The house will stop burning on its own eventually

I’ve been following the goings on at the Reconciling Ministries ChurchQuake event only sporadically as folks I follow on Twitter have posted things. And even then only off and on.

But this Tweet caught my attention and would not let go.

I’ve been trying to think through the implications of this statement.

On the one hand, I am the last person to defend the Book of Discipline as something that every local church can or should follow to the letter. To enact every program and host every special Sunday and engage in every activity envisioned by the Book of Discipline would be impractical and would undermine the actual mission of local churches. No one is a Book of Discipline purist.

But isn’t it nearly an abrogation of the office of bishop to make it the center of a movement to ignore and void the Book of Discipline? Bishops, after all, exist for the purpose of protecting the doctrine and discipline of the church. That is why you have bishops in the first place.

If bishops really believe the Book of Discipline is perpetrating evil, why did they seek the office in the first place? Bishops don’t get a vote at General Conference — the only body that can change our doctrine and discipline. If you think we are advocating evil, wouldn’t it be better to run for election to General Conference where you can constitutionally do something about it?

For all its faults, the Book of Discipline is our church’s collective statement about what the Lord requires of us. It is produced by humans so is surely flawed in many ways, but having bishops praised for refusing to enforce the Book of Discipline is a bit like praising fire fighters for refusing to put out fires.

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18 thoughts on “The house will stop burning on its own eventually

  1. As the author of this quote I stand with the Western Jurisdiction Bishops. The silence has caused more harm than good. We will not be silent any longer. Being the most liberal and progressive jurisdiction, we do things a little bit different out here on the west coast. The Book of Discipline is really just a bunch of suggestions. I personally know two of the bishops in our jurisdiction, I can tell that they truely believe the table is open for all. We need the LGBTQ laity and clergy just as much as they need us. I know so many great clergy and laity that just happen to be LGBTQ. What they do for the church is amazing. The table is open for ALL of God’s children no matter how they identify themselves. I can no longer be silent with the harm that is being done. ALL means ALL, really. Love prevails even as love remains on trial.

    1. Thank you for stopping by to comment. I agree that the church wants gifted (and not so gifted) people. I hear in your list of slogans the conviction that questions about same-sex sex are not morally or spiritually significant. Am I reading that wrong?

      1. Nope. This is a non issue for me. A committed relationship is what is important in God’s eyes and your gender or the gender of your partner doesn’t matter. God loves ALL people regardless of how they idenitfy themselves.

  2. John,
    As I think you know, I grew up in the South during the 50s and 60s. Segregation was the law of the land and it worked in a number of ways – where one sat on the bus, what school you went to, the quality of books that you had for school, the water fountain that you drank out of. As a white kid, some would say that those laws didn’t affect me but those in power made sure that the schools that I went to were of the same quality as the schools black kids went too and that meant that education was limited in the name of the law.

    And yet, many of those in power who probably knew the consequences of the law stood by and let the law stand. It took dogs attacking children, fireman using high pressure houses and churches being bombed before action was taken.

    And the Methodist Church segregated its churches and its schools. My copies of the Discipline don’t go back that far but I am willing to bet it was in the discipline that we would segregate this denomination.

    It has been said before but if you take all the debate and rhetoric from today and replace gender identity with race, you would have virtually the same debate as before.

    What are we going to do if it is discovering that one’s gender identity is genetic and not a choice. Are we going to condemn a portion of this population because their parents had the wrong combination of genes? We said it before when it came to race and we were wrong then.

    Should those who enforce the Discipline be forced to follow laws that they, in their hearts, know is wrong?

    The longer that we wait to face the issue, the more we risk the dissolution of the United Methodist Church. It took almost 100 years to heal the wounds that tore about this denomination on the subject of race; how long will it take to heal the wounds that we seek to inflict upon ourselves today?

    1. I do not know the history of the MEC South or what is Discipline said. I appreciate that you are only implying I am a bigot and not going all the way to Nazi.

      So what do you see as the role of the office of bishop? Where do you think bishops should draw the line on doctrine and church law they do not agree with.

      1. John,
        If I implied that you were a bigot or anything like that, I apologize. That fact that you were writing on this topic and that you seeking advice says that you are seeking the truth as so many of us are. Those whom I would place that label on would not be doing what you are doing.

        My point is that the argument about gender is the same argument that was made in the 50s and 60s with race and probably with women’s rights at the beginning of the 20th century.

        Should a bishop or any church authority for that matter follow a law just because it is in the book but which goes against their conscience? I would argue that they should follow their conscience.

        I think that the role of the Bishops in this instance, in all instances, is speak out and say what they feel they have been called to say. If they don’t, then what are they in the position for?

  3. Here is a link to the gathering where Bishop Talbot blessed and married all the same-sex couples in the audience (at 1:40) and proclaimed his opposition to the “immoral” laws of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. This video should start playing at the point where the blessing occurs, but you may watch the entire service if you choose.

    It seems to me that this is as important a break with the church as John Wesley’s break with the Church of England when he ordained Francis Asbury. Even if we do not officially “split”, the split has happened.

  4. Hi John,

    The call Bishop Talbert has made for Biblical Obedience is a call to practice the fulness of the Biblical narrative, a call for radical inclusive love. In the same way, it is also a call to practice BOD obedience, to the fullest of the law. There is a lot more to The BOD than a few paragraphs some love to focus on that oppress LGBTQ folk.

    Why was my officiating a wedding for two lesbian parishioners in violation of The BOD and your refusal to offer the ministry of the church to all people is obedience? The BOD contradicts itself, and where that contradiction happens or the book is silence, we must practice careful discernment. In addition, we can look back at those clergy and laity who violated parts of The BOD to fulfill the larger spirit of the law (concerning slavery, segregation, females in ministry, etc.), and with the benefit of time, name them as obedient, not disobedient.

    To quote a recent article on http://www.rmnblog.org by Kevin M. Nelson, Upholding The Book of Discipline (http://www.rmnblog.org/2013/08/upholding-the-book-of-discipline.html)

    We believe in upholding the Book of Discipline too, and we recognize that the entirety of the Discipline isn’t contained in ¶ 2702.1.

    Article IV, “Inclusiveness of the Church,” in Division I of the Constitution (¶ 4), is also in the Discipline.
    Articles XXI, “Of the Marriage of Ministers,” and XXII, “Of the Rites and Ceremonies of Churches,” of the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church (within ¶ 104) are also in the Discipline. Article XXI says in part, “The ministers of Christ are not commanded to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage”…and they are permitted to “marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness.” Article XXII states that the rites and ceremonies of the church do not have to be “the same or exactly alike” in all places, and they “may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.”
    The Wesleyan Quadrilateral (in ¶ 105) is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 122–which talks about such things as welcoming and gathering persons into the body of Christ; nurturing persons through the means of grace; sending persons into the world to live lovingly and justly, free the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 140—reflecting the Church’s call to inclusivity and the recognition that God made all creation and saw that it was good; that inclusiveness means openness, acceptance and support that enables all persons to participate in the life of the Church; that inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination; the mark of an inclusive society is one in which all persons are welcomed, fully accepted and supported enabling them to participate fully in the life of the church–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 161.F—includes that all persons are of sacred worth—is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 162.J—about equal rights regardless of sexual orientation–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 164.F—about recognizing the right to civil disobedience and resisting or disobeying unjust laws–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 202—about local churches ministering to persons in their communities and providing appropriate nurture to all–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 204—about each local church ministering to all its members and having nurture responsibilities for its members–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 214—about all persons being able to participate in the full life of the church–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 228.1—about enlisting all members in participation in the church’s ministries and it being the duty of the pastor and members of the church to provide care and spiritual oversight and individual and family worship–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 303.2—about ordination being fulfilled through ministries of justice and compassion–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 305—which speaks of baptism as God’s gift of unmerited grace; of the incorporation of each person into the church and its ministry; of the primary form of ministry in God’s name is that of service in the world; that all members of the church are commissioned to ministries of love and justice–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶ 332—about Elders being ordained to service and being authorized to provide pastoral care–is also in the Discipline.
    ¶¶ 340.1 and 340.2—about clergy serving in Christ’s ministries of love and justice; about providing pastoral care; about performing the ecclesial act of marriage–are also in the Discipline.

    1. Thanks for taking such time to reply. So if I hear you properly, you say that the BOD has contradictions. And you read all the parts you cite as endorsing an interpretation that says the pain language of the text does not apply. Where do you draw the line on these questions? What bounds would you draw around the proper participants in Christian marriage or the fitness of persons for ordination?

  5. First, forgive my grammatical errors. I am Communications Director for RMN and have gotten a total of 10 hours of sleep since Thursday.

    I once stood in a similar place as those who argue, “if you can break some laws, the entire structure falls apart.” But then I took the time to intentionally listen and experience (as much that is possible as a straight, white, educated, male, elder in the SEJ) and my convictions began to change.

    I also studied the history of our denomination, MLK, South Africa, and other narratives. Hearing that argument of “if you can break some laws…” over and over again. And I also noticed that despite the clarion calls that things would fall apart if we broke some rules in order to fulfill other rules, we are still here.

    Bishop Talbert, in his intersection of passion for the full inclusion of LGBT persons and in his story of sitting at lunch counters in a segregated Atlanta, I have learned were those boundaries are. Simply put, laws that are immoral and discriminatory are not laws that I will follow. I make that decision after prayerful discernment individually and communally (making real relationships with those who are the victims of this discrimination). I make that decision, not to be disobedient to certain laws, but to obey the fulness of the book.

    People like Anna Oliver, given the title of rule-breaker for preaching because she had been called by God to do so and happened to be a woman, have been renamed as faithful and obedient by history. I dare say that people like Mary Ann Kaiser, given the name of rule-breaker because she is following God’s call upon her life and happens to be a lesbian, will be renamed by history as well.

    1. I appreciate the story, Andy, and the time. Sorry to hear about the fatigue. I understand that feeling.

      I know you are not saying otherwise, but my questions do arise out of more than a knee-jerk and simplistic commitment to following rules just because they are rules.

      Help me understand where you draw lines. If these rules are the moral equivalent of lunch counter segregation in your book, how do you guide the denomination on discerning who is a proper candidate for ordination and what is the proper definition of Christian marriage?

      I understand that people think the United Methodist Church — and the ecumenical Christian church before it — has drawn that line in the wrong place. (Some people put it in much stronger language than that.) Where should it be drawn now and why?

      1. Well, in Mary Ann’s situation, her district committee in Texas followed the process that is in place. They interviewed her. SHe was honest with them about her sexual orientation. They prayed. They voted. They passed her. And then, as if the discriminatory, oppressive laws weren’t doing enough harm on their own, her BoOM and the clergy met in secret and removed her from the process out of fear… they never interviewed her. Many never even met her. The district committee that did meet with her, those that are working alongside her in ministry at her UMC church have seen clear fruits and a clear calling.

        So, I guess I would start with the church following her own rules. Beyond that, I believe fruits and the discernment of a community is the way God reveals those called.

        1. Andy,

          If the situation was slightly different, and the candidate was a male living with a female outside of the boundaries of marriage , would the DCOM have been right to certify him even though it goes against our BoD?

  6. It would seem that our behavior is a result of both our heredity and our environment. Since most of us get both our heredity and our environment from the same persons, it is hard to separate. Our basic personality is formed by age five, so we don’t remember much of that. Neither is a choice. Comparing homosexuality to race is invalid because one is a condition and the other a behavior. I doubt any African American has ever come home and told his/her parents, “I think I might be Black.”

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