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.

The EMS Military Industrial Complex

2000px-star_of_life2-svgWhen I was a paramedic, I noted a very disturbing trend among EMS providers that seems to have only worsened since I hung up my stethoscope. A lot of providers were getting themselves confused with the police and military medics. While some of the clothing is akin to police and military – and this truly is out of necessity… for the most part – there is also a very hard line between EMS providers and law enforcement. EMS is a medical profession, at least that’s what EMS is supposed to be. EMS providers working in a given county are not law enforcement and are not the military and should not act like they are.

Many EMS providers already seem to think they need tactical pants, tactical boots, tactical flashlights, tactical shirts, tactical jackets, tactical socks, tactical hats, tactical underwear… Yeah, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Some EMS providers even want to be able to carry firearms while on duty (something that I am adamantly opposed to except in some very specific situations such as taking part in a raid as a SWAT medic). But now, we have a new tacticool item.

Enter the tactical ambulance.

BusinessWire has announced that ambulance manufacturer REV Group is now marketing a tactical ambulance. “The REV Guardian, an ambulance wrapped in Level IIIA ballistic protection with run flat tire inserts.” The vehicle is painted a subdued black/gray color (which is against design regulations in several states, including Mississippi) and sports such features as bulletproof glass and a Kevlar wrapping around the entire vehicle. As it is, the average ambulance before any equipment is placed in it is around $150,000 so you can bet your next paycheck that this unnecessary monstrosity probably costs at least double that.

The continued militarization of EMS disturbs me to no end. As it is, EMS providers are often placed in more peril because of already resembling police officers due to their uniforms and a vehicle such as this will do nothing but increase the divide between patient and provider. Experience tells me that if a patient thinks that an EMT or paramedic is a cop, they will not be honest with the provider about drug use, alcohol use, etc. out of fear of being arrested. EMS is fighting to be recognized as a medical profession and many – thankfully – are fighting to increase educational standards for licensure. This continued desire to become more like our brothers and sisters in blue by responding to a nursing home transport in an armored troop carrier has no place with such endeavors.

If one wants to be a cop, that’s fine but they should join the police force and not the EMS.

“But what about provider safety? The EMTs should be protected!” My friend Justin Schorr – AKA “The Happy Medic” – refutes this argument nicely.

Ambulances aren’t getting shot up. Send in one of those fancy military grade trucks PD is buying up. No need for a reclined cot van with those features. None. It would make as much sense to have a mailman with this level of protection. They’re riding the Tacticool wave.

Gotta love when a company takes advantage of mass hysteria and engages in fear mongering for profit.

Learning about Outreach from Sears

gettyimages-810465192Although this quote is often attributed to the great Albert Einstein, it was actually a resource from Narcotics Anonymous that first contained the phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I find this statement coming from a group that works with addicts interesting. Addicts are addicted to a substance and will do anything to score their next fix. They do this to feed the need inside them but also to keep up their status quo. People with addictions become so focused on getting their next fix that they ignore ways to truly remedy their situations and to get lives back and keep on looking for their fix. One of two things will happen: They will kick the addiction and begin living better lives and maintaining healthy habits or they will literally kill themselves trying to find the next fix.

Unfortunately, much the same can be said about the church.

Today, Sears – once a mainstay of the American economy – filed for bankruptcy protection to restructure its debt. This move will result in at least 142 stores being closed which means many people will be losing their jobs and some towns will be losing yet another storefront. There are plenty of reasons for Sears to be in this position but what all of this boils down to is that Sears kept doing the same things they had always done in order to keep their loyal customers without reaching out to new ones. The management of Sears refused to modernize their operation in order to appeal to new people and to meet their needs that were being met by the likes of Walmart and Amazon. Sears would have been wrong to change their core, which was selling things at reasonable prices while providing stellar customer service but had every opportunity to change how they practiced this core function. Instead, their strategy consisted of denial and continuing to seek their next fix in order to maintain their status quo.

The American church is in a similar situation. I grow tired of reading article after article decrying the church and of how we are decreasing in relevance every single day. Most congregations thrive on trying to maintain their status quo and fail to adequately reach out to others in their midst who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Often, their idea of “outreach” consists of keeping tabs on people who have left and inviting them back. This is necessary but when such is the main focus of outreach activities, this misses the mark of what outreach is supposed to be.

The message of the gospel should never be changed or altered in order to sound more appealing. The core teachings of the church should remain unchanged. But, the way in which the church seeks to reach out to people with the gospel should be up for consideration of how it can be done more effectively. Gone are the days when people flock to their neighborhood church just because it’s there; those days are never coming back. Now, the church has to find ways to go to the people instead of expecting people to come to them. The church has to discern ways to meet the needs of people today and not the needs of people 40 years ago. Doing what worked 40 years ago but doing them better may sound like a good idea but look no farther than Sears to see that that is a terrible strategy.

We have biblical and extrabiblical examples of the need for the church to go to the people. Sprinkled throughout the gospels and much of the New Testament are examples of the people being approached by the church rather than the other way around. Jesus drew crowds but the people were not making pilgrimages to Jerusalem or Bethlehem to see him. Instead, he and the twelve traveled extensively to minister to people. Jesus also sent the disciples out to minister. He never once uttered, “build it and they will come.” Paul likewise traveled extensively to preach the good news and establish house churches. John Wesley, at a time when doing so was not seen as appropriate, went to the fields and market crosses in small towns to reach the people that the church saw as inferior.

Somehow along the way, the American church got the idea that people would come to them. This worked for a time. But now that being part of a church is no longer socially necessary, many people are not as apt to go to the church without an invitation of some sort. That invitation often comes in the form of substantial, prolonged, and personal outreach. The church must go to the people. The church must embrace the people in their midst without expecting them to look and act just like them. The church must live out the teachings of Jesus Christ.

While the mission of the church should remain the same, the method needs tweaking.

HT: Shannon Blosser