Holy Disobedience Or Holy Initiative

Holy Disobedience Or Holy Initiative February 7, 2022

Protestants do not have a clear idea of holy obedience. We leave that submission to authority to our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. But we do expect some sense of mutual obedience within our ranks. Progressive protestants have recently discussed the idea of Holy Disobedience. Liberationists define this as a deliberate act of breaking oppressive rules for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Our examples of Holy Disobedience are in the Apostles arguing they should obey God rather than human leaders (Acts 4:19) and the Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1:16-20). I am not sure this idea is correct.

Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is the violation of a law to demonstrate the injustice of the law. By doing so, people practicing this disobedience attempt to provoke a response from the enforcers. One cannot call people to recognize injustice if they are ignored. This is the primary reason I disagree with asking United Methodist Annual Conferences to place a moratorium on prosecuting clergy for performing same sex weddings. Conferences do not have a legitimate option to ignore violations of The United Methodist Book of Discipline. Also, it is not certain the prohibition of same sex weddings will end during the next General Conference.

Holy Disobedience is modeled on civil disobedience. If the unjust rule remains, consequences for violating it should too. The punishment is what demonstrates a rule is unjust.

Holy Initiative

Jim Corbett, one of the co-founders of Sanctuary in the 1980’s, claimed the movement did not practice civil disobedience at all. Instead, the government was in violation of the law by turning back refugees. Sanctuary workers were upholding the laws put in place by international treaties signed by the US government. He argued they practiced civil initiative.

Being a Quaker committed to nonviolence, Corbett understood provocation is a form of violence. Perhaps it is not. But we should avoid a violent attitude in our actions. John Wesley was not practicing holy disobedience when he spoke outside his fathers former church. The priest at Epworth forbade Wesley from preaching from the pulpit. I argue he was practicing holy initiative by preaching beside his father’s grave.

Practical Implication

How should we practice Holy Initiative regarding same sex weddings? It is simple. Recognize, formally, the civil wedding of same sex couples. Our churches accept married people all of the time. When a couple marries outside our buildings without our clergy, their marriage is still a fact of law. We recognize that fact when we introduce new families to our congregations.

Let’s face the fact that most of our members do not want to be married at the church anyway. Couples being married invite who they wish to attend. Anyone who objects to the wedding is usually not invited or present. The common practice for weddings is not what the Discipline assumes.

What about same sex couples who want the church building and the appointed clergy person? The solution is in pastoral care. Pastors should offer some form of premarital counseling or conversation with couples who wish to marry. The rules do not prohibit a clergy person from doing this for same sex couples. This is an act of doing good for the couple. But what about the ceremony itself?

The wedding ceremony is an act of Christian worship. I make this clear to singers, photographers, wedding planners, and families. Some are actually surprised to hear this fact. It is not a sacrament. Corporate worship is conducted for the health of the body of believers. Everyone involved in worship should ask what they are doing within it and why. Worship is the primary form of Holy Initiative.

Holy Action

Holy actions always have results. Sometimes the results are unavoidable consequences. Acting on Holy Initiative to perform a same sex wedding (or ordaining a self-avowed practicing homosexual) takes this into account. But it is not meant to provoke a response. Am I willing to face the consequences of my actions? Is the annual conference willing to face the consequences of the actions it takes against me? All parties involved should own responsibility. The consequences cause reflection on the action. This is the second reason I dislike a moratorium on prosecutions.

Holy Initiative is conducting ourselves in obedience to God. But is not this the same thing as Holy Disobedience? Provocation is not the point in Holy Initiative like it is in the disobedience model. The action is holy in itself. It grows from a desire for health and peace. It turns a desire to destroy into an act of grace.

Does this mean I am going to perform same sex weddings now? No. However, it means I am going to be a pastor to people who need it. I suggest everyone look at what we are doing this way. Doing no harm is the first step before doing good.


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