What I Wish our Bishops Would Say

In an open letter to Texas bishop Janice Huie, advocates for full inclusion of  gay persons in the life of the church asked a number of questions about church trials and the harm they perceive being done.   You can read the full letter, and their questions, HERE.

writing-a-letter

Many of us clergy and lay people are hoping and praying that a strong, concise, clear voice would emerge from the chaos surrounding our church trials.    Please, lead us!  I am not sure if the bishop has responded to these questions.   I have taken the liberty of responding below in a way that myself and many others wish our bishops would respond to such questions (I have not addressed all seven from the original post, but only the first three).

  • How does the Council of Bishops’ call for another trial do good for this broken body of the United Methodist Church, and for our witness to the world? How does another trial further our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

These questions prompt questions of my own:   How does the outright rebellion of Methodist pastors, who publicly and arrogantly break the covenant they have made with both God and the Church, help to further our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?    Or, how does our celebration of and approval of sin help anyone make a disciple of Jesus Christ?   Who is being transformed, and into what are they being transformed?

We have biblical guidance when it comes to handling those who choose not to repent from their sin.   Jesus instructs us in Matthew 18 that if a person does not listen to private rebuke, nor to the rebuke of a council, nor to that of the church, then they are to be dismissed from the assembly.   Paul insists that one of our duties is to judge those inside the church.  Those who persist in sin while claiming for themselves the name “brother” are to be “purged” from among the assembly (1 Cor. 5:11-13).    If we do not follow these biblical commands to enact church discipline then we, too, would be in sin, as our acquiescence would be an implicit approval of those who continue practicing sin (Rom. 1:32).

We believe that our commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ involves far more than providing a space of tolerance where any and all can gather for the purpose of doing good works.    While our doors are open to all, once inside we expect that lives will be transformed by the living God we come to worship.   These church trials are necessary because we believe those pastors who are violating our covenant and blessing that which God calls sin are failing to make disciples of Jesus Christ.    A disciple, by definition, is one who forsakes their selfish ways, takes up their cross, and follows Jesus (Matt. 16:24).    Our Lord himself affirmed that from the beginning marriage was meant to be between one man and one woman (Matt. 19:4-5) and we affirm that any deviation from that is symptomatic of our fallen nature.   All of us are broken, and all of us, because of sin, love the wrong things.   The church’s mission to make disciples must include a call to die to ourselves along with the loving nurture which helps us all to redirect our desires toward their appointed end: God.

So to answer your question, trials will continue so long as we have pastors who distort our witness to the world by suggesting that they can love whatever or whomever they desire and still call themselves a “brother” or a “sister” or think of themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.

  • How does the Council of Bishops’ call for another trial do no harm – to gay persons, their families, the pastors who serve them? How does it do no harm to the unchurched who are seeking a place to experience the love and grace of God but see instead a denomination putting its own on trial after trial?

When a rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to sell all of his possessions, give the money to the poor, and come follow him.   This rich man turned away “grieving” and “saddened” because the demands of Jesus proved too costly (Mark 10:17-27).  Did Jesus do “harm” to this man?   Prior to the demand Jesus makes on this young man’s life,  Mark makes it clear that he “loved him.”   This love, however, was not of the sentimental sort, wishing not to offend.  This was the sort of love that called for radical surrender seeking to transform a rebellious, selfish heart into an obedient, selfless one.     Note that Jesus, though loving him,  did not chase after this grieving man, softening his demands so that he might gain a new member.   When his disciples ask incredulously, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus tells them that with people it’s impossible, but with God, all things are possible.

We confess that we have grown lax in our demands of what being a disciple requires as United Methodist Christians.    When our church was at her best it was required of members to be part of a band, or class meeting, where members continually laid their disordered loves at the altar through accountable discipleship.   In our zeal to grow our membership we have been swayed by the broad road of culture and have lowered the bar which Jesus set for those who call him Lord.   We confess that over the years our mission to see the transformation of the world has been primarily about doing good works to the exclusion of seeing scriptural holiness spread throughout the land.  This must change if we are to have God’s blessing upon our church.

We repent of the middle way we have tried to forge over this issue and recognize that by not speaking loudly and boldly about sin we cannot speak loudly and boldly about redemption.   In this way we have done harm to gay persons everywhere by not speaking the truth in love to them, just as Jesus did to the rich young ruler.   As we endeavor to honor God’s commands we prayerfully expect God to do the impossible among us.

  • How does the Council of Bishops’ call for another trial keep us – clergy and laypeople, and the United Methodist Church itself – close to God?

By calling the church to repentance, and by enacting church discipline as already described above, we create space for God to fill us anew.  Christians are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we cannot expect God to dwell in the midst of rebellion, discord, and unrepentant sin.   Jesus said that his friends are those who do what he commands (John 15:14).   How can we expect to draw ourselves, let alone others, close to God if we do not obey his word?   If we were to  approve of that which God calls sin we would be inviting God’s judgment, not friendship.

For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be above reproach…holding firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he  may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:7-9).

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13 thoughts on “What I Wish our Bishops Would Say

  1. This post is so good! Just one thing Id change; the sentence “So to answer your question, trials will continue so long as we have pastors who distort our witness to the world by suggesting that they can love whatever or whomever they desire and still call themselves a “brother” or a “sister” or think of themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.” Surely the UMC does not put people on trial for loving? Surely the UMC puts people on trial for not following in Jesus’ footsteps!

    • Thanks for your comment! In response to your suggestion, perhaps I could have written it better to convey what Cliff says in his comment. I’d echo what he says – I’m not suggesting that we are putting people on trial for being loving, but for loving (and blessing) what God calls sin.

  2. Well said!
    Most of the comments I read concerning the present struggle in the UMC are philosophical blathering based on a phrase we’ve come to self-interpret (e.g. “Do no harm” or “inclusive”) rather than let Scripture speak strongly for itself.
    You have done the latter!

  3. I agree with you that unrepentant sin is a problem. And I actually don’t oppose church trials because if it is the case that it’s the Holy Spirit and not Satan who is moving certain pastors to witness prophetically by violating the same-sex marriage ban, then part of that witness includes the consequences and the anguish that our body suffers as a result. What we disagree about is whether the arrogant, unrepentant sin in this case has to do with affirming that people who are sexually other should be able to live chaste and fruitful lives the same way that those of us who are the biological norm do. Could it be that the arrogant, unrepentant sin that makes God burn with anger is actually the scapegoating of gay people? That’s the conviction that haunts me. I’m not coming from a place of wanting to water down the gospel in favor of “open-mindedness” and “inclusivity.” I genuinely believe that the attacks against gay people are sinful, and I’m constantly praying about it and asking God to break through to me if the source of my conviction is something other than the Holy Spirit. You can disagree with me, but it’s a caricature to say that people who think gays should be fully accepted in the church think we should tolerate unrepentant sin. I don’t think you’ve written this in a way that could convict anyone who disagrees with you that you’re right. It’s going to get a lot of amens from people who already agree with you. What if instead you tried to write in a way that would help others to appreciate and respect your perspective?

    • I disagree with your premise that anyone is “scapegoating” anyone. None of us are innocent in our loves. We ALL love the wrong things from the moment we come into this world. We are either convinced that God tells us what love looks like, and what loves are proper in God’s eyes, or we are convinced that we know best, that what one loves is dependent upon what the culture says, or what our feelings tell us.

      As fare as “attacks” on gay people, I agree with you that that is sinful. No one should be “attacking” anyone, regardless of their sin. Speaking the truth in love precludes “attacks” or violence or name-calling, etc. However, it is wrong to say, as many advocates such as yourself say, that calling homosexuality a sin is an “attack.” It is no more an attack than Jesus telling the rich young ruler, whom he loved, to go and sell all his possessions. The most loving thing we can do is help any person, regardless of what disordered loves they harbor, to reorder their heart under the guidance of God’s word, which we confess to be a true revelation of everything we need for life and godliness. I cannot bless that which God has not blessed, nor approve of those who do. I know plenty of people who struggle with same-sex attraction who know that such a desire is not of God, who walk in daily repentance, and who have found a far deeper joy and peace than most people I know who never had that struggle. God is faithful towards those who have a broken and contrite spirit, who truly repent of their sin. He brings comfort to them, supernaturally so. But those who refuse to bow their desires to God’s commands become full of pride, and while they may gather around them many who will approve of their chosen course, we are deluded if we think God is pleased.

      Have you stopped to consider why revival hasn’t just busted out in denominations like the ELCA, the PCUSA, Episcopalians, or even in our own church these last many years? If God is indeed “burning in anger” as you say, towards those of us who are upholding the traditional view of marriage and sexuality, then why aren’t the floodgates of His blessings opening up on the people who have “progressed”? Why is revival happening all throughout Africa but not here? If any thing should haunt you, perhaps it should be questions like those.

      • When you globalize revival, you open it up to many many many many many other factors. You have to localize it, and it’s there that you see that revival *HAS* broken out in many churches which are opening and affirming of any relationships which are healthy. If you want to go up several levels, for example, the Southern Baptist Church in the US (not exactly a liberal, non-traditional, gay-friendly place), has been significantly sliding for at least 5 years. Is God cursing them for not being open to the LGBTQ population?

      • Hi Chad – you make a very good overall case, and your witness to God’s transforming love is powerful. I enjoy your recent posts and share your position. I want to suggest though that you listen carefully to Morgan Guyton, as he makes the best case for the other side of the story out of anyone I have seen on the “Metho-blogo-sphere,” if you will, due to his orthodoxy in every other way. In the way we say things, we need to always keep in mind the unconvinced middle, if you will, who are drawn to both sides of the present argument for some *good* reasons.

  4. Cynthia, do you have some statistical data you can point me which verifies either of these points? While the SBC may be declining I’ve not heard anything about it being due to this issue. Conservative churches, however, are the ones growing in the US (maybe not in the SBC, but in other denoms). Do you agree that the ELCA, PCUSA, and Episcopal churches are in decline? Their move to the accommodate the culture has not inspired growth, right?

    “Affirming relationships which are healthy.” Who or what determines what is “healthy”? Where does God-honoring intersect with “health”?

  5. Pingback: Chad Holtz: What I Wish Our Bishops Would Say

  6. I know I am a little late in responding to this particular blog but here are my thoughts:

    When talking about denominations that are growing you need to look at the Wesleyan Church and the Assemblies of God. I know for a fact that the Wesleyan Church has experienced at least 3 consecutive years of record growth; I recently read a report that the Assemblies of God has consistent and steady growth. Both are very clear that homosexual acts are not within God’s plan. The Assemblies of God was characterized as doing what the United Methodist Church is only talking about.

    When it comes to the homosexuality argument itself, I just read a book, “The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is too Important to Define Who We Are” by Jenell Williams Paris. The author is a Christian cultural anthropologist from an orthodox Christian background. A significant part of the book is about her journey from judgment based on scripture to realizing the complexity of the issue. For me, she calls the whole church to task with this statement:

    “Instead of questioning the validity of sexual identity altogether, Christians have mostly focused on either morally elevating heterosexuality over homosexuality or equalizing all sexual identities as blessed.”

    In its present tense the argument is calling heterosexuals blessed, regardless of what the rest of their lives look like, homosexuals not blessed regardless of what the rest of their lives look like or both are blessed regardless of what the rest of anybody’s life looks like. In other words, homosexuality has become the cardinal sin because it is the only sin being discussed because the church no longer talks about sin and personal transformation.

    She also makes a clear case that sexuality as an identity is coming from culture. Furthermore, just framing the issue in the terms of homosexuality is behind the times–it is no longer that clear cut.

    I decided to engage the book because of its title. Two things have been bugging me about the argument: why would anybody want to be identified by who they have sex with and how does the fact we are coming off the sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s impact how we view this? During that time sex became recreational and the church became silent in regards to the sacredness of sex and marriage. Culture had free reign.

    As a lifelong Methodist who finally had to chunk church and discover what all I did not know about basic orthodox Christianity, the argument has found footing because we drifted from our method and message a very long time ago and the focus became about social justice at the expense of personal transformation. In “Seeing Gray”, Adam Hamilton broke the argument down in such it way it became clear to me that the divide is between those who advocate social justice and those who advocate personal transformation–something I was beginning to suspect based on the conversations on the internet. People keep talking past each other because they are representing two totally different perspectives of Christianity. The whole of Wesleyan Christianity–the social and the individual components–have become disconnected. When I delved into Wesley and early Methodism, one of the things that blew me away was that, even though he was big on the social aspect of the journey, he constantly stressed that this is about “me” as an individual. I can personally testify that the individual component has been severely sidelined for over 50 years.

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