Will the captain of the USS UMC please stand up?

 Are you so in debt as to embarrass yourself or your ministry?

Ten years ago when I began the process to become an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church the running joke among those about to be ordained at Annual Conference was to smile and say “yes” to the above question.   Why?  Because all of us carried student loans and other debts, and everyone knew it.

Ten years later I am about to be accepted as a provisional elder in the Holston Annual Conference and it’s not the debt question to which I’ll need to stifle a laugh but the question asking whether I will uphold the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.

My laughter will not be because I don’t intend to uphold the Discipline – I most certainly do – but because it doesn’t seem that anyone in charge really cares whether we do or not.  The recent ruling by Bishop McLee regarding Rev. Ogletree officiating a same-sex wedding seems to declare that there is no one at the helm of the USS UMC, certainly not the rulings of the General Conference, at least.

shipsink

I should be very excited about being recommended for provisional membership after working so hard to get here, but the truth is, I’m not.    And I’m not really laughing about any of this.   I’m actually quite sad over the state of our church and wonder if any real leadership will emerge from the wreckage being caused by a few rogue bishops and pastors.   I wonder at times why I am jumping aboard what appears to be a sinking ship without a Captain.    The  commissioning questions to be asked of me this June, rather than being a solemn, holy, celebratory event feel more like being asked to buy stock in the RMS Titanic…after it struck an iceberg.

You would be right to ask why I even bother then, given my doubts about our future as a church.   There are two reasons.  First, the church I am presently blessed to serve is full of people who need me as their pastor and I need them.   I am blessed beyond measure to be part of a vibrant, growing, Christ-centered, Bible-hungry congregation and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.    I am hopeful to remain for many more years here as their pastor, Lord willing, and will do so under whatever title whoever is in charge wishes to bestow upon me.

Second, I believe in redemption.   Up until 2 years ago I was a champion of the cause of the Frank Schaefer’s and Ogeltree’s in our church.    Three years ago at Wild Goose I sat in a camper with Jennifer Knapp, Tony Jones and others to discuss how we could join together in an effort to support pastors who spoke out as allies for the LGBT cause.   If God was able to turn my ship around and place Himself and His word at it’s helm then I have no reason to believe He cannot do it for anyone.   There is no question in my mind that we as a church have lost our way, proclaiming “peace, peace” where there is no peace, treating the brokenness of God’s people superficially (Jer. 6:14).   We have more faith in the power of our desires than we have in the power of God, trusting in the brokenness into which all of us have been born more than the wholeness offered by a resurrected Christ.    We fear millennials leaving church more than the God who promises to return as Judge.

So I’ll press on until God directs me elsewhere, and answer the questions this June with a clean conscience,  without a smile or a wink.  There is this nagging question in the back of my head, however, over how I will answer my devout and loyal Christian church members when they ask me why so much of our church budget goes to support an institution that doesn’t seem to have a Captain at the helm and seems to follow another Jesus than the one we worship here in Dayton, TN.    When I answer that  it’s because our covenant as United Methodists matters, and that it’s our duty to uphold the polity and Discipline of our church, I wonder who will laugh first?

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44 thoughts on “Will the captain of the USS UMC please stand up?

  1. We attempted to have a “captain,” but the proposal for a set-apart bishop was rejected. Moreover, “pressing on until God directs elsewhere” sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy, much like those who keep wondering about a split. I, too, am troubled by the lack of concern for following the Discipline. I wonder, though, how much concern conservatives will have for the BOD if and when it changes? It’s easy to proclaim loyalty and obedience when one agrees. As for sinking ships, our God is a God who makes dry bones live. He may yet surprise the people called United Methodists.

    • Drew there is a thing called integrity. It demands one to resign and or transfer when they can no longer obey the vows that they freely made. The one big thing that is obvious here is that liberals (for lack of a better word) agreed to support the existing system as it still is, if there were to be a change in the BOD language it would mean that conservatives (for lack of a better word) would be asked to uphold a radical change in theology that is far different that what they joined. Resignation / transfer / early retirement would still be the only honorable response but certainly the environment surrounding such mass resignations would be different.

      • I think integrity – wholeness, soundness – also demands that we do not enter into a covenant expecting to have to break it. If you get married expecting to divorce at some point, the odds are much higher that you will divorce. I would say the same thing about being ordained in the current UMC – left or right – integrity demands going into it saying, “for better or worse.”

      • Come on, Drew, that’s not a tenable position. You know that. Why don’t I hear you saying “for better or worse” to the progressive side of the aisle, as in, “Look, you made a covenant with the UMC as it was, so live within it’s rules for better or worse”? I can take the vows of ordination in full faith, knowing that I will uphold the Discipline as it presently stands. Can you? Did you?

      • Yes, but with any covenant there are certain guidelines to be expected. Faithfulness, for beginners. Let’s be clear about the issue. This is not an argument over music style or carpet color, but a matter of life and death – sin or blessing. The NT gives clear directives about what to do when a “brother” continues in unrepentant sin or with those who approve of that which God condemns. Calls for “can’t we all just get along” fly in the face of the Gospel’s radical call to repentance and new life. For those who are convinced homosexuality is a sin, and that God will not strive with those who persist calling it a gift, then there really is no other recourse than to separate. Calls to remain are akin to telling the abused wife to stay put for the sake of her covenant,

      • Drew, that’s not a fair summary of anything I have said nor believe. It’s not about being in relationship with sinners. We are every day. It’s about our duty, particularly as shepherds of the church, to call people out of sin and into the light. Jesus ate with sinners but did not condone their sin. Paul ate with sinners but still said, “purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5).

      • That’s a judgment call based on limited info, one I don’t agree with. It’s like me saying progressives only seem interested in social sin, as they define it.

        Sexual sin is nothing to shrug at. Nor are social sins. And I’d venture to say both sides talk too loudly, against the other, that the other things both sides care about get missed.

      • For what it’s worth, the BOD changes every 4 years. The vow is not to the BOD ‘as it currently stands’. Besides, is my faith and theology not to grow, mature and change. That seems contrary to notions of sanctification.

      • Polity changes are to be expected. Not matters of things which Scripture calls sin.

        Sanctification is a growing in holiness, where more and more sin is weeded out and we grow in love of God and neighbor. To approve what God condemns is a step backwards.

  2. Thanks, Drew. I can’t speak for all traditionalists but as for me, if the BOD changes on this my decision will be an easy one. I won’t stay on a ship I believe is going the wrong way.

  3. Very telling reply, Chad. Your answer mirrors the “rough bishops and pastors” that you criticize, who also feel that “the ship is going the wrong way.” Whatever happened to humility and bearing with one another in love? If certain schismatic liberal or traditionalist United Methodists are looking for a church full of people who all think exactly the same there are plenty of congregational options available.

    • Paul, I fail to see the similarity between my response and the rogue bishops. They are breaking church law, going against the GC and demanding the rules change. I am saying if the GC does change, I won’t break the rules but will move on.

      It’s not an odd thing for Methodists to gather around general rules which guide our lives together.

  4. The fact that these issues exist in a churches leadership is almost to depressing to put into words. The Bible is very clear about homosexuality, sexual sin and marriage. There is no room for debate. These people are responsible to keep watch over peoples souls? It makes me want to meet the people under them scoop them up and bring them to Jesus along with the leadership as well.

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  6. The UMC does not have one person who is given the responsibility to “captain” the ship. It has many, many Lieutenants who are charged with upholding the UMC version of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (Book of Discipline) which is created by the one body that does speak for the entire UMC, The General Conference, which has spoken clearly and consistently for the past 40 years on the topic at issue. We have, in effect, a mutiny in process by those who have decided to simply ignore a portion of the Uniform Code and who are not willing to uphold it. I’m wondering how the Navy would handle such a mess? But since the UMC is not the Navy, I guess we will see how this pans out in the long run. Frankly, I simply do not see it ending in any form short of a schism.

    • Glen, thanks for your comment. As a former Navy Corpsman, I have no doubt how the Navy would handle this mess.

      I think there is no question in how this will end. Perhaps it’s time for some of the LT’s to become captains and lead the way out.

    • if it ends in a schism…how would churches be broken up in a conference since the conference in the end owns local church property?

    • I presume Bishop Carcano is your presiding Bishop…well I am on sabatical from my church in NJ because of a video sermon from Bishop John Schol who is another one front and center pushing these social issues…I don’t know what to do because I love my church and my family and friends that attend but listening to his liberal rantings and pushing of the reconciling network in the guise of the mosaic ministries

      • War of Freedom is exactly right. That's what most people don't understand.BTW: The comment about buying ever increasing and expensive green products really struck a cord with me. Taken to extremes, the increasing demands to buy green and almost ostracism if you don't is down right scaps.Eyrecially if your income is modest like mine.

  7. When you consider the propaganda coming out of the Methodist Seminaries, you would fully understand what’s going on. The liberal, progressive, post-modern mantra is being forced upon every student – including Course of Study students. When a student objected or even dared to question the information being presented, the instructor called the student out in the middle of the class and tried to discredit the student in front of others. It’s ‘you agree with our position’ or we will discredit you and lower your grades.

  8. Chad, thank you for this blog. I am a UM preacher’s kid. My dad would be so upset by what is going on in his beloved Methodist church if he were alive. I love the church too and it kills me to see ministers, conferences and regions so divided. My father attended some of the General Conferences that had to vote on homosexual issues. I just want to be left alone to worship God. I am tired of being pushed by progressive believers. I just wish those that disagree would leave the UM church alone. I am sick of this conversation! It is tearing us a part. Is it worth it? It is like standing in a batters box with the ball machine on fast. You try to avoid the balls at first and then you just relent and let them hit you. That is how I feel. I want to be a follower of Christ in what I say and do. How can I work this gay issue out as a Christian? Just so sad and so frustrated!

    • Betty…I feel your pain because I see it in my church in Union Beach NJ where the progressive Bishop has taken over and put his hand picked progressive pastoral team in charge and I have chosen to take a sabbatical instead of aggravating myself to the point of doing or saying something I may regret

  9. I find myself sad after reading this. Not sad at the “state of the USS UMC” but sad for you. I think it is awesome (and long overdue) that churches are starting to place a greater importance on people than on rules and traditions. I grew up in church as a pastor’s kid and I am currently involved in church. I have never understood how something can be such a huge issue when Jesus himself never spoke on the issue. It is time that we strive more to be like Christ and quit pushing rules, tradition and legalism.

    • I think that inviting ALL people to die to self and live obedient lives to God (rather than the world) where TRUE freedom, joy and peace is found is placing a great importance on people.
      It’s not really a huge issue. It’s sin like any and all sin. The only reason so many are focuses on this one is because people are important, and it matters when we start saying something is OK which God has called sin. I agree we should all strive to be more like Christ, who lived and died in total submission to His Father’s rules, and said we are his friends if we obey Him.

      • I note you appear in your picture with a woman I assume is your wife. (Apologies is I an inferring wrong)

        It seems to me you are suggesting that gay people not have the “mutual society, help, and comfort” that marriage brings. Marriage also extends kinship by bringing together two hitherto unrelated families.

        Why should not gay people have what we straight people take for granted?

  10. i think you know the point i am making. i don’t want to go back and forth because your mind can’t be changed and my mind can’t be changed. i know the scripture references, i know what i believe. scripture is too unclear on this issue for me to believe that God called it sin…..

    • I don’t quite understand why you think Exodus 21:20-21 “sums up” the issue on how we should think of slavery (which I don’t think makes it very clear at all, really), and yet passages which say, quite clearly, “homosexuality is sin” are “unclear.” I don’t think the problem is clarity.

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