Honoring our Commitments #UMC

Last Sunday I drove to my annual conference (Holston) at Lake Junaluska convinced that schism was the only hope for the United Methodist Church.   On Wednesday, following my commissioning as a provisional elder, I drove away hoping schism can be avoided.    What I want to do here is try to explain as best I can what gave rise to that hope.

It began with a fast from online chatter.    I took a break a few weeks ago from blogging and social media (a practice I highly recommend) which placed me out of the loop.   It’s so easy to believe the sky is falling when post after post and comment after comment is about the sky falling.   The reality, I discovered, is much different, but can only be seen after stepping away for a period of time.

Providentially, I went to my annual conference while this fast was happening.   Coming together as the people called Methodists of Holston Conference was a wonderful experience for me.   The worship was powerful and God-honoring.   I was challenged and blessed and encouraged by the work we are doing as a conference to reach new souls for Jesus Christ and to spread the love of Christ to the world.    When our bishop, Dindy Taylor, preached at our ordination service and told us (me) that the only commitments we can be responsible for our our own, I sensed the conviction of the Holy Spirit.    I knew that I had made a commitment to God and to this body of believers to preach the Word, to faithfully administer the Sacraments, uphold and shape the Order of the church and to engage in Service to others.   By the grace of God I intend to uphold those commitments.  No one can make me do that, and I can’t make anyone else do the same.

commitment.eschipul1

I left Conference hopeful that we could return again next year to celebrate all that our infallible God is doing through these fallible people called Methodists in the Holston Conference, and proud to have been commissioned as a provisional elder into something larger than myself, and something I want to see not only endure, but thrive.

Now, this does not mean that I don’t think we still have some serious problems.    I think it is crucial that we determine what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, which is our shared mission and our marching orders from our Lord Himself.    And while I cannot make anyone keep the commitments they have made, it is crucial that our Church be led by leaders who keep their commitments and are held accountable when they do not.    I do not expect everyone entering the church nor even those who have long been part of the church to hold the same commitments as I hold as their pastor.    But as I told those in my church who wish to teach others, the further up the ladder of leadership you go, the less life-choices you have and the more accountability to which you willingly submit.   My laity are welcome to show up drunk to the Table, but not my Lay Leader.

Our current conflict exists because we have leaders – both pastors and bishops – who are not keeping their commitments and no one is holding them accountable for it.   I agree that this is an untenable position for any organization to hold for very long.    But has it been “very long” yet?   I’m not sure.   Certainly the actions of some rogue pastors and bishops in the last few months have exacerbated the problem, but when I pull away from the talking heads (and silence my own) and focus on my local church and the commitments I have made as their shepherd, I wonder if we couldn’t strive a bit longer.    Even better, I wonder with Thomas Oden whether or not I have a duty to do so, in hopes of reforming our church for the better.   He writes in his wonderful article from 2012, Do Not Rashly Tear Asunder,

While it looks at first glance as if the sexual revisionists may be taking over the United Methodist Church, they have not. What they have temporarily succeeded in doing is to circumvent the scriptural teaching on God’s purpose in sexuality”not only for the deeper companionship of man and woman but also for the protection of children in bonded unity. But that is reversible. We must not run away at the first defeat in a conflict that may continue many more years. We have won every single one of these contests in every previous general conference. Centrist Methodists have won nine consecutive quadrennial legislative challenges since 1976. The revisionists have won zero. They think we will leave if they win only one.

The single word within is the jewel embedded in the very name of the Confessing Movement. That is our name. Our purpose is not to focus on confessing apart from our historic confessing community, but within it. Within is the decisive word for me and for the movement I helped initiate. You do not reform the church by fleeing from it.

I wonder if I have done all within my power, all I have committed to do, to confess rightly and positively what a healthy, sexual ethic for our church can look like?

Finally, I wonder if the wisdom of Gamaliel is not helpful for us today.   You’ll remember that he was a teacher of the Law, highly honored by all, who gave his judgment regarding the apostles preaching Jesus following Pentecost.   He advised the council, “Keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.  You might even find yourself opposing God” (Acts 5:38-39).

Who knows?  Perhaps after the 2016 General Conference, after which it is almost assured that our current position on human sexuality will be affirmed if not strengthened, those who have been pushing for change will find their efforts fruitless and find places to serve out their calling in ways which allow them to uphold their commitments with integrity.    As it stands today, we have a church with a ratified statement about what it believes and how those beliefs ought to be lived out, and those of us who are keeping our commitments to that church have nothing to fear, nor anything of which to be ashamed.    Perhaps the best way forward is to fast, to pray, to confess, and to continue faithfully performing our commitments as best we know how by the grace given to each of us, and wait and see if this plan is of God or of man.

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16 thoughts on “Honoring our Commitments #UMC

  1. Oh, my Chaz. You are so young. This is what I used to think. Surely when they see they are losing ground, they will stop. But no, Chaz, because they are NOT losing ground in the society. And if they can just get the American UMC all by itself, they will WIN! And yes, that is the way they look at it. I can only see the loss of integrity if the church bows to the will of the minority because of the culture.

    • Having just turned 40 last month I love hearing I’m still young! 🙂

      You may be right about all of that. I pray it doesn’t come to that.

      grace and peace,
      Chad

  2. Welcome back, Chad!

    The local church can indeed be very productive and a refuge from the swirl of conflict that exists in the bureaucracy above it. It is also a great thing that you have found yourself in a conference that is faithful to Christ and UMC polity. However, my concern is that as long as we pay apportionments, we are continuing to support our agencies and Bishops who sadly are, for the most part (in my opinion), working against the cause of Christ. I wish I shared your optimism; your description of the Holston annual conference sounds awesome.

    Your post leads to hard questions to wrestle with. How do you see us leading and effecting change and renewal from the bottom? Do we sin as we continue, with our tithes and offerings, to enable those in our agencies and bureaucracy who are working against God? How do we go about removing unfaithful decision makers and their allies who are firmly entrenched within the agencies and hierarchy?

    Blessings to you and your family!

    • Paul,
      Thanks for your comment. You ask some good questions, and I share those same concerns, and doubts.

      What are some ways we can effect change and renewal through the local church? I would love to hear your ideas and the ideas of others. I wish there were some mechanism in our system which would allow bishops to be “impeached.” Those who violate church polity need to be held accountable. I don’t know how to best do that outside of prayer. I pray daily that our leaders would repent and that they would turn back to God’s Word and the covenant they made when they were ordained and consecrated as bishops. I know God changed my heart and mind 3 years ago, and I was a die-hard liberal. If He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone.

      Should the disobedience continue I wonder if withholding apportionment dollars might be the best and only way to get their attention. It may come to that. Perhaps in some places it is already happening. As I understand things, the Pacific-West doesn’t have enough money to even pay their episcopal portion and therefore they have to borrow from other conferences. I’m not familiar enough with the “system” to know how to best throw a wrench in that, but I trust smarter folks than I are considering those options.

      All that to say, I’m open to suggestions. 🙂

      peace to you!

      • Chad, wouldn’t withholding apportionments go against “honoring your commitments?” In my opinion doing something like that then just justifies the other actions of not honoring the commitments? I wrote a reflection on that when Tom Lambrecht talked about withholding apportionments. http://methodistjustin.com/2014/04/02/the-conditional-covenant-a-reflection-in-response-to-tom-lambrecht/

        Can you help me understand how you would see withholding apportionment dollars as not going against your commitments as a UMC pastor in our connectional system?

      • Hi Justin, thanks for your comment and questions.

        First, I think it needs to be said that I am not saying that withholding apportionments is the best way to go or necessary right now. I’m merely thinking out loud and making suggestions. Time will tell whether that is the best course of action.

        Having said that, actions have consequences. At some point something is going to have to give. If bishops continue to break covenant and refuse to uphold the Discipline then I think it’s only right that churches decide how to best be faithful with God’s money in light of the covenant already being broken.

        My concern with your question is that it seems to place the judgment on those reacting to those breaking their commitments rather than on those who are making this conversation even necessary. I’ve not read your post (yet) but I would think the first step must be addressing those who are in violation of our covenant and then, should they refuse to change their course, help those of us who feel we must respond to do so in helpful ways. IF that means withholding money in certain places, then that decision should come after much prayer and discernment, IMO.

      • Chad-

        In your use of the marriage analogy you are actually making my point. The wife’s faithfulness the the covenant is what keeps it binding. She can show “tough love” and describe boundaries that must be maintained or thus consequences. The consequence would be a dissolution of the covenant via divorce. She however can’t say the consequence would be her own violation of the covenant by something like her own infidelity to try and bring the husband back into covenant (in the case of our denominational covenant “withholding apportionments”).

        I am just addressing a narrow “tactic” of withholding apportionments as some tactic to try and uphold a covenant. My assertion is that tactic renders the covenant obsolete and thus non-functional because neither party is upholding the original covenant and thus neither has a claim to say they have “upheld” the covenant.

        To me it seems we have a few options as a denomination facing us in the future:
        (1) Schism
        (2) Rewriting the terms of the covenant (I see this as somewhat what the Hamilton proposal is doing)
        (3) Continuing on in the messy way we are currently

      • Unfortunately, Justin, those who are leading our church are making poor choices and bringing churches to a crisis point where they have to make some hard decisions. If they continue to endorse what many still believe to be sin, then this is a serious matter. I don’t think option # 2 (Hamilton’s proposal) is a viable solution as it merely pushes the problem to the local church and divides us in spirit anyways. If withholding apportionments could be a means to an end – the end being that the covenant-breaking bishops wake up and we can avoid schism – then I’d support such a move. In any event, we cannot pretend to be a united church when we are clearly acting as 2 separate churches with different understandings of what it means to be a disciple.

        Have you written to the bishops who have broken covenant expressing your concerns with their behavior in the same manner as you’ve addressed Good News or others for their reaction to said behavior?

      • Chad- It is an interesting article and I think it touches a bit on our current situation in the UMC. In the end what I am saying is I just don’t see how breaking the covenant to try and force another party to recognize their error is helpful because I feel it totally destroys the covenant. (I don’t think anyone would condone a faithful spouse deciding to “cheat” in order to get an unfaithful spouse to recognize their error/hurt of the marriage covenant and return….the old two wrongs don’t make a right).

        In the end I think we have traveled this path far enough. Was looking to better understand how one could see this as a viable move theologically. My hope is that in all this we can find a way to hear where God is calling the UMC together despite our differences of opinion/thought over a small section of the larger reality of God’s Kingdom.

      • Ah. But see, you’ve touched on the reason we are at odds here and I presume will remain so. This isn’t merely a “small section of the larger reality” but a very important one. Sexual immorality is a big deal, and given much weight in all of scripture. Granted, the bishops breaking covenant (and I presume you) don’t see this as a matter of sexual immorality/sin, but the majority of the global church (and Christians in all ages) do and have.

        Therefore, I disagree with your marriage analogy as you state it here because conservatives would say you are comparing apples to oranges. Deciding to withhold apportionment dollars is not on the same level as endorsing sin by episcopal leaders or encouraging others to bless sin. A more accurate analogy would be to say this is like the faithful spouse deciding to kick her unfaithful husband out of the house until he stops sleeping around. She is not filing for divorce (yet) but at the same time she is making the hard choice to love in such a way that deprives her husband of their covenant relationship in hopes of one day restoring it fully. That is how I would envision a justification of withholding apportionments – it does not “destroy” the covenant but hopes to strengthen it.

        There are people destroying the covenant. I trust you are speaking to them even moreso than you are chastising the likes of Good News for simply responding to the unfaithfulness of others. What would be helpful is offering other ways for us conservatives to hold those in rebellion accountable. Any ideas?

      • Chad- I have not broken the covenant. I am maintaining the covenant and upholding it in my ministry. If I were to break it I would do so knowing that I would more than likely be leaving the UMC connection because I would not be able to uphold the covenant beyond that point.

        I still disagree with you on withholding apportionments as a “means to the end” in this instance but I don’t think either of us is going to convince the other differently. (Plus it is hard to do these things without a deeper relationship and understanding of one another…and in reality the internet ends up not being the best medium for such discussions)

        In the end, I pray for you and your ministry just as I pray for all those who minister in the UMC and the wider Body of Christ. May all of us help others to know Christ and be freed from the bondages of sin that hold them so that they may experience the Grace and freedom that comes from Christ.

        Congrats on your commissioning by the way and blessings on your ministry and family.

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