Save us from “Methodist middle”!

United Methodist "centrists," like theological progressives, also want to change church doctrine on sexuality. They're just willing to bide their time.
United Methodist “centrists,” like theological progressives, also want to change church doctrine on sexuality. They’re just willing to bide their time.

On social media yesterday, I saw several of my clergy colleagues linking with approval to this new movement among so-called “centrist” United Methodists.

It’s disingenuous nonsense.

After all, is there some large “Methodist middle” (especially among clergy) who haven’t made up their minds on this issue? I’m not buying it. There are three sides on this issue: People like me who believe in the unanimous verdict of nearly two millennia of Christian thinking on the subject. Theological progressives who want to overturn that verdict immediately. And “centrists” who also want to overturn that verdict but are willing to bide their time for a little while.

The authors write: “We are torn both by scripture which addresses issues of what is acceptable sexual practice and by the call of the prophets to love justice, offer mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord.”

Why are they torn? Weren’t the prophets always the ones calling us back to being faithful to God’s Word? In which case, the only question that should concern us is, What is “acceptable sexual practice” according to scripture? If we get that answer right, I trust the prophets will also support us.

16 thoughts on “Save us from “Methodist middle”!”

  1. Well put Brent. This is indeed “disingenuous nonsense”.

    To start with, to say that the end of the “time of silence” for these “centrists” only coincidentally coincides with the outcome of the Frank Schaeffer trial would be to strain credulity beyond its limits.

    Also, in spite of the disclaimers in “Who We Are”, and at the end about not supporting any particular lobby, at least one of the “core constituency who wrote this document”, Mike Slaughter, has been quite politically active at all levels, in favor of “full inclusion” of all LGBTQ persons.

    Along with that, I don’t think it can be coincidental that the platform and beliefs of these “centrists” line up so well with the “Way Forward” of–Mike Slaughter and Adam Hamilton.

    In other words, there is nothing new here. More of the same old fence sitting, calling for more “holy conferencing” after over 40 years of it has been a miserable failure and deeply damaged our witness as a denomination to the world.

    If these folks are truly centrist, where is the call for a moratorium on same sex unions, as well as on trials for those who conduct these ceremonies, which by the way are still against our Book of Discipline?

    If these folks are truly centrist, why are those who are even mentioning amicable separation being singled out as those who want to break covenant, with no mention of those who actually are breaking covenant–by conducting same sex unions, by encouraging others to do so, and by enforcing no significant consequences for those who do so?

    Stepping into my garage and yelling to the world that I am a Rolls Royce does not make me a Rolls Royce. And just because these folks are stepping into the public arena declaring that they are centrists who are offering a centrist way does not make it so.

    Furthermore, calling people to follow the ways of the world, when they are clearly unbiblical, is not prophetic–at least not biblically prophetic. It is those of us who are calling upon people to return to, or remain true to, the word of God, who are being biblically prophetic.

    May we persist in so doing by the grace of God!

  2. Thanks for your perspective. Being part of this new movement, I can say that the release of our platform had nothing to do with the Judicial Council decision on Rev. Schaffer verdict. It was a matter of allowing the original group that met in September to have ample time to consider signing onto the final platform that went through a series of revisions based upon the comments of those who eventually signed and those who chose not to sign in the end. The deadline for the original signers was last Wednesday at noon. From there it was our plan to have our Face Book page and website up and running by Thursday evening. We finally launched publicly late Saturday evening (during the Ohio State/Penn State game….that deserves its own critique). The Schaffer verdict was not on the radar, the challenge of working pastors working with limited tech was the issue.

    Secondly, I can say that the original signers is comprised of moderates who lean left and right. The goal of our movement is not to “bide time.” Our vision is to truly find a third way that includes a robust left and right who are able live out their deeply held convictions within one church. We are about electing delegates who are willing to work for this goal. If a third way cannot be found and agreed upon then after 2020 we would then support the A and W plan (allow churches and clergy to separate from the denomination).

    Finally, for our group point 1-3 is as important as #4. Our group is NOT interested in keeping the church united as it currently stands. We believe deep change is needed to effectively make world changing disciples in the 21st century. Right sizing financially, de-centralizing, and opening up a closed system of clergy deployment so that more energy can be spend on starting new churches is as important to us as finding a compromise solution. I wonder what you think of points 1-3? Thanks and peace.

    1. Doug, were you one of the original signers? Were you in on this from the ground floor? Because if you weren’t I don’t know how you can be sure this timing had nothing to do with the Schaeffer decision. To me, the timing was too perfect for this to have been a coincidence. It’s possible, it just seems highly improbable.

      Also, Doug, you never addressed what I think were very important questions about why all the blame seems to be going to those holding the traditional view. Why no moratorium on same sex unions but only on trials for those who preside over them, contrary to the Discipline? Why no mention of those who are breaking the covenant by doing this as being the ones who are breaking covenant, while those who have not yet even “broken covenant” but just mentioned amicable separation are singled out? This is not centrist. And it is not mutual respect.

      Again, this just sounds like the Mike Slaughter-Adam Hamilton “Way Forward” all over again. Refinance, restructure, redo itineracy, keep talking, and if things don’t work out, which seems to mean changing the Discipline, then go to the local option. I still don’t see how this centrist plan is any different.

      The bottom line of what I think of this “new” plan is that it will not work. There is no middle ground. Either the Bible says what is says, or it doesn’t. I choose to believe that it does. The idea of two groups existing together as one loose but not at all united denomination just doesn’t make sense to me, because ultimately still there are a lot of people giving resources into a denomination they utterly disagree with. Why not just split into two denominations, dividing up the resources and parting company in a Christian manner?

      What reason is there to think continued “holy conferencing” will work? Over 40 years of it has been a disaster, as GC 2012 and recent connectional table meetings have shown. “Holy conferencing” has become an excuse for theological bullies to take advantage of the good graces of others to push their causes.

      The United Methodist Church needs to stay true to its Biblical and Disciplinary covenant with God and one another. That is the only way. Otherwise our denomination continues to become a dead sect with a form of godliness that denies the power and authority of God and His word. A separation would be far better.

  3. Victor, yes I am the one of the original group and one of the first signers. I am one of three pastors from West Ohio who identified a smaller group of clergy who are respected for their leadership and effectiveness in our conference to talk about beginning a movement that would seek to reform and unity our denomination. I have been in all of the conversations and can assure you the Judicial Council decision was not once mentioned as we worked to get our platform out. Our deadline is a December 5th meeting where we hope to further organize and begin talking about candidates for endorsement (lay and clergy) in West Ohio. We wanted enough time for busy people to read it, pray, and consider joining us.

    The first line of point #4 reads, “we stand with those who believe the current BOD needs to be upheld.” Meaning we do not support the breaking of covenant by some on the progressive side. Mutual respect is a call for an act of sacrificial love by refraining from breaking the covenant we agreed to uphold as part of our ordination while also instituting a moritorium on church trials. One of the practical reasons for this is how horrific this looks to the world looking in from the outside. This is hindering our witness for Christ.

    Where we may be in disagreement is with the notion that we can continue as a church with parties at odds over the issue of same gender relationships. If this question trumps Christ’s call for his body to be unified than yes schism is the only option if the pendelum moves even an inch to the left on same gender couples. However, if this issue is not a deal breaker to remain in covenant with one another, love requires we attempt to find a way forward that both sides can live with. Is this hard, yes but we think worthy of our efforts until 2020. If extremes want all or nothing after a proposal or a choice of proposals is presented then we would regrettably yield. You can lead the horse to water but can’t make it drink.

    I do think those who advocating splitting may be seeing this senario with rose colored glasses. On the conservative side of our church, wouldn’t a new Evangelical Methodist Church now have to contend on all sorts of issues where there will be a true lack of consensus? Infant baptism, episcopacy, the quadrilaterial, inerrancy, for some divorced persons in ministry? My first question to those who want to split is how then will you deal with this issue, an issue Jesus explicity spoke too. With the sexuality issue “settled” won’t there be one, two, ten more issues that can further divide the Christ’s Bride? For those who want seperation over one issue, one has to be prepared for a fight on a whole host of other issues that good disciples don’t necessarily agree upon. True Orthodoxy would require ahearance to all matters where the Bible clearly speaks (including divoce and remarriage). I would be interested to see how a new conservative only church deals with this issue with integrity.

    We don’t believe a church with space for those who hold differing views is a liability, we atucally see it as a strength and a refreshing counter witness to a polarized world. We also are big fans of grace with all of its implications and possiblities. Thanks again for being in conversation friend.

    1. I’m on vacation at Disney World right now and am not in a good position to comment. But regarding your words about “additional issues” that will crop up, like divorce and remarriage, keep in mind that we “conservatives” are the ones who are advocating for the church that we have today—not that anyone I know is complaining about conversations regarding financial or itinerancy reform. The progressives and, apparently, the centrists are the ones who are advocating for changing our church.

      But your slippery-slope concern about a new denomination is a two-edged sword: what happens in the new UMC when the progressives raise additional questions regarding the authority of scripture or universalism or other matters related to human sexuality? How will the meek and mild Methodist middle respond?

    2. Doug,

      So you’re saying that although your group “stand[s] with those who believe the current BOD needs to be upheld,” there will be no consequences for clergy who break church law on this issue? That will only encourage more church law-breaking, as everyone knows. You can “stand with” us all you want. If the spectacle of church trials is so harmful to our witness, how about we avoid them entirely and enforce mandatory sentences for clergy who break the law on this issue?

      You write: “Where we may be in disagreement is with the notion that we can continue as a church with parties at odds over the issue of same gender relationships.”

      No, we conservatives will happily live with “parties at odds” over this issue, so long as these parties adhere to the Discipline when it comes to ordination and marriage. That’s the one and only presenting issue here: ecclesial disobedience and a failure on the part of church leadership to enforce the Discipline. The way you frame it reminds me of something Schaefer said last week after he was reinstated. He said that this “victory” shows that it’s O.K. for Methodists to continue to “speak out” on the issue.

      “Speak out on the issue”? Is he kidding? He knows that “speaking out” isn’t the reason he went to trial and lost his credentials. No conservative wanted him to face discipline for merely speaking out. Just as conservatives aren’t arguing that we can’t disagree on this issue.

      You write: “If this question trumps Christ’s call for his body to be unified then, yes, schism is the only option if the pendelum moves even an inch to the left on same gender couples.”

      I take issue with your pitting Jesus against those of us who believe, alongside nearly 2,000 years of Christian reflection on the subject, that homosexual practice is a sin, and one condemned in the strongest terms possible in both Testaments.

      From our perspective, Jesus himself affirms sexual complementarity as a prerequisite for marriage in Matthew 19:5-6. And Paul wasn’t so concerned about “Christ’s call for his body to be unified” when he told the Corinthians to excommunicate the man committing incest in 1 Corinthians 5 for the sake of the man’s soul. Incest here is relevant for two reasons: First, it’s a sin condemned in the exact same context as homosexual practice in Leviticus 18 and 20. We all still agree that incest is sexually immoral, and none of us argues that because we eat shellfish today, we ought to disregard what Leviticus says about incest. Right?

      Incest is also relevant because Jesus never mentions it in the gospels. Yet none of us says that because Jesus was silent on the subject of incest, Paul must have been wrong to condemn it as sexually immoral.

      You see my point, I’m sure.

      Given our high regard for God’s Word, I can safely say that we conservatives are indeed unwilling to move an inch to the left on this issue. It is a deal-breaker.

      I responded to your words about seeing schism “through rose-colored glasses” in my previous comment. Again, what happens to the centrists who stay in the rump UMC when progressive UMC leadership advocates for theological or religious pluralism, or Christian universalism, or denies hell or annihilation, or the exclusivity of God’s revelation in Christ, or the Second Coming or final judgment. Maybe this won’t happen. It’s a slippery slope argument. But it’s at least as likely as the new “Evangelical Methodist” church becoming Bible-thumping fundamentalists, or whatever.

      As I remind you in the previous comment, we conservatives are the ones who want to keep the UMC the way it is today. You’re the ones who want to change things. And as for financial or itinerancy reform, I’m sure we’re all happy to have that conversation. That has nothing to do with the questions that are dividing us now.

      But, Doug, I began my post calling the “centrist” side disingenuous and by saying that the “centrists” really support changing church law on the question of homosexual practice, and that they’re biding their time. Am I wrong?

      Please tell me: What is your conviction on the subject of homosexual practice? Do you agree with what our Discipline says? Do you believe that homosexual practice is a sin per se? Do you believe that we should ordain otherwise qualified non-celibate homosexuals? Do you believe that marriage is only for man and woman?

    3. Doug, I’ll take your word that the Judicial Council wasn’t mentioned.

      It’s one thing to say you stand with those believe the current BoD needs to be upheld. But it seems to me that to turn around and call for a moratorium on church trials for those who don’t uphold it is contradictory. What good is it to say you believe the Discipline should be upheld, but there should be no consequences for those who break it? Doesn’t this show a lack of respect for those who keep the covenant and who rightly believe we all should keep it, as well as past GC’s that have written and upheld what our BoD says?

      Just because clergy break the covenant in other ways and aren’t put on trial doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be; and two wrongs don’t make a right.

      Also, language referring to those who want to not only change the Discipline but ignore the clear word of God as “prophetic” and “a new movement of the Spirit” sounds much more pro-gay lobby than it does centrist.

      And if anyone is straining out gnats and swallowing camels, it is those who ignore or reinterpret the Scriptures, not those who want to uphold them and rightly expect others in the church to do likewise.

      In addition, there are still other problems I raised that you haven’t addressed.

      So for now I still say this much more left than centrist. And I still say that there really is no center or middle ground. We are either going to obey the word of God, or we are not.

      1. Thanks, Victor, for pointing out perhaps the most dangerous idea in this “centrist” statement: that there is such a thing as a “new movement of the Spirit” that would contradict what the Spirit has otherwise revealed in God’s Word. This idea, which I’ve loudly attacked in the writing of fellow United Methodist pastor and blogger Jason Micheli, is incompatible with any orthodox, much less Wesleyan, doctrine of scripture.

        Are there really Wesleyan Christians who believe that such a “new movement” is possible? If so, then anything goes. What authority would scripture continue to have if its clear teaching can be disregarded on the whim of such a “new movement”? By what criteria do we judge whether such a movement is truly “of the Spirit” if not the Bible? Is this centrist group saying that we no longer have to argue the Bible when we argue about this issue?

        Needless to say, I hope, the premise beneath the language about a “new movement of the Spirit” is radical, not centrist.

      2. Brent, I say the idea that God The Holy Spirit could move or lead a movement of people to do something clearly contrary to His word is very radical. Though I suppose it could be centrist as well.

        Actually, I don’t believe there is such a thing as centrist, at least not in a case like this where the Bible speaks so plainly, unbiblical reinterpretations notwithstanding.

        The Bible says “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of (or subject to) one’s own interpretation. Why such a clear statement is so hard to understand for some is beyond me. Or maybe they do understand it and just choose to ignore it–or, ironically, reinterpret it.

        If we will listen to the plain words of Scripture, interpret Scripture by Scripture, and allow The Holy Spirit to guide us in all truth, we will know the truth and the truth will set us free.

  4. Brent, enjoying our conversation. I whole heartily agree with your assertion that a left wing church would now have their issues (some of them divisive) to work through which may lead to further splits. That is why it is important for us all to work to keep our church unified in the work of mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

    You lay out well the arguments about your convictions concerning appropriate sexual behavior. You know of course that our progressive sisters and brothers read the same scripture and mainly see these passages as culture and time bound, etc. They feel just as passionately as you do. This is where we are today and thus the deadlock.

    So, pragmatically, we are trying to create space for both camps to live out their deeply held convictions. Do we have the absolute answer on how to accomplish this? No. But this we do know. Both sides are going to need to surrender the “all or nothing” mentality for us to stay united in love. We also know this. The UMC does not have the resources or stomach to put on trial all who now and will in the future live out their progressive convictions in defiance of the BOD. I think this is why we have seen a sharp reduction of trials.

    We are calling for a “time out” and calling for the election of those committed to find a solution that is different than “all or nothing.” Our agenda is to find a third way to live as a church with left and right wing free to live out their understanding on the issue of ministry to and with LGBTQ persons. Seeing fruit on both sides, we see this as more than a simple compromise. We believe the discovery and commitment to a third way will ultimately result in a stronger church in the end.

    You are engaging me as a rep from our group so I need to speak on behalf of our group. Honestly, we have talked very little about our own personal stances on the issue of changing the BOD language as the formational group. We acknowledge in our platform we don’t expect the 2016 GC to change the language. We have some moderates who would like to change the language of the BOD and others who support its retention. What we stand for is the creation of a third way to creates space for progressives and conservatives to maintain their convictions and live out their callings.

    If we all shared our personal view we are right back to the trench warfare which has been GC for 40 years. Be assured we are united in our quest to create a church where conservatives, moderates, and progressives have the space and permission necessary to fulfill the call they believe arrives from engagement with Scripture as interpreted through the lens of tradition, reason, and experience. Thanks.

  5. Doug, I am not sure I get what is “centrist” about your position. It seems you want the Church to accept homosexual behavior and ordination, which is something the Church has never done in 2,000 years and which is certainly never contemplated in scripture. Aren’t you instead simply trying to push the Church radically to the left with no scriptural warrant for your position?

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