This is an email with some slight subsequent editing that I sent to Bishop Jones within hours of my return on Wednesday and in response to his offer of condolences about my brother and illiciting my thoughts on the interviews we conducted in Maputo, Mozambique.
“Scott/Bishop Jones, Thank you for your support and prayers for my family. Indeed, all of this with my brother and daughter have been unexpected and have been difficult. I want to express to you and the staff (especially Cynthia Dopke) my sincere thanks for rearranging my flights to get me home for his service tomorrow (Thursday). I’ll be preaching the service and have been meeting with family all afternoon. I haven’t crashed yet and there’s more work to be done on his eulogy, so please understand the following thoughts as preliminary at best.
We had a very enlightening time of things in Maputo. I was able to peruse their 2008 version of their BOD (Book of Discipline)which was based on the 1988 version of the GC BOD. They simply have taken things out they feel are not relevant or offensive, and they have added as other Central Conferences have, “Special Advices,” in the middle of their BOD. These seem to carry the weight of law, but they are different from the Social Principles, which in my opinion are not church law.
I went there thinking that perhaps we could have one common book of doctrine, discipline, and order; but I feel this is unlikely given their ability and willingness to wholesale pick and choose their preferences to adapt, leave out, and add new parts. For instance they still use the deacon to elder two-step ordination process. I am sensing that our study will need to go beyond the 2012 GC if we are to really rethink our church and do the adequate study, and we must not allow money or sexuality drive our ecclesiology unless we want to polarize everyone.There must also be some sense of proportionality in our relationships with churches outside the US to avoid colonialism.
A huge difference discussed at great length was the non-itineration of bishops and that they are elected at the CC level to serve in their own home episcopal area for a specific length of time. This is a dangerous thing in terms of politics in the episcopal areas when people serve among their peers and have preconceived notions that exist from Bishop to people and in reverse, and I remember as Aesop said it, “Familarity breeds contempt.”
In final analysis I find it difficult to think we can have a common discipline unless it is VERY thin, and I don’t think that is worth our efforts or good for the UMC. Another approach might be to see where the whole church can agree and allow very little, if any, adaptability. I think we must not rush into hurried decisions that will be misunderstood and fail. I would rather study longer and get it right, or simply accept the constitutional vote results on the worldwide nature of the UMC and the “no” votes on this issue that have occurred ever since the COSMOS report of the 60’s all the way to this point as indicators that 1. We would rather live with the dysfunction as is, or 2. We really need to study this with seasoned ecclesiologists who have no agendas except to fulfill a commonly held mission of the Church and actually be a worldwide UMC. Anyway, that’s where I am at this point and need to process it all much more. I’m truly sorry not to be there with you all. The group is in my prayers and I thank everyone for their’s,
Cultural contextualization of the Gospel is not only appropriate, it is neccesary. St. Paul did a good job of this with the Athenians. However, in our UMC Connectional polity, one must discern with clarity what causes the UMC to be distinctive. What are the non-negotiables? I know Wesley said: “Let there be unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and in all things, charity.” The daunting task in our indivualistic world is to figure which is which.
We cannot devolve into congregationalism and have pastors and churches act like individual silos, nor have annual conferences, or jusrisdictions/central conferences doing their own thing. That is NOT who we are. What we are is a corporate group of Jesus’ followers who believe the saving work of Christ makes as much of a difference in this life as it does in the life to come. To quote John Wesley once again, and also use my brother Carlee’s favorite expression, “Best of all, God is with us.” The path to the future for me, the UMC, the world – is how is God with us? If we get that answered, then we will see a light into the future.