA is creating a false narrative of what is happening in the United Methodist Church. In the video, Madeline Carrasco Henners shares three phrases that the WCA holds on to. God is Good. The Bible is True. Promises Should be Kept.

Amen and amen. But that doesn't mean that the WCA's narrative is true. To begin with, Rev. Henners makes the near libelous claim that, "There are those in the UMC who don't agree with all or even part of those three simple statements." I invite Rev. Henners to name those in the UMC who would refute the idea that God is Good. Even the most radical of our members left and right would not deny that God is Good. Do we have different understandings of exactly how God's goodness is lived? Of course. But we should be above playing games with each other in the serious times that we live in.

Rev. Henners then goes point by point, and so will I. That only gets us half way through her video but it's all I can stomach for the moment.

God is Good. 

The last sentence that Henners shares here gets to the crux of the matter. "If God tells us to refrain from something then it is good for us to obey Him." We all know that the WCA's primary concern is the "practice of homosexuality." They never use the words in the video, but everybody knows that this is the issue at hand. This sentence is code for 'If God tells us to refrain from [homosexuality] then it is good for us to obey." And I agree. But we aren't arguing about whether or not we should obey God; we are arguing about what God's will is.

The Bible Is True

Something else we can agree on. Rev. Henners quotes 2 Timothy on the authority of Scripture, which most likely originally referenced the Old Testament, but that's fine. We'll move on to the contention that some don't agree that the Bible is true. I have yet to find a pastor who doesn't start a sermon with Scripture. Or read Scripture regularly. Or seek to follow Scripture. Rev. Henners says, "The Bible provides us with authoritative teaching on what we should believe and how we should live." Yes! And yet we all agree that there are places where the Bible teaches things that on the surface appear contradictory and that must be sorted out by other means. We don't stone insolent children. We don't practice the Year of Jubilee. We don't attack those with lustful eyes as adulterers. We don't share all we have in common. The Bible is true AND we will sometimes disagree on how it is rightfully interpreted.

Promises Should Be Kept

Now we get to it. "Every ordained clergyperson...promised to God and each other to be accountable to the United Methodist Church, it's authority, it's Doctrinal Standards, and our Book of Discipline. This promise is absolute. It is without exception. That's what makes it a covenant." And so I'll go to my favorite part of the Book of Discipline, the footnote on Paragraph 310 (2012 BOD. This footnote reminds us that candidates for ordination should not be "self-avowed practicing homosexuals." But the history of the footnote goes back at least to 1976 and spoke only of tobacco and alcohol use - language that still remains as it was then. "...the burden of proof would be upon users [of tobacco and beverage alcohol] to show that their use of it is consistent with the highest ideals of the Christian life." I don't know about you, but I've never heard that question asked in a Board of Ordained Ministry interview. But promises should be kept! If you have ever had the wrong number of people on a church committee, if you have ever gone a year without receiving all of the special offerings, if you have ever served a church that does not have a United Methodist Women's chapter, then you have failed to keep the promise!

Is that what Rev. Henners really means? Of course not. And we know this because another vow we make in the Book of Discipline is to pay our apportionments. At least one WCA board member pastors a church that has not paid its apportionments in full even though it has found money to pay its WCA dues.

WCA members, if you are serious about keeping promises, then back it up with your words. And come up with some better lines to differentiate yourselves from the rest of us. We are all doing our best to stay faithful to God's call within the United Methodist Church.