Seven pieces of institutional clutter the UMC needs to leave behind

Wesley understood that Scripture had to be interpreted through the eyes of wisdom, the studies of others, through lived experience. But as the Evangelical push takes over, and splinter groups like the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) gain adherents, there is a grant retreat to this unsubstantiated idea that we can throw Bible verses at anything and have it fully settled.

the-bible-says-itThe truth: life is more nuanced than an “If you would just follow the Bible, all would be well” statement.

I recently received a jury summons form. The day I am to appear for what could be a two or three-day trial happens to be two days before we leave for Europe and a long-planned vacation. If I postpone serving, my only alternatives dates were the two weeks before we returned and the two weeks that I had committed to be in California to care for my brother after a kidney transplant.

No other possible options. Neither choice will work. If I follow the rules, all will not be well. I’m willing and want to serve. But I’m not willing to cast overboard time to see my overseas children and grandchildren or my brother’s health for the sake of being a proper citizen.

The rules, set in place for good reasons, threaten a full year of planning and the life of my brother. I will break them for a higher call and I will be right in doing so.

From the earliest of our religious history of the desert-dwelling Hebrews, religious leaders have known that the written words were not enough. shutsJewish tradition holds that along with the written law, God also gave a massive amount of oral law to explain how to follow that which was written. Even with it, people have been arguing about the exact observance of the Law ever since then.

“Sola Scriptura” does not work. It never has and it never will.

Two: The contention that doctrinal “purity” will unite.

As Heather Hahn of United Methodist Communication writes concerning the stances of the above mentioned WCA,

The Rev. William J. Abraham was even more explicit about what he’d like to see happen. He said the United Methodists who disagree with church teachings on homosexuality should simply leave and start their own church.

Doctrinal purity and insistence on uniformity of thought have never united or opened widely the doors to grace. As Abraham’s statement makes painfully clear, those kinds of purity demands shut others out.

Yet the Gospels make it clear that Jesus intentionally, and at significant risk, opened the doors to God for those that the Scriptures had previously pronounced as unclean. The radical changes to the understanding of grace as seen in Acts 16 unmistakably announce that religious beliefs must be modified to fit current realities.

Only the love of God despite difference brings true unity. Uniformity kills, slowly strangling the life from the church.

Three: The idea that majority vote gives proper expression to the voice of God.

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  • P J Evans

    Those seven rules sound like they came in from the Southern Baptists or the Pentecostals. They aren’t the Methodist rules I grew up with, and I wouldn’t join any church that thought those were even reasonable rules to live by.

  • Bob M

    Well, my thoughts run the same as yours. I am a baptized and confirmed UMC who was the first youth person on our Administrative Board way back when the Methodists became “United” (yes, I am old…) I am also an out gay man, and am no longer UMC, but not for that reason. I found a home with the Presbyterians (PC-USA)Yes, we have and are traveling down many of the same roads you talk about although we do meet on the top denominational level every two years. WE also have people saying the very same things, doctrinal purity, everybody abiding by the “rules” WE do have an interesting history of division, we seem to have done it a lot over the years.

    This morning I had a thought come to mind. People want nice neat boxes (rules, consensus, doctrine, neat Bible verses) while the Holy Spirit is more of a coloring out side the lines kind a person.

    Will the future be uncertain, probably. Will it be what we want, maybe not. If I remember many of the same things were said about women in ministry…we seemed to have survived that, I think we will survive this, too.

    A favorite quote.. ”

    When you come to the end of all
    the light you have

    and take that first step into the
    darkness of the unknown,

    you must believe, one of two
    things will happen

    there will be something solid to
    stand upon

    or you will be taught
    how to fly.

    • http://www.christythomas.com Rev. Christy Thomas

      I love what you said about the Holy Spirit is more of a cooring outside the lines type! Exactly. Whenever the fresh winds of the Spirit blow through, all the tight little boxes get blown wide open.

      • Guthrum

        There indeed needs to be a time of fellowship, talking informally, and uplifting times. Just enjoy the company of others. Don’t get caught up in strictness, formalities, and separating out. Maybe there is too much beauracracy.

    • Guthrum

      The Episcopal Church – US, Presbyterian Church – USA, and the ELCA are denominations that are in a state of total collapse.

  • Linda Coleman Allen

    In 1962 I left the Southern Baptist Church because of this kind of behavior. I went to the UMC and found a healthy and kind environment. So sad to read this now.

    • http://www.christythomas.com Rev. Christy Thomas

      I also found the wonderful environment of the UMC after years in Baptist/Independent Bible churches. I ache to see what is happening with us.

  • George Waite

    Church is boring.

    • http://www.christythomas.com Rev. Christy Thomas

      Sometimes it is. Sometimes we need to have our souls bored into. Sometimes we need stillness and others to discover the presence of God.

      • George Waite

        Wow, if that isn’t pseudo-profound, I don’t know what is!

  • Guthrum

    Majority: okay, but the views and opinions of the church members need to be listened to. Decisions should not be made by a small block of people with an agenda. The Episcopal Church – US and the ELCA made decisions in stacked voting assemblies that ignored the members. Social statements and policies were approved that have proven disastrous for both denominations: losses of millions of members and thousands of churches. Decisions that went against Biblical teachings.
    Look at this: Episcopal diocese of Atlanta offers communion to non-Christians ! Are they kidding ? Apostate!

    • Pastor Kimberly A Rapczak

      I am not sure what you mean by “stacked voting assemblies.” In the ELCA, every congregation is entitled to a minimum of two voting members at synod assembly. As congregations become larger, they are entitled to additional voting members. At synod assemblies, people are chosen from among those attending to become voting members at Churchwide assemblies. It is completely democratic. I have often struggled to get people from my congregation to attend synod assemblies. ‘It’s boring.” “I only get so many vacation days.” “Who cares about what happens at synod assemblies?” When people then complain about what is passed, I remind them that they chose not to participate in the process. An additional fact: According to the ELCA constitutions, synod assemblies must be composed of 60% lay people. Should they choose to do so, they could outvote clergy every time. If anything, small congregations have greater power because a congregation of 20 people can have two voting members at synod assembly, the same as a congregation of 100 people. So, I really don’t understand what you mean by “stacked voting assemblies.”

  • http://toholdsway.blogspot.com/ Jamie Carter

    It seems to me that #1 fails to recognize the Wesleyan Quadrilateral – experience can be used to interpret the Bible and that’s why women are allowed to preach in Methodism. The Southern Baptists always considered it a slippery slope: if you let women preach, then the LGBTQ community will want to preach … Like it or not, you can’t grant freedom for one group to preach and use the same logic to deny freedom to another group to preach. At least the SBC is consistent in not allowing either group to preach.