Taking a razor to the Book of Discipline

Tom Lambrecht has written a series of posts in response to the resolution of the complaint against retired bishop Melvin Talbert. Here are links to Lambrecht’s posts: 1, 2, 3.

Near the end of the third post, he writes this:

The supreme law of the church is no longer the Discipline or General Conference; it is individual conscience. Personal judgment is now the ultimate arbiter of our faith and practice. We are no longer a connectional church, nor even a congregational one, but an individualistic one. Every person is now clamoring to do “what is right in his/her own eyes.”

I wonder what would happen if the Council of Bishops got together like a group of Thomas Jeffersons with razor blades and cut out of the Book of Discipline every line and paragraph that they would be unwilling to enforce or insist upon.

I wonder what the resulting book would look like.

I wonder if it would not be a more honest and more effective book than the one we have.

8 thoughts on “Taking a razor to the Book of Discipline

  1. Thanks, John! I like your analogy to Thomas Jefferson’s Bible. The discrepancy between what we say we require and what we actually do is a corrosive acid on the connection of the church.

  2. The allusion to Thomas Jefferson and his razor is shrewdly apt. Jefferson’s religious sensibilities are correlate to that disastrous 18th century inclination to “lower the bar” to make salvation a cakewalk.

  3. So, John, what strikes me as odd about much of the negative response to the Just Resolution approach that was taken is that what happened was perfectly within the bounds of what the Discipline itself describes as, in fact, the preferential approach. The Discipline clearly favors “just resolution” acceptable to the parties over trials.

    And then further, in the Discipline’s provisions for trials, juries are NOT instructed about penalties they MUST impose IF in fact the jury finds a person guilty of some offense. They are rather given instruction about the kinds of things they can choose to do, but the choice itself is, per our polity of long standing, entirely up to them. What they decide to do can be appealed through the jurisdictional committee on appeals, which first decides whether the procedure to make an appeal has been properly followed, and then whether the situation at hand (on a case by case basis) merits further review because of abrogation of other elements of church law.

    I get it some folks want there to be specific (and very strong) penalties attached to specific abrogations of discipline, once established. But that isn’t and never has been our polity as United Methodists.

    So those who are calling for the Discipline to be enforced are, in effect, calling for it to be abrogated in the very process of enforcing it– at least unless and until General Conference changes this core element of our disciplinary processes.

    And… given the long precedents involved, I’d think if GC were to pass such legislation then a) it would be sent to Judicial Council for review and b) Judicial Council could very well overturn it.

    1. I understand the point that “just resolution” is in keeping with the Book of Discipline. From where I stand, the process looks arbitrary. And yet, I will be interviewed by a board of clergy and laity about my ability order that polity and explain that doctrine.

      In Indiana, we have a very prominent church that openly practices infant dedication and believer’s baptism. If I advocated that at the Board of Ordained Ministry, I am assuming I would be denied ordination and the Discipline would be cited. And yet, ordained pastors can defy the Discipline.

      This does not make sense to me.

    2. The objection is not to the process followed, which is within the parameters of the BOD. The objection is that the process led to no real resolution. There was no repentance on the part of Talbert, and there were no consequences for his disobedience. In this case, the process required by the Discipline was followed, but the result in effect undermined that very Discipline.

      It’s not that we are clamoring for a trial for Bishop Talbert. We would prefer a just resolution over a trial, just not a just resolution that undermines the Discipline and makes a mockery of accountability.

      1. “It’s not that we are clamoring for a trial for Bishop Talbert. We would prefer a just resolution over a trial, just not a just resolution that undermines the Discipline and makes a mockery of accountability.”

        Well said.

  4. It is the fact that certain leaders of high repute do not take this lament seriously that offends us to the core. It is this feigned “blindness” to the offense that cuts cruelly across the face of the church.

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