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.

The inescapable debate

This showed up in my e-mail. I assume it was copied to me because it quotes my blog.

Foundry United Methodist Church agree-to-disagree resolution.

I will not comment on this, but since my blog is somehow connected to it, I wanted to share it here if — for no other reason — to note my own historical role in this debate.

Blackballing Eddie Fox a horrible idea

Someone needs to explain this to me. I really don’t understand.

United Methodists are protesting the decision of Candler School of Theology to honor Eddie Fox as a distinguished alumnus. Here are three blog posts about it: 1, 2, 3.

I understand that people disagree with the UMC’s teaching and law on human sexuality. But do people really believe Fox should be shunned because he supports the Book of Discipline? Are people really standing up with protest signs because he honors his vows of ordination?

By any definition, he is a distinguished United Methodist. You don’t have to embrace everything he believes to acknowledge that. You just have to be willing to be the least bit fair minded.

Blackballing him for being a United Methodist is a horrible idea.

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.

Am I ignoring the earthquake?

A woman stood in her ramshackle hut polishing a brass lamp with a rag, working hard as she could to clean it to a brilliant shine. The only odd thing about this was that her house stood in the midst of ruins. An earthquake had shattered the street itself and brought down houses and shops on every side of her. That her little hovel had somehow stood was remarkable, but cleaning the brass missed the greater calamity.

This little parable comes to mind when I read this post by Ron Belgau.

I had an exchange not long ago with Dean Snyder seeking to understand how his arguments about gay marriage are materially different from the arguments of polygamists. We did not really come to a mutual understanding.

But today I am reminded by Belgau’s post that it is not wise to narrow our attention to only the most pressing issue of the day.

We should look around the neighborhood, as well. We should look because the advocates who shed tears and sometimes hurl names at the church have often correctly noticed that our denomination appears to have come to terms with all manner of heterosexual sexual behaviors that Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets did not appear all too happy about.

People who point out these inconsistencies, of course, rarely are advocating that we as a church go back and strive for biblical standards in these areas. The message is more often: “Hey, you are giving the fornicators an easy time. You don’t say much when a man divorces his wife and abandons his kids because he’s gotten tired of being married. Why not treat others the same way?”

For me, at least, this is an important question to deal with. I have more than once asked someone who is advocating for change in the United Methodist Church’s social principles and law to share with me their holistic theology regarding sex. Don’t tell me merely why you think this provision in the Book of Discipline is wrong. Help me understand how your theology speaks to our sex-crazed culture.

It is only fair, of course, to turn that question on myself. Does the status quo of United Methodist teaching on sexuality provide an orthodox and holistic theology about sex? Does it witness to the ills of our world with a gospel answer? Does it speak in a comprehensive way, or is it a divided witness that has already been compromised by accommodation to heterosexual practices that have no basis in Christian holiness? If our only interest was in heterosexual sexual behavior and attitudes, does the current official witness of the church reflect sound Christian theology?

What do you think?

Enforcing Book of Discipline a chargeable offense?

If I read my Twitter feed properly, the Desert Southwest Annual Conference passed a resolution calling on clergy to defy the  United Methodist Church’s laws against conducting same-sex wedding ceremonies.

In the resolution as written but not as passed (I’m not sure as passed) the conference announced that anyone who brings charges against a clergy member for violating the Book of Discipline will themselves be subject to charges.

RESOLVED, that if such charges are brought, that the Desert Southwest Annual Conference and the United Methodist Churches of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, Clergy and Laity will view this act (of charging another clergy for these reasons) as a Chargeable Offense per Book of Discipline Paragraph 2702 (f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor; (j) harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; or (k) racial or gender discrimination.

To my reading, the resolution is saying not only that it will ignore that Book of Discipline but also that anyone who attempts to invoke the Book of Discipline will be subject to sanctions by the conference, which presumably means a clergy member could be stripped of his or her ordination for seeking to uphold the Book of Discipline.


Rob Rynders told me a tweet that this paragraph was struck by the Annual Conference before it passed. I’m glad to learn that, although the inclusion of this resolution at all seems like a bad omen for the future.

Here is the resolution that was adopted and subsequently sent to the bishop for a ruling of law.