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.

18 comments:

  1. Excellent reflection. Thank you, David. You continue to lead our conference and denomination in inspiring ways.

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  2. At ordination we promise to uphold and teach the doctrines of our church, not the doctrines we hold individually, not what we wish were the doctrines of our church.

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    1. I support the doctrine of the church as expressed in Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules. Our current position on LGBT inclusion is not among them. It is not doctrine.

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    2. And when the BOD changes???

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  3. Thank you! You speak for so many of us.

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  4. Bishop Talbert preached a powerful sermon during the Ordination service in Cal-Pac in 2012 that was helpful to me, with some resonant themes: http://adot.s3.amazonaws.com/E6C471CE963F40D09FF2C9A3F9CD72EE_Talbert_DoTheRightThing_notes.pdf

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  5. This is absurd. You are trying to justify your defiance of the church and its position by nonsensical arguments. If you don't like it and can't support the direction UMC has taken then get out.

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  6. Very well said. So glad people with your heart and wisdom are still in the Methodist Church...and yes, you do reflect what many Methodists are feeling. Loved in particular, when you said, 'Doing no harm includes treating all people as whole people even when the Book of Discipline makes some people "less than."' Many thanks for your leadership!

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  7. David

    You claim you want to do no harm. And yet you are harming the United Methodist Church that you have vowed to serve. You are doing eternal harm to the confirmands you mention by speaking against the UM Book of Discipline and the word of God. You are doing eternal harm to those people who are same-sex attracted by telling them their desires are not sinful.

    You are guilty of the very injustice and oppression that you claim to be resisting. The Bible gives us a great picture of God's love for all of humanity. We can reflect on the law and see that even though we were all created in God's image, we have also all fallen into sin. The practice of homosexuality is one of those many sins. This is clearly explained in scripture. The Good News is that Jesus came not to condemn sinners, but to save them. In God's love lies the power to transform us from slaves of sin into new creations.

    Instead of teaching this message of liberation from sin, you have chosen to celebrate sin in the church. What greater harm can a pastor possibly do? I know of none. You have betrayed the your covenant vow with the church. You say the passage of the Tradition Plan (now the Book of Discipline) is unacceptable. And yet you say you have no intention of leaving the denomination.

    God will never contradict His written word. Whether you believe the Bible is not the word of God or perhaps that God has changed His mind on the human sexuality issue, your views are at odds with your denomination. Instead of undermining the ministries of those who are trying to live faithfully to scripture and loving all of God's creations, wouldn't integrity demand that you leave the UMC and join one of the several denominations that have already denied God's word? Or perhaps work with other progressives on a way to separate from the UMC to form a new expression of Methodism? I hope you will change your mind. What benefit is there in remaining part of the UMC? The UMC will never be a progressive denomination. The best you can hope for is to stay and continue to harm more and more people by your contrary message. And that is what you claim you are striving to avoid.

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  8. Problem is, nobody is in agreement as to exactly what God is calling the church to be. I to support a church of the future; one that is not torn apart by never-ending battles because of serious theological differences. One that is grounded in the always relevant and always powerful doctrine of historic Christianity--something the American UMC has not known anything about for a long time!

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  9. Remember that the vows were actually revised in 2008 to read: “As members of Christ’s universal Church, will you be loyal to Christ through the United Methodist Church, and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries?” https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/a-collection-of-the-services-of-the-baptismal-covenant-revised-2008

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    1. I was going to point this out as well. I appreciate the author's reflection and think it is helpful. But I was quite relieved when the liturgical language was changed. Loyalty to Christ is primary. Loyalty to denomination is secondary. We are certainly part of God's body, the Church, and we are welcomed into the Body through baptism and membership. Church is how we live out our loyalty to Christ. But Church isn't limited to the current shape of a denomination at any given time.

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  10. Thank you David Livingston. I am a loyal member of the the Presbyterian Church in Canada. I rejoice in your words that repect and encourage the unity of believers despite our differences about how to follow God's will.
    May you continue to give glory to God !

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  11. David...if a same-sex couple asks you to officiate at their marriage, will you agree?

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