You can’t make this stuff up

It was one of those articles I had to check to see if it was on a satire web site.

An ordained United Church of Canada minister who believes in neither God nor Bible said Wednesday she is prepared to fight an unprecedented attempt to boot her from the pulpit for her beliefs.

Unprecedented? Is there a history of the United Church of Canada applauding its atheist pastors? No. It turns out the church had never investigated a minister for fitness to be a minister. Never. How is that possible?

Here is some of what stirred the hierarchy into action:

“I don’t believe in…the god called God,” Vosper said. “Using the word gets in the way of sharing what I want to share.”

Vosper, 57, who was ordained in 1993 and joined her east-end church in 1997, said the idea of an interventionist, supernatural being on which so much church doctrine is based belongs to an outdated world view.

What’s important, she says, is that her views hearken to Christianity’s beginnings, before the focus shifted from how one lived to doctrinal belief in God, Jesus and the Bible.

“Is the Bible really the word of God? Was Jesus a person?” she said.

“It’s mythology. We build a faith tradition upon it which shifted to find belief more important than how we lived.”

Vosper made her views clear as far back as a Sunday sermon in 2001 but her congregation stood behind her until a decision to do away with the Lord’s Prayer in 2008 prompted about 100 of the 150 members to leave. The rest backed her.

Things came to a head this year after she wrote an open letter to the church’s spiritual leader pointing out that belief in God can motivate bad things — a reference to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

So the story ends with the United Church of Canada convening a process to examine whether this pastor has broken her ordination vows, which include expressing belief in God shockingly enough. But the pastor is appealing the process because, and I quote from the story here: “it puts any minister at risk of being judged and found wanting.”

So she is appealing an investigation of her fitness to be a minister because it may discover that she is not fit to be a minister. The church leaders admit that is a bit worrisome to them as well.

You should read the story yourself. It is not long and gets comical near the end.

I had a few thoughts while reading that — or maybe three.

First, John Wesley must be horrifying for people in this church to contemplate.

Second, thank you, Jesus, that we in the United Methodist Church are not here yet. We aren’t, are we?

Third, maybe instead of all this commissioning paperwork and evaluation I’m doing this year, I should just head up to Toronto.

If they ask for bread

This post by Ellen Martin at Seedbed has some links to other good resources regarding healthy sexuality and talking about it in the church.

The post also includes some of Martin’s experiences when she was seeking guidance, correction, and support from the church during a time of bondage to sexual sin.

Six years later when I came to the church to be a part of the body of Christ, I lived in sexual bondage.  I sought guidance and understanding about my sexual temptations and sins.  I wanted to know the voice of Christ.  I asked a young adult ministry leader.  I was told it wasn’t one of the top 10 sins and to not be so hard on myself.  I never went back. I did find a wonderful congregation, but I wandered for weeks and months alone in bondage and shame as I worshipped with no help from the church.  I quit asking because it seemed clear that this was not a conversation the church wanted to have.  It seemed I would have to go at this part of discipleship alone with Jesus.  The world celebrated and offered every opportunity for me to embrace my sexual desires.  The church either condemned my sin, abstained their voice, or belittled my bondage.


Watts: ‘I have nothing to hide’

Joel Watts shares his thoughts about human sexuality and the United Methodist Church.

Watts is a nominee for General Conference in the West Virginia Annual Conference. His answers to other questions can be found here.

Isolation kills

I posted on Facebook recently about the need for some old-fashioned peer pressure and support to improve my eating habits. That let to a bunch of helpful comments and some private invitations to join in with others in an accountability group.

As I read these comments on my Facebook page, I thought instantly about spiritual matters. Methodism grew out of such a group. The original Holy Club at Oxford was little more than a group of spiritual seekers gathered to support each other and hold each other accountable. As Methodism became a movement, it fostered such groups across Great Britain and North America. It understood the basic truth that we need other people and external structure to help us overcome our bad habits. Our own holiness grows best side-by-side with others seeking the same holiness.

And yet in so many of our churches we think that one hour of worship a week is all the spiritual effort needed to work out our salvation.

How crazy is that?

The key to shrinking the Book of Discipline

The United Methodist Reporter has an interesting look at ongoing work to revise the administrative law in the Book of Discipline to reflect the global nature of the church.

At the end of the story, Bishop Patrick Streiff touched on what strikes me as a key goal:

Streiff hopes that one outcome of the committee’s years of work will be a more stable Book of Discipline that will invite fewer legislative revisions each General Conference.

“If we are right about the essentials,” he said, “they do not need to be changed every four years.”

The unspoken word here is “trust.” The reason why the Discipline keeps growing in length and complexity every four years has to do with trust. It is when we do not trust the structures that in place to oversee the denomination that we spawn more and more rules to try and force behaviors we want.

Worried that the church will not pay enough attention to diversity? Write rules about board membership to ensure it happens. Worried that the boards of ordained ministry will not do their jobs? Put in hard and fast rules about who cannot be ordained. Worried that bishops will run rough shod over clergy? Write rules that restrict bishop’s powers and expand clergy rights.

Rules rush to fill the vacuum created by an absence of trust.

As we all know, of course, trust cannot be decreed. It is the by-product of experience.

Using dollars to disagree

Good News shared this story about Mt. Bethel UMC, a huge United Methodist congregation in North Georgia, voting to withhold apportionments:

One of the largest congregations in The United Methodist Church withheld over $200,000 of its apportionments in 2014 in response to what it believes to be “wholly unsatisfactory” inaction on the part of the Council of Bishops to recent controversies within the denomination. The congregation will make no further payments in 2015 without the explicit approval of the church’s administrative council.

The story says the church will not pay apportionments in 2015 unless the Council of Bishops responds satisfactorily to a statement issued by a group of United Methodists pastors and other leaders last summer.

It will be interesting to see how North Georgia Bishop Michael Watson responds.