Curing Optic Rectosis

Back in 1996 I was elected to my first of 5 General Conferences of the United Methodist Church. Since then I’ve been on some very effective teams and some that weren’t. I was on the former General Council on Ministries for 4 years, The Connectional Table for 8 years, The Worldwide UMC Study Committee for 4 years, and now on the General Commission on Religion and Race for a four-year term. I’ve been on plenty of other teams in the global UMC including mission teams, pastoral teams, and am now in my eighth year of a Cabinet team. I also like to think of the Columbia District as a team. That’s been our motto: “Together We Can Do More!” and it has happened. I clearly remember the use of “team” back in 1996 as our Episcopal nominee, Ted Walter, gave his speech before the gathered delegates of the Southeastern Jurisdiction as we met in Denver, CO at General Conference.

He used a story to emphasize that he wanted to be a part of an Annual Conference’s team. The story went something like this: “A mule named ‘Jim’ was being driven by his owner. When everyone got on the wagon, the driver yelled ‘Giddyup, Jim. Giddyup, Sue. Giddyup, Sam. Giddyup, John. Giddyup, Joe.’ As the wagon started to move, one of the passengers said: ‘When Jim is the only one there, why did you call all those other names?’ The owner replied: ‘If Jim knew he was the only one pulling this wagon, he’d never budge an inch.’ It takes teamwork.”

Sometimes when I get optic rectosis, which is a nice way of saying I’ve been looking at life from a position a lot lower than a pat on the back, it helps to know the truth of 2 passages of Scripture that have a lot in common: I Corinthians 10:13 and I Peter 5:9-11. They have a lot in common, especially that God delivers and that we’re never alone when we think we’re the only one in the world going through this mess.

Listen to the commonalities between the passages. First, I Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up against it.” I Peter 5:9-11 says, “Resist him (the devil), standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”

What I hear is that I’m not the only one who has ever been through this crud. There are plenty of other sojourners who walk a similar path, and in both passages we have a God who is faithful and strong and on our side! Now that’s a team!

“Team” is a simple word to describe the Trinitarian theology that I appreciate so much, although I’m a little taken aback at the words I’ve heard lately at the conclusion of prayers: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Didn’t Jesus say to pray in his name? What’s with this? Maybe I’m late to the game, but it’s no big deal, really. After all when you see one person of the Trinity, you see all three at work in that marvelous dance, distinct but indivisible, when Holy Perichoresis takes place.

“Perichoresis” is a word composed of two roots: peri which means around, and choresis from whence we get our word, to dance. In other words, God is always dancing around as a team, as the Trinity – always on the move, on the go, and at the ready – together! Better news for us is that when we feel alone facing life’s problems we should remember that we bear the Imago dei, the Image of God. Therefore, if God exists and works in the community that we call the Trinity how much more so should we lean upon one another when times are tough? We are vital members of a divine-human team that always wins!

Why do you think that “ER” was so popular on TV from 1994-2009, or “Bones” now? One reason is that emergencies or crisis management, require not solo players but team play, and we are enthralled and galvanized by the way in which a motivated team can take on a challenge. It’s not white knights, lone wolves or highflying eagles that solve crises. It’s team play. Can I dare say it’s the Trinity and the church!

So chunk your optic rectosis and hold your head up! You’ve got a lot of big-time H/help all around you! “Together We Can Do More!”

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General Conference 2012 Rhetoric and Listening

General Conference 2012 has already produced a ton of verbiage. I have already received letters and phone calls eliciting my support for various issues. General Boards and Agencies of the UMC have started sending out their proposed legislation. I have been personally involved in writing legislation for the Connectional Table and the Worldwide UMC Study Committee, not all of which I agree with. However, I would rather listen to the divergent voices and write good legislation and pray that the GC 2012 Legislative Committees and Plenary Sessions can have clear choices rather than hard-to-hug jello with which to grapple. I want radical change in our denomination and especially want our bishops to express leadership in their annual conferences and local churches because that’s where disciple-making truly happens, but there I go in my verbal haranguing.

Words have to be replaced with listening – sooner rather than later in our position jockeying. In the midst of all the helpful and not so helpful propaganda that will be shot across the bows of our desks and computers, we have to listen to each other and lay aside fruitless personal agendas or theological quagmires that are too often unanswerable. Now, to be sure, I believe some issues are not only answerable using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, but the answers are essential. They are doctrine! Doctrine doesn’t change. Theology, on the other hand, should always be changing. Doctrine expresses God’s perspective on a subject. Theology is a never-ending contextualization of doctrine revealing God’s mind to a contemporary world. In the midst of conflicting values between the authority of Scripture and love for all people, I admit I would rather side with God than with human reason or experience, admitting that Scripture is both informed by and informs our use of Tradition, Reason, and Experience. I think God’s preference is clear: Love everybody AND be obedient! That takes keen listening!

Herein lies part of the problem. I’m spouting off from my own perspective, and someone else speaks from their context and so the saga goes on ad infinitum. Polarization occurs when all that is going on is talk, talk, talk and no one is listening either to God or each other. The Lord knows we are a people who talk too much. Cell phones, smartphones, texting, and high speed internet are almost universal. Listening isn’t. On my summer’s mission trip to Nicaragua I saw a huge uptick in the use of cell phones even in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere!

In the face of our changing communications reality, I like what Norman Brown said, “The meaning is not in the words, but between the words, in the silence.” How can we watch what we say and keep it to a minimum? The Proverbs speak of letting God put a guard over our mouths. That would help, but how do we do it? Certainly, we can ask God to help us listen attentively to others and not rush into thinking about our reply. We can become reflective listeners clarifying to people what we think they just said and see if we were correct in our assessment. We can pray before we talk.

Mo Udall had a prayer that he prayed before he spoke, “Lord, grant me the wisdom to utter gracious and generous remarks today, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.” Another version that I’ve heard said something to the effect, “Lord, help me keep my words soft and sweet because I never know from day to day which ones I’ll have to eat.” The essence of prayer is to invoke God’s help. We really do need God to help us in our speaking and listening!

In a land where free speech is guarded to the detriment of real communication, I like what Teddy Roosevelt did in 1895 to put a muzzle over an extremist’s words. An anti-Semitic German preacher named Ahlwardt came to New York City to advocate a crusade against Jews. The city’s Jewish leaders went to the police commissioner, Teddy Roosevelt, and demanded that Ahlwardt not be allowed to speak. Roosevelt insisted correctly that the German was entitled to his freedom of speech regardless of his views and even deserved police protection. So Roosevelt personally appointed the man’s security guards: 40 policemen, all of them Jewish! How about that for helping someone watch what they say?

The best way for me to watch what I say is to attempt to emulate Jesus. Everybody wants to be like Jesus, right? Jesus always had the right words for the right time. A mail carrier was talking to a small boy about his little sister, “Can she talk yet?” “No,” the little boy replied. “She has her teeth, but her words haven’t come in yet.” A lot of us have teeth in our conversation, but are the right words there? Is Jesus in our speech?

If you think your answer is, “Yes!” to that question, here’s a challenge: See if you can go 24 hours without a slam at someone, and monitor your conversation for 2 days. Jot down whenever you say something negative about someone who isn’t present. Also note when others say something negative and what your reactions are. Do you go along with them or stop them? It’s time to revive one of my mother’s favorite sayings, “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Then we will be on the right track to holy conversation, holy conferencing, and on our way to a civil and productive God-pleasing General Conference 2012.

Caught Between Time Zones, Cultures, & Grief

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I am spent, tired and probably need to be in the Azores to have some semblance of biological normalcy. It took 17 hours in flight to get to East Africa, and 17 to get back in 5 days. I’m no “spring chicken” and I feel the weariness. I am also emotionally drained from preaching my brother Carlee’s funeral yesterday. He was so special, and his devotion to family and our little historic hometown of Edgefield, SC was so complete. To capture him and our memories was both comforting and caused a degree of sadness. I miss him and those halcyon days of common joy. Nevertheless, he would want me to press on. That’s what I’m going to do. I may head to the top of Mt. Mitchell, my quiet place and rest, read, and bask in its mystery for that is what I need in the summer of 2010 that has been so fraught withits own mysterious changes. I would be remiss if I did not at least offer to you my thoughts on the work of the Worldwide UMC Study Committee and our trip to Mozambique.

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,

tim”

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.

UMC in SC and Africa – Is There One Way to be an UMC?

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We’re at Cabinet Retreat looking out over the marsh of Knowle’s Island at Palm Key in Jasper County, SC. Good food, good fellowship – moving experiences with a team-building kayaking trip up the Broad River, thankfully with the tide, and last night’s extremely moving “Blood Done Signed My Name,” a must-see if we want to be honest about latent pain and racism.

We still have a lot of work to do, but we have done a lot. We have discussed what we see as the must-do ministries of the Annual Conferene, revised Charge Conference forms, discussed some critical appointment matters, set calendars, the 2010 appointment process, discussed the most effective deployment of personnel, and financial matters that are more anxiety-laden this year than last. We’re set to continue through lunch today, and I hope we get there because I’m the Cabinet Secretary and I’m typing and talking at the same time. Not always a good mix.

Here’s my big deal about getting the work done by noon. Friday I meet with the Conference IT guy (Jim Crews), who’s absolutely great by the way, and go over the changes to Charge Conference forms, etc. so he can post them. Then I fly to Atlanta to South Africa to Maputo, Mozambique, to Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia, to Abidijan, Cote D’Ivoire, to Dakar, Senegal, to the US. Whew! I hope I spelled everything right, and that I make it there and back with my luggage and on-time.

The Worldwide UMC Study Committee is going all over our Central Conferences and Annual Conferences in Africa in small groups to listen and discern. What we are trying to hear is how we can be a connectional church and at the same time encourage local churches and annual conferences in the exercise of their ability to be nimble and flexible in ministry through a common Book of Discipline.

As most know the Constitutional Amendments that would have allowed the US to be a Regional Conference with the same ability to adapt the BOD was defeated soundly. The will of United Methodists is that we work within our current parameters. Par. 543.7, however, still allows CC’s to adapt the BOD so long as the Constitution and General Rules are not abrogated and that the spirit of connectionalism is maintained. What we’re hearing is that UM’s outside the US are often using great leeway in their adaptation. Some are using the same BOD, just translated, others are using BOD’s from 20+ years ago. We’ve got to figure out what works and not cause schism in the church.

Pray for our efforts and that there is real listening and truth-telling. I may not be blogging for a few weeks, depending on my ability to get to a computer and internet, but we’ll be connected through prayer, polity, common distinctives as a denomination defined by our praxis, “United Methodist.” I’m looking forward to listening to how we do it in all places and which parts of the BOD are global and which ones are specific and need to be. No small task! I am convinced that our denomination has the best polity in place to reach a world that needs a common voice of Jesus’ love and grace.

Connectionalism Begins at Home

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“My Three Sons” with Fred McMurray was a staple around our house growing up. With there being three boys in the family made it even more appropriate, even if we were 8years apart. Before I was 2 my oldest brother, Carlee, was off in college. We’ve all been close over the years, each reflecting our parents in different traits. Ralph is named after my Dad. Carlee was named after a great-uncle for whom my Dad worked. Me -Oh, well, since I came along very late in my parents’ lives, they let my two older brothers choose my name. I guess they thought it might give them some ownership, and give me some measure of protection.

They named me “William Timothy McClendon.” The “William” part was my Mother’s Dad’s name, William. The “Timothy” part was the name of the bear in the Dick & Jane books. So there you go. So much for the Greek meaning of “Timothy,” which means, “Honoring God.” Well, my two brothers did okay, and have been very special to me and are on my mind tonight. I just got a voicemail from my oldest brother’s former wife. She is very close to our family and we count her as a sister. Carlee has been in a Nursing Facility for several years with diabetes, heart surgery, neuropathy taking their toll. My niece, Julie, his daughter, called to say that Carlee’s blood sugar jumped up into the 500’s and that it appears he has suffered some sort of neurological event, possibly a stroke.

We’re getting to be a fragile bunch. Ralph has his diabetes to worry about, too; and he has also had heart surgery, plus neuropathy, and is currently wearing a boot too try and save his foot. Diabetes is so insidious. Mine has been under control thanks to diet, exercise, and Metformin. Our Mother and Dad both were diabetic, and Daddy lost both of his legs when he was in his early 80’s. Health is such a fragile thing. Both brothers and their families have been so good to call and ask about Narcie’s condition. Carlee called me just 3 days ago.

We were talking about his 70th birthday coming up August 15, and how I would be in Africa and wondered when I would get to see him. Well the answer is made up now. Tomorrow night we start Cabinet Retreat until Thursday and on Friday I fly to Mozambique, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, and Senegal over the next 2 weeks, plus. I’m heading over with the Worldwide UMC Study Committee to check how much we connect with African UM’s in terms of how those areas have adapted the Book of Discipline. Maybe what we’ll end up with is a thinner common BOD and very few adaptations. That’s my hope as I support our connectional polity to the nth degree. So what about seeing Carlee? I’m headed there in the morning and see what’s up and go from there. If nothing, through everything in life and ministry – family comes first. Faith that doesn’t have priority at home is weak, if you ask me.

Pray for Carlee and Ralph; me, too, and please keep remembering Narcie. Family is a connection, a reflection of God’s Trinitarian self-revelation, the same reason for the UMC to be connectional, and for me to head off with the cabinet and then to Africa, or stay by Carlee’s bedside. Connecting the dots of our lives is difficult, but without any dots, life is pretty lonesome and not very fulfilling. Connectionalism begins at home, or not at all.

Trash to Treasure

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I have been in the Philippines for about two weeks with a meeting of the Worldwide UMC Study Committee and the Connectional Table. It was powerful to gain the perspective of the the Philipino UMC members. We heard two days of testimony from them about their desire to be autonomous from the UMC. Before they were conquered by the Spanish 400 years ago, the Philippines were Muslim. Then the Roman Catholic Church and the state combined to oppress the people in every way imaginable. In 1896 they revolted, then the US had its war with Spain and we took over until after WWII. At first we treated them about as badly as the Spanish. Our saving grace was liberating the Philippines from the Japanese.
UMC missions began in the Philippines around the same time as the US occupation. The country was divided up among US denominations. The UMC’s in the Philippines were enculturated with US church polity, and their has been tension ever since. There are around 228,000 UM’s there now; in 24 annual conferences. The overwhelming desire that I heard was for independence to form their own church and not be so US-centric. They need the money the US UMC provides but want to go their own way.
I don’t blame them. I’m happy that we have been able to facilitate ministry there. It’s a powerful ministry and we saw it first-hand. The worship service I attended at Puno UMC was fantastic. We were there for hours, but it seemed much shorter. The church was filled with young people and was Spirit-filled! That kind of vibrancy is something I would hate to miss if the Philipino UMC becomes autonomous. There is so much that we can learn from indigenous churches!
At the Worldwide UMC Study Committee we spent hours debating issues and finally came to the decision that whether or not the constitutional amendments are passed as the vote is announced next week at the Council of Bishops, we do not want to resubmit them to General Conference. Of course, that opinion may change, but I think there are other legislative ways to protect both local freedom and connectionalism. We must remain a connectional church. It would be much easier, in my opinion, to call all UM Central Conferences “Jusrisdictions” outside the US, and keep the 5 current jursidictions in the US. One of the biggest developments was our vote of 12-1 to keep the Social Principles and all issues about Human Sexuality at the General Conference level. This includes all of Par. 304 about minimum ministerial credentialing. I am very pleased with this vote.
We must uphold our polity and not let money or sexuality issues drive our ecclesiology. I will say more about my Philipino experience as I recover from jet-lag, introductory visits, and our Cabinet meeting today. Visiting the UM mission at the Payatas trash dump is something you have got to hear about. Jesus was crucified on a trash dump, and at Payatas we saw his resurrection in the midst of garbage. Such is our shared ministry, to bring good from bad; and unashamedly take Christ to a hurting world.

Core Principles of the UMC – MD4C

Many of you know that I’m on the Worldwide UMC Study Committee. There are 20 of us who are trying to discern the direction and shape of our denomination across the world. We are progressing with our work by beginning with a very important question: What are the core principles of the United Methodist Church?

I can think of many such as connectionalism, the constitutive principles of conference and general superintendency, personal & social holiness – sanctification in personal life and justice ministries in the world, evangelical witness (Making disciples for Jesus Christ/MD4C), Wesley’s Scripture Way of Salvation (Stages of Grace), the Quadrilateral as a means of doing theology, hymnody as a vehicle for doctrine, itenerancy and sent ministry, our Doctrinal Standards, the General Rules, minimum standards for credentialing clergy, accountability by local churches and clergy to our covenant community, inclusivity, gender equality, proportional representation, and multiculturalism. I know there are more core principles, but these are the ones that jump out at me.
The question posed to us that is also EXTREMELY important surrounds the reason we’re working on our ecclesiology. You may remember that this study committee arose from the constitutional amendments that were put before each annual conference over the past year. Those amendments would create one or more (Judicial Decision 1100) US regional conferences. The votes have not been certified by the Council of Bishops and won’t be until their May 2010 meeting. The last numbers that I heard were that they were failing by a huge majority.
There are those on the left (However you define such labels) who would love for the US to have the ability to adapt the Book of Discipline (Par. 543.7) as the Central Conferences outside the US do. The primary goal as stated by several members of our committee is so that a separate US regional conference would be able to change its position on self-avowed practicing homosexuals. Conservatives don’t mind the shift to regionalism for a much different reason: money. Right now the areas outside the US pay very little into apportioned general church funds; only a sliding scale amount into the Episcopal Fund. While conservatives would love to keep African votes on human sexuality, the economic downturn has made the price too steep. Unfortunately the same argument works even in the US. There are some from the US Jurisdictions that are larger who are tired of paying the freight for jurisdictions that are declining. Either way, and I KNOW that what I’m saying is overly simplistic, the rationales for moving away from our connectional polity are driven either by sexuality or money, AND THOSE ARE TERRIBLE REASONS TO CHANGE OUR ECCLESIOLOGY.
It seems to me that it would be more simple to change Par. 543.7 and be more clear about what is adaptable and what isn’t, and call all central conferences “jurisdictions.” I don’t want us to lose the non-negotiables of what I think are our denominational hallmarks/core principles at the expense of rearranging the deck chairs on the UMC Titanic, creating regional conferences that are antithetical to Wesley’s “The World is my Parish.” The bigger questions about all of this are “Why are we doing this? What is our vision why this will enhance the missional effectiveness of the UMC?” Duh?
But as quick as I am to pooh-pooh the whole effort, I have to admit how complex this is. Sure, we don’t need a US-centric hierarchy or focus; but I ask the question: Would we still legitimately be UNITED Methodists if we allowed too many regional permutations of who we are? What is unalterable and what is adaptable? What are our core principles that should remain intact. Help me out, weigh in!

The Journey of a Connectional People

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Well, one more day of the Worldwide UMC Study Commitee. I’m looking forward to driving home tomorrow. It’s been a good meeting. The right issues have been raised about what’s contextual around the Connection and what’s universal and holds us together. There seems to be consensus that we will retain our unity and not slip into an Anglican-style confederation that abrogates our connectional polity. The discourse has been an example of holy conferencing. We have heard from divergent segments of the church from traditional and progressive caucus groups, general agency representatives, and persons from the Central Conferences. I sincerely hope that the US will not fragment into one or more regional conferences. I promise to help craft the best legislation possible while retaining my commitment to our distinctive polity. This isn’t about human sexuality. This is about our structure expediting effective ministry. Form should follow function. The question must be answered as to what we value: special interests or the common good. The local church and the annual conferences are the locus of primary disciple-making. Whatever we do must support and empower laity and clergy on the local level. There is much to process from what I’ve heard. It is humbling to be part of this group. Each person plays a vital part. I, for one, promise to keep localism as a core value without allowing regionalism to trump our identity as a movement of God. We will meet in Manila in the Spring and Africa later in the summer. It will be good to hear from the people in the places where the church is growing.

Human Self-headeness or Christ as the Head

I have been at two back-to-back General UMC meetings: The Connectional Table and the Worldwide UMC Study Committee. The Connectional Table coordinates the mission and ministry of the denomination and decides budgets. The WWNC is studying how we can be a worldwide church allowing autonomy in certain ways in diverse areas of the UMC while defining boundaries of non-negotiables that hold true for the entire denomination. Tomorrow and Tuesday we will hear from divergent and opposing groups on the issues. The defining issue that seems to be driving a desire for the US branch of the UMC to form its own regional conference or conferences is the practice of homosexuality. I think we should spend more time listening to the voices of those outside the US. By listening to US groups we perpetuate the reality voiced by overseas UM’s that we are a US-centric church that is structured to enable a codependency model and neo-colonialism. I think it is a matter of spiritual warfare for the heart and soul of the UMC, and I don’t think this hot-button issue should be the primary force for dismantling our time-tested ecclesiology. Our polity is one that does and should embrace diversity, but not at the expense of connectionalism. It is a work in progress. I embrace process theology that is dynamic and not static, but though theology should have local variation, doctrine should be off-limits. The first and second Restrictive Rules in the UMC Constitution protect our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith. Our difficult task is to discern what is doctrine and what is theology. So… pray for us to have wisdom and truth-telling in love as we work on this task.

Of more importance than any of this is whether or not we witness to people of Jesus’ power to save and transform. Our only hope as a church is to share Jesus. All the tinkering and special-interest maneuvering is irrelevant if we don’t share Jesus with hurting people. What the world needs is Jesus. You can’t legislate the Gospel, you have to share it. May it be so! We can promote regional self-headeness (autonomy), but not if it replaces Christ as Head of the Church with Humans.

Form Follows Function – Worldwide Study Committee

Tomorrow I preach at 9:45 and 11:15, then head to Simpsonwood outside of Atlanta for the first meeting of the Worldwide UMC Study Committee. Many of you know how big an issue this is for me personally. I have written about our connectional polity for years with articles in “The Circuit Rider,” “Quarterly Review,” and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. I have worked for our eccelsiastical unity helping create The Connectional Table, and have worked with many others in presenting reasons why the proposed consitutional amendments to create a diocesan parochialism in the UMC is a terrible idea.
I agree that there must be cultural adaptations that honor diveristy, but if that occurs at the expense of connectionalism, count me out. The big question before the Study Committee is not, according to the agenda I received, the history of what got us to this point, or which side, liberal or conservative, wins the battle over human sexuality that is shaking all main-line denominations. The big question for me is what structure will help us make disciples for Jesus Christ. Form follows function!
As for sexuality issues and the global church, every 30 years there is some hot-button issue of one ilk or another. Maybe this one will never go away, but the issue of women’s ordination and inclusion of people of color have at least been alleviated in offical church law if not in actual practice. As a matter of fact, all one has to do to put the brakes on the worldwide proposal as presented is to note United Methodist history’s reaction to women’s ordination. One of the reasons that the Korean Methodist Church went autonomous and left the UMC was over their rejection of women’s ordination.
So, we will always have issues that divide us. How about us focusing on ways to stay united? I think that focus should be on Christ and offering Christ to a confused world. Therefore, we must have clarity about our mission. Is our mission to offend no one or please SOMEONE (Jesus)? Certainly the Gospel is for all people and the reconciliation of everyone to God, but let’s not confuse how we do it with why we do it. If United Methodists lose connectionalism we have lost our distinctive vehicle for offering hope to the world. Our “why” of being reconcilers without boundaries of right and wrong, humanism without the need for atonement, will supercede our allegiance to Christ and will result in us offering false hope or no hope to anyone. Our real “why” behind how we structure ourselves better be bringing people to a real experience of Christ reagrdless of who they are. The best way to do that is not to give in to the relativism of national churches, but through a common connection to John Wesley’s “Scripture Way of Salvation” lived out!