Either My Way or the Highway #UMC: The Parable of the Spotted Sheep

Either My Way or the Highway #UMC: The Parable of the Spotted Sheep November 4, 2014

I have just read John Lomperis extensive post on how The United Methodist Church is to move forward.  It is a strong call to doctrinal purity, and, should it be adopted, will mean that any who don’t agree with the IRD  (The Institute on Religion and Democracy, a heavily funded right wing political group that has been trying for at least 20 years to destroy the UMC)  will have to leave. As I wrote several months ago, “The Inquisition Cometh!” Yes, indeed it will under this proposal.

I was discussing this with a friend who has been highly successful in business and his response spurred this parable.

The Parable of the Spotted Sheep

The shepherd, wanting to present to the landlord the best flock ever, took a hard look at the nearly 5000 sheep under his care. Most were fully white, and they looked elegant against the green hills, like pure white clouds on a bed of verdant green. However, something was just not quite right. The flock didn’t look as clean and pure as they should.

On close inspection, the shepherd noted a minority of sheep with a black spot.

It made the flock look slightly dirty, and anything but uniform. So, the shepherd, again wanting to present to the Landlord nothing but the best, culled all the sheep with the black spots. He sent them away with some vague instructions as to where they might find other green pastures, and went back to his much purer and cleaner flock of 4198 sheep.

As he busily fed them and washed them and harvested their wool and watched over them, he discovered something a bit worrisome. Some of the flock had developed brown spots near their noses and ears. It was especially noticeable right after they had given up their wool and were more exposed by their generosity.

Again, wanting to give the Landlord only the best, he sent those brown spots away, but with less direction as to where they might find another shepherd and care. He returned, pleased with the result, and went back to taking care of his 2633 sheep. He hadn’t heard anything about the fate of the black spots, but assumed that no news was good news and they were fine. The brown spots should fare just as well.

Over the next few years, the shepherd’s skill at finding flaws grew. His eyes became sharper, more critical of any imperfections, any divergences from the pure white norm.  He turned even greater energies on clearing out imperfections, raising his standards year by year.

It danced on the edge of his consciousness that the number of new lambs decreased each year Furthermore, the number of lambs that died upon birth increased, as many were born with birth defects. However, he felt that those problems would self correct as soon as he was able to more fully purify the flock.

And so, the pride in the purity of his flock increased. He waited eagerly for the day when the Landlord would show up. We felt assured of receiving a pat him on the back as a good and faithful servant–and expected a bigger flock to manage as a result.

On one of those perfect spring days, right after the lambing had finished for the season, the Landlord walked up to the pasture. The pure flock, all 493 of them, were at their best–their white brightness set off perfectly by the green grass. The shepherd proudly handed over the bona-fides of each of the sheep as they grazed peacefully before them, nearly preening in their perfection.

After greeting the shepherd, the Landlord wandered through the sheep, looking more and perturbed. Finally, he said to the shepherd, “What happened to the Black Spots and the Brown Spots?  I sent them so that you might have variety in genetics and far more vitality in your flocks. They offered balance, color and health to the entire enterprise. What have you done with them?

The shepherd, totally off balance, said, “but . . . I thought you’d be happy by the purity of the flock! I sent the others away.”

The Landlord said, “It’s my job to purify the flock–it was yours to nurture them, feed them, and protect them. And now I learn that you sent them away, defenseless, hungry and unprotected. Furthermore, you have brought me to the edge of bankruptcy. Depart from me, you unfaithful servant. Leave me to grieve over what I have lost.”

And so goes in The United Methodist Church as the move comes from both extremes  to “purify it” and expel all the Black Spots and Brown Spots. God grieves, but who cares about that?

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  • Patti

    On a tour of Spain two years ago, I heard much the same story about the Spanish Inquisition. The Iberian Peninsula was an economic and cultural powerhouse when the Moors and Jews and Christians lived together in harmony, but once the Inquisition began, neighbor lived in fear of neighbor. Dissidents and creative thinkers were expelled, and the country lay dormant for hundreds of years.

    Sad and wasteful.

    • Thank you. That is exactly what is expect to happen in the UMC in the next few years.

      • Thank you, Christy. This is spot on, says one of the spotted sheep.

  • Patti

    On a tour of Spain two years ago, I heard much the same story about the Spanish Inquisition. The Iberian Peninsula was an economic and cultural powerhouse when the Moors and Jews and Christians lived together in harmony, but once the Inquisition began, neighbor lived in fear of neighbor. Dissidents and creative thinkers were expelled, and the country lay dormant for hundreds of years.

    Sad and wasteful.

    • Thank you. That is exactly what is expect to happen in the UMC in the next few years.

      • Thank you, Christy. This is spot on, says one of the spotted sheep.

  • The problem is, the spotted sheep think God is the problem. He cannot purify those who do not want to be clean, and whose pastors bless and affirm their desire to remain dirty.

    • Charlotte Cherry

      Veritasvincit…you think that the problem is that the sheep are spotted because they want to be? Although this is only a parable, it is true for people as well. Whether you like it or not, people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, cultural diversity, etc. and God loves them all. There are many children of God who have spots and it is not your responsibility to judge them or cull them from the herd. After all, we are all washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.

  • The problem is, the spotted sheep think God is the problem. He cannot purify those who do not want to be clean, and whose pastors bless and affirm their desire to remain dirty.

    • Charlotte Cherry

      Veritasvincit…you think that the problem is that the sheep are spotted because they want to be? Although this is only a parable, it is true for people as well. Whether you like it or not, people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, cultural diversity, etc. and God loves them all. There are many children of God who have spots and it is not your responsibility to judge them or cull them from the herd. After all, we are all washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.

  • M Trullinger

    From start to finish this article is a caricature devoid of even a single reference to Holy Scripture or a solitary reference to a source of truth. Here we have another attempt to re-write scripture to support an otherwise absurd claim.

    IRD is neither “heavily funded” nor “a right wing political group.” Far from trying to destroy the UMC they have been laboring diligently to save and renew it. Nor is anyone at IRD advocating that anyone leave the church or be denied access.

    Anyone who believes something which starts with “God has NOT said…” something which he clearly HAS said, should read carefully from the BEGINNING the revelation by which we know our God, and consider well the consequences of choosing badly.

  • M Trullinger

    From start to finish this article is a caricature devoid of even a single reference to Holy Scripture or a solitary reference to a source of truth. Here we have another attempt to re-write scripture to support an otherwise absurd claim.

    IRD is neither “heavily funded” nor “a right wing political group.” Far from trying to destroy the UMC they have been laboring diligently to save and renew it. Nor is anyone at IRD advocating that anyone leave the church or be denied access.

    Anyone who believes something which starts with “God has NOT said…” something which he clearly HAS said, should read carefully from the BEGINNING the revelation by which we know our God, and consider well the consequences of choosing badly.

  • Powerful, and a useful (and I think correct) way of looking at the decision we face.

  • Powerful, and a useful (and I think correct) way of looking at the decision we face.

  • There’s a typo in the second-to-the-last paragraph. You have “The Landlord said, “It’s my job to purity the flock….” That should read “purify,” not “purity.”

    Otherwise, the parable is superb.

  • There’s a typo in the second-to-the-last paragraph. You have “The Landlord said, “It’s my job to purity the flock….” That should read “purify,” not “purity.”

    Otherwise, the parable is superb.

  • Thank you for the courage to stand up. What this article gives us is something to chew on. I for one want to follow Jesus when he said “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another”. I hope Tertullian’s comment can be said of the Otterbein UMC in Russell KS where I pastor a whole congregation of spotted sheep including myself. Blessings upon you.

    • Thank you for writing–I hope your congregation of “spotted sheep” thrives and finds the fullness of grace!

  • Thank you for the courage to stand up. What this article gives us is something to chew on. I for one want to follow Jesus when he said “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another”. I hope Tertullian’s comment can be said of the Otterbein UMC in Russell KS where I pastor a whole congregation of spotted sheep including myself. Blessings upon you.

    • Thank you for writing–I hope your congregation of “spotted sheep” thrives and finds the fullness of grace!

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