Sunday, May 13, 2012

What Rights?

If the incessant and persistent demand of the gay-rights movement within the United Methodist Church has done anything, it has made me more consciously aware of my own sins.  I am constantly reminded to remove the man "planks" from my own eye before I concern myself with the "speck" that is in the eyes of others.  It never has occurred to me, however, to demand that the Church affirm my refusal to rise above my carnal impulses (Romans 13:14).  Rather it is (thank God!) the task of the Church to correct me, admonish me, teach me, and encourage me to reach higher than my own base desires. 

I am a full-time, licensed local pastor working (albeit slowly) toward ordination.  Until that time when I finally reach that point in my vocation, I struggle with anxiety each year with the possibility that I may not be reappointed to the charge entrusted to my care - or any other charge, for that matter - and am thrown back out into an economy that is not producing jobs.  I am completely at the mercy of the Cabinet and the bishop.  In the wake of General Conference 2012, apparently elders in full connection are now in that same boat (although my guess is they will still and perhaps rightly get first and due consideration for appointments). 

I cannot say I was completely on board with the concept of "guaranteed" appointments (read "job security") nor could I find fault with such "guarantees".  In fact, a recent discussion on this very topic in addition to benefits, pensions, and what some have considered excessive salaries, one wonders how many among the clergy would stay with the United Methodist Church if pensions and paid health insurance and "excessive salaries" were no longer on the table.  One would wonder whether such moves would "thin the herd" to the detriment of the UMC - or - strengthen the church's hand in genuine and devoted pastoral leadership by forcing out those who are more concerned with pensions, pay, and perks.  It might also go directly to answer the fundamental question being asked of the homosexuals' demands: are there any "rights" related to appointment of clergy?

For the time being, all I can do is continue to forge ahead and challenge the congregation entrusted to my care to reach out and "be" the Body of Christ not strictly for the sake of the UMC or for the "numbers" (although we must always remember the "numbers" do represent souls).  For the sake of "job security", I get one more year to use my gifts and graces to the vocation to which I believe I am called.  And if my faults and failures (too numerous to list here!) are overlooked in favor of the "big picture", then I must say I am privileged to be offered yet another year to work for the Kingdom in the United Methodist Church.

I am painfully and anxiously aware that I do not share the same Conference standing as an elder in full connection, but mere membership in the Conference is not really the point of ordination.  Is it?  If it is, there is something much more fundamentally wrong than just a bad or inefficient structural church.  The flaw is inherent in the complex tension between what we think we are entitled to and what we are privileged to be entrusted with, and whether clergy confuse the two.  I think this tension must be examined and honestly dealt with before we can worry about restructure.  Indeed I wonder if we can even go about the business of ministry until this is settled.     

For the past nine years or more (four of which has been spent in full-time pastoral ministry), I have not known "job security" (my former secular employer made sure of that, "fear" being the motivational tool of choice).  Most of my parishioners in all charges I've served do not know "job security" in absolute terms.  In the real world in which we are called to minister, there is no security.  None.  Our charges are completely at the mercy of small-business and corporate profits in a challenging economy.  Surely these have certain "rights" to job security.  Perhaps.  But whether we think they do or do not, the real world says they have no "right" to work at "a" particular place; they merely have a right to work and earn their daily bread wherever they can find work.  Do we not, in our ministry to these who struggle with such anxieties, encourage our charges to be thankful ... instead of demanding?

So for those of you who have somehow come to the conclusion that you believe you have a "right" to serve as a pastor in the United Methodist Church, whether ordained or gay, you will hopefully forgive me for not sharing your sentiments or your tears even as you are now compelled to share my (and your own parishioners') anxiety.

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