Clarity begets discipline

This post from Talbot Davis about the way clarity about mission changed his pastoral leadership is a hopeful word to me this morning.

[E]arlier in the history of Good Shepherd we would follow the latest trend, embrace the most recent fad, and follow a season of blessing with a season of anarchy.  Our “wins,” when we had them, were disconnected from whatever came before or after them.

There’s some good news in all this.  Once Will Mancini and his team at Auxano helped us unearth the mission of inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ in 2011, I suddenly had a leadership focus that didn’t mimic anyone else but came from within our community.

So these days we are resistant to trends, fads, and anarchy.  We much better able to connect one ministry “win” with the next one.  Everything we do, from evaluating facilities to hiring staff, now gets filtered through the grid of inviting all people.

It reminds me of another pastor long ago who determined to make sure everything he did was aimed at spreading scriptural holiness across the land. He was another guy who liked discipline and got a few things done.

Discipline is not my strong suit. Perhaps there is a lesson in these examples that I need to hear.

Is this how it usually works?

I e-mailed Rev. Randy Paige, one of the two complainants in the case of Rev. Thomas Ogletree. He sent me a copy of the statement previously released elsewhere and shared the following in his message:

We, the complainants, did not have any input into the resolution. We had sent Bishop Ives, at his request, our concerns, thoughts and what we would need in order to reach satisfactory agreement for a just resolution. That’s the language the BOD uses “satisfactory agreement” among both parties. But then it went behind closed doors and we were not privy to what was happening. The next thing we knew is that there was not going to be a trial, that a resolution was found and would be announced at the press conference. We heard it when it went public.

Below I’ve reproduced the statement Paige sent me.

If you have some time watch the video of the press conference announcing the result of the trial. It begins with the court secretary leading the audience at the press conference in a round of “This is the Day.” All the videos are here.

On the video, Ogletree remarked that it was clear to him from the beginning that the bishop and all the other church officials managing the case agreed with him that the church law was wrong.

I find I have zero context by which to evaluate this result. Is this pretty much the way most disciplinary cases get handled in our conferences? Or is this something different? I know we don’t have lots of trials on any issue. Do most of them get handled in this kind of fashion before trials ever emerge?

I will be interested to hear what Bishop McLee does at his annual conference session when it comes time to ask candidates for ordination whether they will uphold the Book of Discipline.

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A polity lesson

I did not know that the “just resolution” process in our Discipline did not include the people who brought the complaints.

Reading the official statements from the resolution of the Rev. Ogletree case, I don’t see any sign that the complaining pastors were a part of the process that led to the dismissal of the charges.

As I understand it, now, the church and the accused are the only two parties to the action when it gets referred to trial, so the people who brought the original complaint can be excluded from the resolution process. (Please correct me if I am wrong about this.)

I realize that in this case no one in the “winning” side will complain about that, but isn’t such a system vulnerable to all kinds of abuse?

Being under authority #LukeActs2014

For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it. (Luke 7:8, NRSV)

Whose authority am I under today? Would it be obvious to someone who followed me around all day? Would it be clear to someone who could see my thoughts and fears?

The community leaders had commended the centurion to Jesus on the basis of his good deeds for the Jews. He built the synagogue after all. He’s the head of the trustees and a big giver. Yes, he is worthy of Jesus’ help.

But the centurion proves his better understanding of the gospel. He declares through messengers his own unworthiness and Jesus’ mighty power.

But it is that bit about authority that has me today as I read with many of my fellow United Methodists through Luke 7 this week.

Under what forms of authority am I set? Do I properly fulfill my place with regard to these various masters? Do I exult my earthly masters to the point that my heavenly Lord’s authority is discounted or rejected?

I am struck reading this passage that the centurion’s faith is expressed in terms of the military life he lives. The Roman army, the bloody boot on the neck of Israel, gives him the language by which he can express the power and authority of Jesus.

Jesus does not stop to correct the man’s metaphors. He does not rebuke him for the oppression and exploitation that he helps enforce. He does not tell him to free his slaves. Jesus turns to his own followers and declares that he has never seen such faith in all of Israel. And he heals the man’s slave.

It is a recognition of the authority of Jesus that is central here. The centurion, being a man under authority and used to exercising it, could spot true authority when he saw it — or in this case heard about it. He had the faith that is the gift of seeing what the world does not see, in Jesus the authority of God dwelt.

The gospels are full of people who are amazed and stunned by the authority with which Jesus acts. Could it be that only when we are under proper authority that we are capable of spotting the true authority of Jesus in action? When we are not under such authority, we are prone to mistake or confuse false shows of authority for the real thing.

Maybe? I’m not sure if I make too much or too little of this verse today. But it is trying to make something in me.

The trial no one wants

Jay Voorhees of The United Methodist Reporter has written a preview column about the upcoming trial of Frank Schaefer on charges that he violated the UMC’s Book of Discipline when he presided at a gay wedding for his son.

In the column, Voorhees continues a line of argument that has gained a lot of traction recently:

And yet, as we face another trial, we have to ask ourselves if this is REALLY the way that Jesus intended for the world to know of his love? Are church trials reflective of our love, one for another, a love which Christ said would be a means of revealing his love to the world? Is not our accountability supposed to be done in love rather than in a court of law?

The column raises a good question. How did Jesus teach us to deal with members of the community who sin? How did Jesus suggest we deal with such things?

Here are my thoughts.

Jesus said if a person who has sinned comes and asks for forgiveness, we should forgive. But Rev. Schaefer proclaims that he has not sinned and does not seek forgiveness from his clergy colleagues.

Jesus said that if a person sins we should go to them, and if they do not repent, we should bring another to speak with that person, and if he still will not repent, the entire church should witness to the issue. If the person still will not repent, Jesus said, they should be as a pagan or tax collector to the church. But, again, Rev. Schaefer and his allies deny he has in any way sinned.

Jesus also told us how to handle situations of dispute with a brother or sister:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:23-26, NIV)

But, again, Rev. Schaefer does not think his fellow clergy have any grounds for “having something against him” or that he is under any compulsion to settle things with his adversary, because he denies that his brothers and sisters have any right to claim he has done anything wrong. Indeed, if he agrees with retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, he believes that it is the church that is evil and oppressive.

As I understand our process, there have been many opportunities for the pastor and those appointed in supervision above him and the person who filed the complaint to talk and conference and find a solution that does not end up at a trial. I believe I read that Schaefer was offered a chance to resolve the matter if he promised in the future to keep his ordination vows to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the UMC. But he refused.

So, I am left wondering what teaching of Jesus or the apostles should guide the conference as it responds to the actions of the pastor.

I’m sure people who are calling for no trials have thoughtful answers based on Jesus’ teachings to not judge and to remove the speck of sawdust from our own eye.

But here is the thing.

The place to have that conversation is not the disciplinary process.

It is at General Conference.

And, of course, the church has had exactly those conversations and debates for several decades at General Conference. We’ve had passionate debates about where the church should follow the teaching of Matthew 7:1-6 and where it should be guided by Matthew 18:15-17. For better or worse, we settle our debates on such matters by voting.

It will be bad public relations for the UMC to have a trial. No one wanted this dispute to come to a trial. But this trial could have been avoided had Schaefer wanted to avoid it. In the end, he has demanded his day in court because he is convinced that he is right and the General Conference is wrong.

If you think Schaefer is correct, you applaud calls to cancel the trial, compare Schaefer with Martin Luther, and compare the church — as Voorhees does in his column — to the Spanish Inquisition. You probably cluck at the notion that willful violation of his vows of ordination could be described in terms of sin. You probably see this as a case of justice vs. legalism.

If, however, you think he has sinned by breaching his ordination vows and by spreading false teaching, then you will not give up trying to turn him back from his sin and toward life. You might say, in fact, that the loving thing is to try to turn him from his sin. You will not stop praying for him. But if he is placed in a position of authority in the church and declares his sin is righteousness, you will say that the church cannot ignore this.

And so, I think I understand why many people are saying we should not have a church trial this week. But I don’t think they truly understand why so many United Methodists reluctantly disagree with them.