Being One is Not Being the Borg

“Being one does not mean that we all think alike.”
Bishop James Swanson on “The Power That Makes Us One.”

Last week, Bishop Swanson – the resident bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church – was in my district where he met with the pastors followed by preaching at a district-wide laity rally in the evening. The theme of this rally was “The Power that Makes Us One,” referring to the power of the Holy Spirit that unites us as Christians. Bishop gave the above quote during his sermon and it made me think of some of the rhetoric I have witnessed as the United Methodist Church has continued to debate LGBTQ inclusion. My thoughts then turned to Star Trek.

If you’re a Trekkie, you know of The Borg. The Borg are a hive mind collective made up of cybernetic beings that are forcibly “assimilated” by injecting nanoprobes into the host and where their brains surgically altered. The point is to collect the knowledge of all alien species into a common brain with the goal of achieving a perfect linked society where all think as one.  Anyone within the collective who begins to exhibit signs of independent thought is terminated as quickly as possible. The Borg are famous for the phrase “resistance is futile,” as they believe that all lifeforms must and will submit to assimilation.

There seems to be a concerted effort by organizations on all ends of the political and theological spectrum trying to assimilate members of the UMC. The idea is that a church can’t be a church unless all of the members agree completely… or else. I believe such thinking is contrary to the reality of our humanity and denies that we are all independent creatures with our own ways of understanding the nuances of doctrine. One thing I have noticed from all of those involved is that they love Jesus, know that He loves them in spite of their flaws, and want others to know that love as well. And yet, because of disagreement on a piece of doctrine, so many of us are content to throw all of that away. For the life of me, I can’t reconcile that with, well, really much at all.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, stated: “If we can not think alike, can we not love alike?” I believe this is a profound statement that acknowledges the scriptures that teach us that we will be known as Christ’s disciples by our love (John 13:35) rather than our agreement on doctrine. While doctrine is important, it’s not the end-all, be-all. The main thing is to keep Christ the main thing as he is the main thing. Some argue that the disagreement is over the authority of scripture. I say the issue is interpretation rather than authority. There is a major difference between the two and we must stop conflating authority with interpretation.

We are a church made up of imperfect people from all walks of life, different places, different races, and different experiences. This is exactly what the church has always been. The first disciples were all people from different backgrounds, did not understand things all the same, and yet Jesus used them in mighty ways and even considered them his closest friends. They were not a hive mind and neither are we. The church was never intended to be The Borg. The only way in which the church can and ought to be one is through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, and to the glory of God the father.

Thanks be to God.

It’s Time to Return to Jesus

“When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, ‘You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.’”

Luke 3:7-9 (NLT)

Dear Fellow Christians:

We gotta talk. And this isn’t going to be easy.

We all know about the recent goings-on with ICE raids and immigration issues lately so there’s no need to rehash that here. That isn’t the point of this letter anyway. What I want to talk about is how we have responded to these situations. Just to make sure you’re aware: People, children, actual human beings made in God’s image are impacted by these raids, deportations, and detainments. I have to be blunt: We have been anything but Christ-like in how we have addressed the people involved. Many of us seem to believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to consider immigrants to be sub-human and even to condone their mistreatment. Here are just a few actual statements from people claiming to be Christians that I have witnessed on social media just over the last several days:

“They’re illegal! They have no rights!”

“I shouldn’t have to feed children of ILLEGALS!”

“The Bible says to obey the laws! God is judging them and their children!”

“Illegals have to sleep in cages? BOO HOO!”

Seriously, church? Seriously?

When John the Baptist made his proclamation that I quoted from Luke 3 at the top of this post, people like that were what he was calling a “brood of snakes.” Pharisees. People who saw other people who were different from them as less-than. People who said that people deserved to be treated poorly. God’s word teaches us many things about how we are to treat immigrants, children, and people in general. But lately, it seems that we have been willing to put all of that aside and to trot out some verses from Romans 13 (out of context at that) as justification for treating people as if they are trash with the argument of “they shouldn’t have broken the law.”

We have committed a grave sin and it’s time to repent. That sin: Trading our humanity and compassion for political ideology. We have sold our souls for party allegiance. We have made Jesus into a muscle-bound, American flag-waving caucasian in order to fit our political aspirations.

The facts are: All people are made in God’s image and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. Children should not be traumatized on the first day of school by coming home to find out that mom and dad have been taken away. And for Christians, there is simply no justification for thinking that anything to the contrary is acceptable. It’s not. I’m not arguing against having laws (though I believe our immigration laws do need an overhaul), I’m simply pointing out that we have gone down a very dangerous road of denying dignity and basic rights to people. This is not what Jesus would find acceptable. If you actually read the gospels and pay attention, you may find that Jesus has more in common with these immigrants than He does white America.

It’s time to repent, church. It’s time to remember who we are and to go back to our first love. It’s time to take off our hats, put away our torches, stop being afraid of people who are different from us, and truly be people who love. We simply can not claim to be Christians and continue to believe that conflating our faith with a particular brand of politics is acceptable in God’s eyes. It’s not. In fact, we are taught that this is dangerously close to the line of idolatry.

May God forgive us.

The Decline of Clergy Influence: Why the Surprise?

Over the last couple of days, there has been a lot of hang wringing and gnashing of teeth about a recent survey that indicates that clergy in the United States are less influential in everyday life, almost being considered “irrelevant.” On social media, I have noted a lot of people being openly concerned about what this means for their churches and for Christianity in the United States as a whole. I, too, have a response to the results of this survey and that response is as follows:

“Duh.”

Why is this such a shock? Of course, people don’t trust the clergy as much as they once did. The reasons are various but many are prominent. First, with all of the scandal that seems to rock the church on a regular basis, why should people trust us? How many pastors have been tried and convicted for sexual-based crimes (specifically crimes involving pedophilia)? Why should people trust clergy when there are so many like the Osteens and Meyers of the world who are only in ministry to profit and want people to believe that the path to righteousness involves the accumulation of wealth?

Need I continue?

The church in the US has been losing its influence for many years and this is just the latest casualty of that. This is also yet more proof that cultural Christianity is dead and isn’t coming back. The survey noted that people who reported regular church involvement did tend to trust clergy more than those who did not but they also want to keep pastors at arm’s length. People are not going to run to the pastor every time there is a problem anymore. This is the reality.

The way church was done in the 1950s is not the way it will be done in 2019 and beyond.

One thing I have not seen is what anyone intends to do in order to respond to this trend, which really has been obvious for a while. The one thing we should do is acknowledge that the way we do ministry in the future can not be the way ministry has always been done. We must be trailblazers. We must no longer look at ourselves as the tip of the pyramid and instead become what we were meant to be all along: Servant leaders. We need to be what we were always intended to be: A community where people rely on one another with the leader working alongside everyone else, not a private club that relies on its leader.

As I’ve said before: We need to get back to our roots.

Back to our Roots: Going to the Market Cross

john_wesley_preaching-264x400In 2016, I took a trip made a pilgrimage that had a major impact on my life and especially my ministry. The Wesley Pilgrimage sponsored by United Methodist Discipleship Ministries took me and my fellow pilgrims around several places where John Wesley and others began what we know today as Methodism. One of those places was Epworth where John and his siblings grew up while their father, Samuel Wesley, served as rector of Saint Andrews Church in Epworth. After touring Saint Andrews and its rectory where the Wesley family lived we went on a walking tour of Epworth on our way to have tea at Wesley Memorial Methodist Church. One of the places we came to was the market cross at High Street. John Wesley used to preach here, in fact preaching at the market cross was a common practice for him. This was because the market cross was a gathering place for the people, where they would come to do their shopping and to meet with one another. With this in mind, it made sense for preachers like Wesley to gather people for worship and proclamation.

In other words, he went to where the people were rather than expecting them to come to him.

In 2019, we find ourselves in challenging times for those of us in ministry. The old ways of “doing church” are still alive but are barely hanging on by a thread. The idea that people will come to the church, while sometimes true, is often not the case anymore. Depending on who you are or what study you look at, there are many reasons for this including distrust of institutions, pain from previous negative experiences, and the church’s (speaking collectively) reputation for being judgmental and unaccepting of those who are different. Really, the reasons don’t matter. Nothing will change the fact that the days of people coming to church “just because” are over and they are not going to come back.

Truthfully, those days should have never been.

I shared with my congregations on Sunday that when Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28, he did not say anything about making disciples of the people who show up for worship at our campuses. Here’s what the text actually says – read it carefully. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19 NLT) The keyword is “go.” The Greek language used here is used in an imperative sense, meaning that going is not optional. Further, Jesus did have people come to him but he always went to them first. The people are not going to come to us just because we have a nice building or a reputation for having vibrant worship (though those things are good). We must go to the people and give them the good news.

I say again: We have to get back to our roots.

The American church is in a challenging time but, truthfully, it’s a time that largely of our own making. We have forgotten why we exist. William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, is quoted as saying that, “the Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.”We are more worried about our own survival as an institution and our own comfort rather than bringing those who are outside of our walls into the fold. We must remember our purpose and get back to it.

We must get back to our roots.

In the movie Sister Act, the nuns who Whoopi Goldberg joins as Sister Mary Clarance hide behind their walls because they are afraid of their neighbors. The neighborhood in which their convent is situated is not the best in the world, with adult stores and bars all over, along with homeless and poor people all around.  Finally, they have a wake-up call and start ministering to their neighbors and otherwise being part of the neighborhood. The result was people learning to trust them and the church’s pews were packed during worship. You may be surprised to know that this exact same thing happens in real life everyday when congregations step out of their walls and go to the people.

I say again: It’s time to get back to our roots.

How can we do this? It’s simple, yet difficult: We have to be the church. We have to find our own market crosses and proclaim the gospel to those who are there. But, we don’t have to use a firey sermon like John Wesley. We do this by meeting needs, showing compassion, and accepting people as they are. We have to step out of our comfortable boxes and do some ministry. We have to stop expecting people to come to our buildings simply because they are there and we have to stop expecting people to be just like us, including how they dress and even how they talk. Change occurred because Jesus accepted people as they were without trying to put them into a mold.

I say again: It’s time to get back to our roots.

Death of an Umpire

umpire
My umpire uniform laid out before a game.

I’ve been debating on whether or not I was going to write about this but I’ve decided that I need to. The reasons are varied but the biggest is this: I want to blow the lid off of something that, frankly, is ridiculous and needs to stop. I swore I would never become a statistic but that’s what I’ve done.

I was a sports official and quit.

I began participating in organized officiating while living in Kentucky. Previously, I had done a little here and there but nothing very organized. A friend of mine is a high school baseball umpire in Kentucky and got me connected with the association that covers the region I was living in. I took the test, bought the gear, started training, started umpiring games, and fell in love. I was hooked. I even did a year of high school football and enjoyed that immensely as well. Due to school and pastoring, I did not have a ton of time but I did what I could. I even was able to umpire several college baseball scrimmage games while in Kentucky. When I returned to Mississippi, I wanted to continue so I signed up to umpire here. Unfortunately, this is where things started to turn sour.

During my time, I had endured my share of heckling and arguing but typically it was nothing that could not be taken care of with something along the lines of saying, “that’s enough.” The one time I had some major issues, me and a partner had a coach and player taken care of and a game administrator was taking care of spectators before I even had to say anything. While in Kentucky, heckling happened but it was nothing major and certainly did not cross any lines except that one time.

Unfortunately, that changed.

The final game I officiated in Mississippi was a nightmare. I won’t go into the deep details of what happened or which schools were involved but this was a baseball game between two schools with good teams. Both teams expected to win and both teams and their spectators expected every call to go their way. When they didn’t, the umpire was the target of their attacks. Things escalated and by the time we reached the end, both head coaches were restricted to the dugout for arguing balls and strikes with me, something that is a big no-no, and spectators were hurling insults at me where they were calling me names, making comments about my weight, and more. It was ridiculous and a poor example for the kids on both teams who had to witness this behavior by adults.

Looking back, at least one of the coaches should have been ejected and the stands emptied with the spectators sent down the foul lines and away from the field. Why didn’t I take this action? I had been warned to only do these things as an absolute last resort because, as this person told me, “You don’t want to make too many people mad and make enemies.” I was also mindful that I could very well be appointed to a church in either school’s area someday.

The rest of the weekend, I was not right and barely made it through even preaching the next day. Because of the outright bullying I had to endure, my anxiety disorder was triggered in a major way. I decided that enough was enough and something had to change. It was then that I came to the realization that the best thing for me would be to leave officiating. I became a statistic. I left the field because of bad behavior by coaches and spectators.

It’s amazing to me that grown people can act in such ways over a ballgame. Full disclosure: I’ve done my share of heckling officials in my day but especially now that I’ve worn the stripes and gear, I realize that I was very wrong in doing this. Officials are human. Yes, in many cases, they are paid to be there but (1) often they have spent more money than they will make in a season, especially if they are just starting and (2) they will make mistakes. Often, officials are blamed when a team does not play well and loses a game (this is rarely, if ever, anything to do with officiating). Spectators and a lot of coaches feel entitled and when calls made by officials don’t go their way, they become angry. This is unnecessary and counterproductive.

Let’s also remember this: Officials are people with feelings and souls. No official sets out to screw over a team or to intentionally make as many bad calls as they can just to see how many kids they can mess with. When they know they realize that a call wasn’t made correctly, an official learns from the mistake and does better the next time. And when people make inappropriate comments to and about them, officials take this personally. Eventually, however, even officials reach their breaking point and decide enough is enough, especially when the abuse is extreme. This is when officials leave the field.

In virtually all states, there is a shortage of sports officials. Some states are even seeing games canceled or postponed because there are not enough officials available. The National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) has studied the issue of why officials leave and the number one reason always has been abusive language by spectators and coaches. Officials must be truly empowered to take action without having to endure consequences for doing so. Schools must hold their spectators accountable for mistreatment of officials. State athletic associations must hold schools accountable for the behavior of their coaches and spectators with fines, probation, and other punishment. Until these things take place, the shortage of officials is only going to continue to grow worse.

Jesus had some interesting thoughts on murder. “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone,[d] you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,[e] you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,[f] you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthes 5:21-22 NLT). In other words, even with our words, we can kill. When we hurl insults at someone, we kill a bit of their soul and give them wounds that take a lot longer to heal than physical ones, if they even heal at all.

The umpire in me has been murdered and it’s doubtful that he will ever live again.

#GC2019: God Don’t Like Ugly

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818The question that a lot of people have right now is, “How do we move on?” For people who support the traditional interpretation of scriptures related to human sexuality, the mood seems to be like that of a “win.” For our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, the level of sadness and hurt is palpable. Many who are gay or who support including LGBTQ persons in ordained ministry and allowing UM clergy to perform their weddings would consider General Conference 2019 to a “loss.”

I would make this submission: There were no winners, only losers.

With few exceptions, I watched almost every moment on the live stream. I felt that I should witness as much of this pivotal time in the church as possible. I was sorry that I made that decision for a lot of reasons but one of the biggest regrets I have is witnessing the amount of ugly from so many people. Where I come from, we have a saying: “God don’t like ugly.”

I highly doubt he liked the shenanigans that took place in Saint Louis.

Especially on the final day, much of what I witnessed made my skin crawl. One scene, in particular, was a lay delegate quoting scripture very much out of context. Ok, proof-texting is common so I was not too shocked that this was happening. But when she quoted Matthew 18:5-6, it was revealed that many took this as implying that LGBTQ persons should be drowned. Whether this was her intent or not – and I pray it wasn’t – this was ugly and poor use of scripture.

God don’t like ugly.

I’m afraid things only got worse from there. I saw traditionalists implying the worst about progressives and vice-versa. I saw accusations of unethical behavior happening on the floor. I saw tempers getting the best of people, Need I go on? It was all ugly.

God don’t like ugly.

I hope that, regardless of how we feel about the outcome, we can all agree that a lot of harm was done. One of the most significant bits of harm was done to our witness for Christ. Some will argue that God was honored with the adoption of the Traditional Plan. Some will argue that God was not honored. One thing I can tell you for certain is that God was not honored in how everyone treated one another.

As God’s people, we have to do better.

On Sunday, I preached out of Luke 6; the title of the sermon was “Love Your Enemies, Even the Ones You Don’t Agree With.” The title might be a bit of a misnomer, however, in that part of my argument was “is someone you disagree with really your enemy or do we just like to think they are?” I would say such a person is not.

Regardless of how you feel, you are entitled to grieve, lament, or celebrate as you are led. But, please, remember that every single person you ever lay eyes on, talk to, or encounter on Twitter is of infinite sacred worth, even if you disagree with that person about anything or lots of things. We are commanded by scripture to treat one another the way we want to be treated.

Let’s start doing it. That’s how we move forward, because “God don’t like ugly.”

General Conference is Here

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818The lead up to the specially called session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church has been fierce. I have recorded my thoughts here several times on the various plans, Judicial Council decisions, and the actions of organizations like the Wesleyan Covenant Association (and even gotten more than one “talking to” about it). But now, the time of speculation, commentary, and wish making has come and gone.

General Conference is here.

While I have been outspoken about a lot of this, I’m afraid that my ultimate hope has been misunderstood somewhat. Here’s what I want for the United Methodist Church: A fresh movement of the Holy Spirit to overpower all of us – the delegates, clergy, laity, and everyone – and cause us to once again bring about the kingdom here. Yes, I would love for us to find a way to continue in ministry together but I also realize that God’s kingdom is much bigger than the UMC. That’s the thing: We are supposed to be about kingdom work. We need to get back to the work of evangelism.

While some disagree, the biggest problem in the UMC is a lack of evangelistic zeal. We have been so distracted by debating about LGBTQ inclusion that I fear we have forgotten our first love. Regardless of what happens in Saint Louis, we have got to get back to our mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We – and I definitely include myself – have been distracted for far too long.

When the delegates have all gone home and we are calculating the fallout from Saint Louis, the “last, the least, and the lost” will still be there in the world. They are thirsty for redemption and for new life. No resolution, plan, or debate is going to save them; only Jesus Christ can do that. It’s up to us to reach out and show that love to them.

I have my convictions and I am prepared to stand by them. Support your chosen plan, make your voice heard (with the knowledge that it’s the delegates who will ultimately decide). But no matter what does or doesn’t happen, can we all agree that we have got to get back to work for Jesus? If nothing else, I hope we can agree on that.

I am praying for our delegates, the bishops who will preside, and for the church as a whole as General Conference begins. I hope you will too. Below are some ways to follow along in real time if you would like. Above all, pray… And then act.

Streaming link
Social Media Hashtags: #UMC, #GC2019, #UMCGC

WCA Leaving Regardless? It Seems Possible

StillUMI have not been very quiet about my issues with the Wesleyan Covenant Association ever since I realized their tactics. Recently, I met with someone who is high in the WCA leadership at the conference leadership and we had a nice long chat over coffee. I do appreciate his willingness to meet with me and I do believe he earnestly listened to my concerns. He was very sincere in his answers as well. I still felt uneasy about WCA after our meeting so I have maintained my distance.

Ever since Rev. Brian Collier was allowed to remain part of WCA’s leadership council in spite of WCA’s insistence that it existed to strengthen orthodox ministry within the United Methodist Church and in spite of the fact that Collier led his congregation (The Orchard) out of the United Methodist Church, I felt like some of my suspicions were correct. At the time, I felt that WCA was likely planning to form a new denomination and to leave the UMC at some point.

I hate to use the term “I told you so” but, well, I told you so.

Last night, Mainstream UMC released a letter, purported to have been sent out by the North Alabama chapter of WCA, detailing plans for WCA after the specially-called session of General Conference in a couple of weeks. It would seem that unless WCA gets their way – or even if they do get their way – they are planning to take their ball and go play in a yard that they will make. Also, as of this moment, no one from WCA or WCA itself has refuted the contents of this letter (if this happens, I will edit this post to indicate such).

WCA has set April 25-26  as the dates for the convening conference of the “Next Methodism.” Further, they have apparently had a team of leaders working together on how the denomination will be set up, core beliefs, etc. Many of these were adopted at WCA’s last gathering. So, what are the chances of WCA actually leaving? Per the letter:

If the One Church Plan is passed, there is a 100% probability of calling the convening conference. Our current evaluation is that the proponents of the One Church Plan do not have the necessary votes to enact that plan.

If the special General Conference adopts neither the One Church Plan nor the Modified Traditional Plan, or adopts a Traditional Plan with no enhanced accountability provisions, there is a 70% probability of calling the convening conference. Our current evaluation is that this is the most likely outcome for the special General Conference.

If the special General Conference adopts the Modified Traditional Plan with the enhanced accountability provisions, there still may be churches which are intent on departing from the United Methodist Church. The WCA will work with those churches to transition into a new Methodist movement. Those churches which indicate a desire to be part of something new will be invited to a convening conference. Other churches would be given the opportunity to move to what is new at a later time, if they decided that became advisable. Our current evaluation is that there is a higher probability of the Modified Traditional Plan being adopted than the One Church Plan being adopted.

So, basically, WCA – or at least a significant portion of their organization – will likely leave no matter what happens in Saint Louis. In other words, they have already broken covenant.

Now is not the time to be making plans for departure. WCA has maintained that they were only making “contingency plans” but this is far from a contingency. This is a certainty at this point. I further believe that once the rubber meets the road, WCA is not going to have as much support as they believe they will. I personally know several conservatives who will not be joining them. I know many congregations that hold orthodox beliefs that will not be joining them either. Of course, I could be wrong but I truly believe that that limb they’re going out on is going to be a little lonely. None the less, I do believe that a lot of clergy and laity are going to depart with them. May God be with them and with us. I will not, however, be joining them in WCA or whatever WCA becomes.

I, for one, believe in actually keeping covenant.

The Judicial Council (Mostly) Got It Right

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818Today, the #UMC hashtag on social media has been abuzz with conversation about the Judicial Council’s ruling on the plans put forth for consideration at our special session of General Conference in February. The Council of Bishops had asked for a ruling on the constitutionality of the three main proposals in order to avoid any confusion and in hopes of as little conflict as possible in the voting process. Today, the ruling came down and I believe they got a lot of it right while I wish they had ruled differently on other things. But, this is why they are appointed to interpret our church law and why I am not. You may read the full ruling here.

I have been outspoken on my objection to the so-called One Church Plan because I feel that the proposal would seriously alter the polity of the United Methodist Church. Currently, we are a connectional/episcopal church, which means that we are bound by common doctrine, church law, and standards (at least we are supposed to be). Certain powers are given to the Annual Conference and to the bishops to administer rules but ultimately it’s the General Conference who makes decisions on matters that impact the entire church. One Church, as it has been presented, would open the door to a “local option” whereby Annual Conferences and congregations would be able to decide for themselves on matters that are normally left up to the General Conference to decide. The Council found that One Church is mostly constitutional except for a few minor provisions that are mostly inconsequential to the larger body of the plan. Regarding One Church, the ruling states,

As a primary principle in any organizational structure of The United Methodist Church, connectionalism denotes a vital web of interactive relationships—multi-leveled, global in scope, and local in thrust—that permits contextualization and differentiation on account of geographical, social, and cultural variations and makes room for diversity of beliefs and theological perspectives but does not require uniformity of moral-ethical standards regarding ordination, marriage, and human sexuality.

In other words, the ruling is that the constitution of the church allows for “contextualization” as is the practice for many of our African and European central conferences. I understand what they’re saying and they are correct. But I still wish that we would not potentially be allowing annual conferences and congregations to decide on their own what they will and will not do on decisions relating to human sexuality. This impacts the entire church and serves to only further fragment the body. Ultimately, this defeats the purpose of and undercuts our current polity. I hope that the delegates to General Conference will take this matter into consideration.

Regarding the Connectional Conference proposal, Judicial Council essentially said that they have no grounds to rule on this proposal as it contains the necessary amendments to the Constitution to make it legal.

The Judicial Council was most critical of the Traditionalist Plan. I have not said as much about this plan but I have had many concerns about this proposal. Basically, I am not comfortable with the idea that boards of Ordained Ministry and district Committees on Ministry would essentially be asked to engage in witch hunts and that anyone who is even potentially a homosexual could be tossed out without recourse. I have had some grave concerns about these aspects of the plan and, apparently, I wasn’t alone. Out of the 17 petitions that make up Traditionalist Plan, the Judicial Council found issues with nine of them. Seven of them were found to be unconstitutional in their entirety. It’s safe to say that the Traditionalist Plan is effectually been gutted. From the ruling:

Under the principle of legality, the General Conference can prescribe or prescribe a particular conduct but cannot contradict itself by prescribing prohibited conduct or prohibiting prescribed conduct. It can require bishops, annual conferences, nominees, and members of boards of ordained ministry to certify or declare that they will uphold The Discipline in its entirety and impose sanctions in case of non-compliance. But it may not choose standards related to ordination, marriage, and human sexuality over other provisions of The Discipline for enhanced application and certification. The General Conference has the authority to require that the board of ordained ministry conduct a careful and thorough examination to ascertain if an individual meets all disciplinary requirements and certify that such an examination has occurred. But it cannot reduce the scope of the board examination to one aspect only and unfairly single out one particular group of candidates (self-avowed practicing homosexuals) for disqualification. Marriage and sexuality are but two among numerous standards candidates must meet to be commissioned or ordained; other criteria include, for example, being committed to social justice, racial and gender equality, and personal and financial integrity, that all should be part of a careful and thorough examination.

TL, DR: We are not allowed to pick and choose which parts of the breaking of covenant can be scrutinized and which can continue to be ignored and swept under the rug.

Many have said that the Traditionalist Plan is now dead but I do not see it that way. Anything and everything can be amended when General Conference convenes at St. Louis in February. General Conference can adopt any plan that has been proposed, make their own plan, or adopt no plan at all (which I feel is unlikely). I am glad that the Judicial Council addressed many of the concerns I have had about the Traditionalist Plan.

I have no interest in witch hunts and will not take part in them.

Regardless of how you may feel about the proposals, I urge you to be in prayer for the United Methodist Church as the future of the church is very much at stake. Dialogue with your conference’s delegates and express (kindly and civilly) your views.

Above all, let’s remember that we are the church and act like it.

 

Anxiety is Sin? Tell That to My Brain

EDIT: Rev. Moore has reached out to me to apologize for her tweet and she has removed it. I have accepted her apology and held/hold no ill will toward her. To be clear: My problem was never with her but with what she tweeted. There is a major difference. – Jonathan

Yesterday a prominent evangelical pastor within the United Methodist Church made a tweet that I and several others took exception to.

Yes, she has said that chronic anxiety stifles the work of the Holy Spirit and is sin.

So I responded, pointing out that by her logic I am deep in sin and I encouraged her to rethink her position. This is her response:

Sigh…

This conversation points out a few vital points for us – both as Christians in general as well as clergy – to remember when dealing with matters of mental health.

First, scripture does not address matters of mental health. There was no understanding that mental disorders are medical conditions beyond one’s control when the scripture writers were putting pen to parchment. Let me be clear: This is not me doubting that the scriptures are divinely inspired but we also must acknowledge that the writers were human and wrote based on their context. Because there was no knowledge of the chemical imbalances that often occur in the brain, mental health problems were thought of as a spiritual condition as opposed to a chemical one. That was then, this is now. We have the medical knowledge to confirm that mental health issues are most often caused by conditions beyond one’s control. We need to get away from this notion that one displaying anxiety is in sin or that depression is a sign of being deep in sin. To employ such a notion means that I and lots of other pastors are not fit for ministry and that many in our congregations are not truly faithful just because they struggle.

Second, we as pastors need to remember that our words have power and carry a lot of weight. The people in our congregations see what we post, share, and like and they form their opinions of us based on those posts. Is that fair? Probably not. No tweet or post tells one’s whole story but does give a glimpse into our hearts and in what we value. If a parishioner whose faith is strong in spite of struggling with mental health issues for their entire lives follows their pastor on social media, how are they going to feel when their pastor puts up a tweet saying that anxiety is a sin and quenches the Holy Spirit? As I said above, scripture was never intended to address mental health conditions and we should not use scripture as a way to explain conditions like anxiety and depression.

People once believed that people who we now realize were displaying symptoms of manic depression were possessed by demons. There was also a belief that people who we now realize were displaying symptoms of anxiety disorders had weak faith.  People who we now realize were displaying symptoms of depression were said to be in sin. With the knowledge that we now have about mental health, can we please get away from having such toxic and damaging viewpoints about mental health?

I would like to think that Rev. Moore meant no harm in what she tweeted. But, this needs to be called out and rebuked because these are the notions that add to the stigma of mental health and why more people – especially Christians – don’t seek help or hide their conditions until they finally break. These statements are what cause people to harm themselves or even to commit suicide. These statements are why people are looking at Christians as cold-hearted and irrelevant.

We should do better. We must do better.