One Violation and You Are Out: The United Methodist Tragedy

One Violation and You Are Out: The United Methodist Tragedy November 20, 2013

I wish we could just all admit that we simply don’t know. As much as we might claim to know, we don’t know. We don’t know what Jesus would do. We don’t know what real love is about. We don’t know how to come up with definitive answers about  what the Bible REALLY means.

We don’t know how to reconcile the commandments to love God and love neighbor with a rule book that holds United Methodists together in commandment and covenant. We don’t know how to define vital churches or effective clergy or healthy and holy sexuality. We don’t know how to keep one another accountable without destroying one another in the process.

And if we can’t admit that we just don’t know, this covenantal group, known as The United Methodist Church, is going to shatter.

Instead of admitting our ignorance, we draw lines and build fortresses based on “We know FOR SURE that . . .” except what those on one side of the fortress walls know for sure is the opposite of what those on the other side of the fortress walls know for sure.

Rev. Frank Schaefer, having been the celebrant at the same-sex wedding of his son, saw it as an act done of love first and later of conviction that he had taken another step on the path of following Jesus more fully.  Now he will lose his credentials as a clergy in a month unless he follows the commandments in The Book of Discipline to the absolute detail.  Not one variation to be permitted.

And while Rev. Schaefer did indeed violate The Book of Discipline, keep in mind that generally we can’t agree how to interpret the muliple-times-revised  and often-contradictory Book of Discipline any more than we can agree how to interpret the Bible. We JUST DON’T KNOW. And what some of us define as loving God and neighbor, doing so with current interpretations of the methods devised by John Wesley to turn himself and like-minded others into real Christians, others find absolutely anathema. Few of us are real experts in that labyrinth book, written over several centuries, amended every four years, and full of its own contradictions and extraordinarily unclear directives. In fact, the highest court of the UMC can’t always agree on how to interpret it–and they are the experts.

So we violate biblical principles of not bringing others to court, and bring one of our own to court. And then say, “Not one violation or you are out.”

Among the many things we don’t know, we do know how to do this: continue to be the one army that routinely shoots its wounded. And clergy are prime targets because any of us who throws ourselves fully into this work walk around with fresh bruises and open wounds. Just goes with the territory.

Now, we who are clergy should all just go ahead and turn in our credentials with Rev. Schaefer. Under the standard imposed on him, we are all guilty in one way or another.

We are all out of compliance. Perhaps we should form one huge circle, armed to the teeth with our interpretations of the rules, and see how many who differ from us we can destroy. Oh, wait, I forgot.  We do that every four years at General Conference anyway and every day on Facebook or other online forums. No need to set up a new way to do that.

I committed my life, my soul, my time, my energy, my resources to the service and love of God and neighbor through the human-made institution of The United Methodist Church. I love it with deep passion, even as I observe its flaws. I, one very flawed being, am in covenant with millions of other very flawed beings, in this institution that has impacted so many for so long with so much good.

We are held together by a flawed rule book, written and interpreted by flawed humans, and instead of being the anchor that stabilizes us, it has become the anchor tangled around our collective necks that drowns us.

I have no answers.  I just don’t know.

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