Thursday, May 19, 2016

What about Portland?

There is a lot of hand-wringing and anguish over what has (not) happened at the United Methodist General Conference in Portland OR.  It has been reported there were over one hundred pieces of legislation to be considered at GC regarding human sexuality (code for whether or not homosexuality will be affirmed as “incompatible” with Christian teaching and tradition or, as some might hope, declared … ok?), but all have been tabled for future consideration after a period of prayer and discernment. 

Coupled with so many of the articles being written by various news outlets are the comments from those who oppose, who affirm, and who simply do not care one way or the other.  There are the many who are threatening to leave the UMC if the language is retained or changed regarding “that issue”, and there are the many who have already left the UMC because the Church cannot or will not resolve to do as it declares.  The General Conference is the only entity which can officially speak for the United Methodist Church, but the truth is United Methodists have been speaking for themselves for quite a long time.

Even the general agencies of the UMC which should be a reflection of the will of the General Conference have not always been faithful to the most basic tenets of United Methodism, and yet no one has been called to account for their choosing to go in another direction.  This, to me, is a much greater problem not accounted for because the secular media assume that if, say, the Church and Society agency is actively lobbying the US Congress for expanded abortion rights or gay rights – all in violation of the General Conference of the Church – only a few lone voices cry out.  The United Methodist Church itself is largely silent.  The agency is acting independently.

As the United Methodist Women (UMW) organization (not all United Methodist women) actively engage in a working relationship with NARAL (formerly known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, then the National Abortion Rights Action League, and later the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League), there is hardly a peep except from a few isolated corners of the Church.  Though the agency is doing its own political thing, the United Methodist Church as a whole remains silent.

Lotteries and casinos have proliferated in the United States and gay marriage has been declared by the US Supreme Court as a fundamental “right”, and I dare say many United Methodist Christians participate (especially those who make headlines).  The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, as a covenant of doctrine and accountability from top to bottom, is largely unknown to many (perhaps most) United Methodist Christians (except for “that issue”) because it is seen as a “rule book”.  Very uninteresting and largely irrelevant to local United Methodist Churches.  Or so it seems.

The list goes on, but the picture seems clear.  What has (not) happened in Portland pertaining to “that issue” that gets everyone so stirred up, however, cannot be the end-all-or-be-all to local churches.  And because local accountability seems to mean only those cliques or persons with money, what has (not) happened in Portland really is of no consequence in Magnolia AR or Memphis TN or … or … well, you get the idea, because quite frankly, few will abide by or protest General Conference terms anyway unless, of course, a particular agenda is served or a headline is to be made.

Everyone is welcome in the United Methodist Church, saints and sinners alike.  The narrative on one side or the other may suggest some do not feel particularly welcome because “that issue” makes some feel unwelcome, but the official doctrine of the United Methodist Church is that all are welcome to worship, all are encouraged to learn more about the Gospel of The Lord. 

What should be equally clear, however, is that not all will get to have their own way.  Not all will be allowed to serve as pastors, deacons, board or committee chairs for one reason or another.  Not all will be allowed to railroad others just to get their own way, and inactive members who have fallen away or have chosen to follow the latest fad outside of the Church (Christian or not) should not expect to be retained as “members”.  Those with the most money do not always get to call the shots, and the whims of a few cannot push an appointed pastor out.  In other words, “rights” to certain agencies or certain positions are not absolute.

What we are all allowed – even encouraged, commissioned, and charged – to do is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ”.  This is the biblical charge to the Church universal and is the mantra of the United Methodist Church, a recognition that this is entirely, solely, completely what the Body of Christ exists to do.  Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.  There are, of course, expectations.  Respect - for existing rules, existing doctrine, existing expectations - is required; and if this respect is not forthcoming, regardless of circumstances, one must not expect to be allowed to continue in the relationship.

So what does Portland have to do with Magnolia?  Or Memphis?  Or Albuquerque?  What does Portland have to do with our collective charge to “make disciples”?  Some may suggest Portland has everything to do with our charge, that since the law-making Body of the United Methodist Church cannot agree on even the most basic, most fundamental component of our being because of “that issue”, it all rolls downhill to affect (or infect) the local churches.

I will still be trying to work this all out long after I click the “publish” button because, you see, I am a licensed pastor, a second-career person who has been granted this enormous responsibility and profound honor to serve as a pastor of a United Methodist Church.  Unlike the elders, however, I have no “rights”, no “privileges”.  I am completely as the mercy of the bishop, the appointive Cabinet, and the District and Conference Board of Ordained Ministry – any one of which can discontinue my appointment at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all.  I have no “rights”; only duty.

So why do I persevere?  Why do I continue to live with anxiety from one appointment year to the next, not knowing if I will even have a job?  Because Someone much larger than I compels me to, Someone more infinitely powerful and authoritative than any human body will ever be.  And for as long as it lasts, I will do the best I can to faithfully preach the Holy Scripture and the doctrine of the United Methodist Church.  Integrity requires no less.  And through it all, guaranteed nothing at all, I will continue to march.

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