Moralism of the right & moralism of the left

United Methodists are considering whether or not to have an amicable split, so as to accommodate both sides of the moral debates that the denomination is struggling with.  As I know from personal and family experience, Methodists have always had a strong emphasis on morality.  It certainly has an evangelistic strain, with its roots in the Wesleyan revivals, but its moral focus can tend to moralism, an emphasis on moral rectitude that overshadows the forgiveness of Christ.

The prospect of a Methodist split shows what is happening across many denominations.  There is a moralism of the right, fixating on traditional sexual morality, personal vices, and family values.  And there is a moralism of the left, fixating on “social justice,” care for the poor, and political liberalism.  (Note that it is possible to uphold what is “moral” without succumbing to “moralism.”)

But what–or, rather, Who–is often missing in moralistic churches of both the right and the left is Christ.  The right often relegates Him to the moment of conversion, whereupon Christians can then get to the real business of regulating their behavior.  The left reduces Him to a political liberal like themselves.  Both treat Him mainly as an example, rather than as Savior, Redeemer, and Sacrifice.

From  Amicable breakup of UMC needed, pastor group says [Methodist News Service].:

DALLAS (UMNS) — A group of United Methodist pastors and theologians is calling for an amicable split of the denomination, saying differences over homosexuality and other issues are irreconcilable.

The group describes itself as traditionalist and says its ranks include more than 80 members, including pastors of some of the larger United Methodist congregations.

“Are we not at a point where we can acknowledge, after years of dialogue and debate, the depth of our differences and together, progressives and traditionalists, give each other the freedom to pursue our understanding of God’s will?” the group said in its statement.

The group makes clear its support for the church’s current official positions on homosexuality, including that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, but says its disagreements with “progressives” go farther, including to whether the Bible is the infallible word of God.

“I don’t think we will ever agree on the issues that deeply divide us,” said the Rev. Chuck Savage, president of the Georgia United Methodist Foundation, in a press release accompanying the statement. “However, it is my hope that we will agree on a plan of separation that will serve both traditionalists and progressives well. My opinion is that if we can reach agreement on such a plan both progressives and traditionalists will emerge stronger.”

Talk of a breakup of the United Methodist Church is not new, and discussions at the 2004 General Conference led to passage of a unity resolution.

But the Rev. Tom Harrison, part of the group releasing the new statement, said recent clergy defiance of church law by performing same-sex unions convinced him that going forward as one denomination isn’t realistic.

“You can’t play that way,” said Harrison, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Okla., in a phone interview. “It’s chaos. My argument really is rooted in the violation of our covenant together, the Book of Discipline.”

 

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