It is a defense mechanism we hold in common—when we realize that the practical action demanded by our professed beliefs requires some pain—we look for an avenue which will justify inaction while assuaging our conscience.
We are at the point in a controversy where many who spoke boldly at first are starting to realize there will be a cost for acting on their stated principles. They are already starting to turn, and we are hearing once again the old phrases, “give the bishops room,” “wait and see,” and “let the process work,” as though they’ve never been said before. I write this to hopefully strengthen some of us who have not yet yielded to this temptation and to encourage others of us who have sought shelter in false peace to return to our first passion.
Consider the following two articles from the internet. The first is a language of passion. It retells a Biblical story of the fall. It identifies the person of Christ. It speaks of sin, right, and wrong. If the author of this piece is correct then specific actions are called for. In fact, the author makes clear that somebody has to go.
"We must now choose both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, not separating right belief from right action. We must value all humans, but not yield to the temptation to say that everything is good. God said everything was good before Adam and Eve’s Fall, not afterward. God has been trying to undo the consequences of sin ever since, supremely through Jesus.
Therefore, our divisive structures must be destroyed. We must be united in our covenant, or let those who want to disobey leave in peace. Having a single US conference doesn’t help at all. It trounces Wesley’s tenet that the world is our parish. In our global UMC, it would also tell the world that we believe western liberalism and its values are the 21st century’s version of colonialism. We must have a common Book of Discipline and form a “more perfect union” by letting go of a sinful history and forging a new way based on a common heritage. We must bow before Jesus and pledge allegiance to Him, humble ourselves, and repent. Let us learn from history and pass our Godly heritage on to our children, before it’s too late!"
This second article calls for cooler heads. It uses the language of therapy. Its message is, “give the bishops room,” and “let the process work.” The recommendation is that we stop acting and reacting. Just leave everything as it is now while something is worked out.
"Rabbi Edwin Friedman who wrote the seminal work on Family Systems theory, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, also wrote a telling book about what we are witnessing both in the Judicial Council’s deferral and the creation of the Council of Bishop’s “A Way Forward Commission.” His book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, actually defends what some, including me, have called “kicking the can down the road.” According to Family Systems Theory, the Judicial Council and the COB have given us appropriate and helpful time to pause, reflect, have non-anxious presence, and defect in place. The question is, “Will we?”
The cycle of ecclesial attacks and reprisals need to end so that we can have a denominational reset. Our local churches and clergy, plus general agencies and bishops need calm so that the best clear thinking will prevail. Let’s let go of the tension and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us. There’s a better chance that we will end up where we need to be if we lay down our swords. This will not sit well with people in two corners of the triangle (Progressive or Conservative), but we all need to chill out, take a breath and quit being distracted away from our primary mission to make disciples."
Now, here’s the kicker. Both articles are written by the same person about 30 days apart. I do not write this to criticize the individual nor to accuse him of any fault not common to all of us. We have met only briefly on a few occasions and while he would have no reason to remember me, I am familiar enough with his ministry and character to mention him only with respect. I am aware of these pieces because I frequent the site expecting and receiving edification. I could have chosen similar examples from a half dozen other authors. This gives me the privilege of posting a link to his site here where one may read the entire articles.
For over twenty years those in the evangelical/orthodox/traditionalist alliance (We seem to have assumed moniker “Wesleyan”) have responded to the changes forced upon the church with initial passion—plainly stating the offense and calling for corrective action. Within a few weeks, however, when it becomes clear that reform comes with a price—there will be pain—we decide to settle for a robust confessional statement signed by hundreds and applauded by thousands, but otherwise we “defect in place.” The pattern for over twenty years has been one side takes specific action that changes the polity and doctrine of the church while the other side issues an erudite position paper. The cycle continues: disobedience—defect in place—position paper—further disobedience—defect in place—position paper—ad infinitum.
There is no point in reciting all the events that have occurred since GC2016, but we should remember that there are numerous ongoing acts of contempt for the church across North America. We ought not to be distracted by the highest profile case of the moment and thereby forget that a greater change in the church has occurred through the cumulative effect of many actions and inactions. The General Conference is no longer the highest authority of the church nor does it alone speak for her with authority. Though our Discipline may say otherwise on this and other matters, the truth is that words in the Discipline are no more relevant than secular laws that say a tavern must be cooking soup if it is serving beer. Let us not deceive ourselves with the mantra, “the language of the Discipline has not changed,” when we know full well that the language currently serves no purpose other than to mollify those who require little to appease them or to aggravate those who require little to inflame them. The language has not changed—polity and doctrine have.
We are two different churches so radically different that we cannot even share the same name. To do so damages the witness of each. We can longer be affiliated with each other at any level. If we should try to maintain a common pension plan, we will find ourselves spending five days in convention arguing about a new rule 44 to govern discussions on divestment. On more issues than sexuality we are not simply of divergent opinions: We are working at cross purposes. We will continue to spend little time accomplishing anything and much of our time trying to stop each other from accomplishing things. While we are still able, we need to formalize the separation in an orderly manner that minimizes litigation.
Separation means hurt. It means broken relationships. It means some people we dearly love will no longer be a part of the same church with us. It means smaller boards and agencies, and some general church structures may no longer exist. In the meantime, those who have elected to substitute their own standards for those agreed upon by the General Conference need to experience an immediate change in relationships and funding that are based on those agreements. This does not require additional legislation nor Judicial Council rulings. Individual units within the UMC already have permission built into our Discipline to act independently or in concert.
Reform has a cost. The Council of Bishops have offered a tempting way to restore order that looks less painful. We are told that it is we who are committed to our doctrinal standards who need to give them time to work it out. We who are Wesleyan must promise not to do anything or go anywhere. Defect in place and let calm prevail.
"We, the Council of Bishops of The UMC, acknowledge the serious differences that exist among United Methodists on issues related to homosexuality. These differences are also reflected within the COB. We have been praying together and have been talking with one another in a new spirit of honesty and openness that is both painful and hopeful…. With the entire church, we seek to address all issues, including homosexuality, with biblical, theological, and personal integrity, and in ways that reflect God’s love incarnate in Jesus Christ. As Bishops, we share in the church’s pilgrimage and pray anew what we prayed at the Table: “By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world…” Our life together is not based upon uniformity of mind or conscience. We are a community of grace centered in Jesus Christ who makes us one. We call upon all United Methodists to join us in bearing witness to God’s gift of unity in Jesus Christ."
That statement sounds like it is only days old, but it is not. It is from 1996 when we were told we were dealing with one instance in one annual conference that does not change anything—the language in the Discipline remains the same. We were told to let the process work and wait and see. That year the Confessing Movement issued its first of several declarations. We who are Wesleyan also promised we would not do anything or go anywhere else. We gave the bishops room, and it is not one case in one annual conference any more. Do we really want to wait and see how much more damage can be done? This time those of us who hold to our doctrinal standards in the plainest sense must actually do something, and the possibility of going somewhere else must truly be on the table.