Sara Anderson offers her first-hand observations from the initial launch event for the new “Uniting Methodists” group. For further analysis and factual overview of this caucus within the UMC by UMAction Director John Lomperis is available here.
Sara serves as board member if IRD. She is United Methodist living in Fort Valley, Georgia. She has served as Chief Operating Officer of Bristol House Publishing and on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals.
In reflecting on the Uniting Methodists gathering I attended two weeks ago, I suspect it was a bit like falling into a rabbit hole and emerging in a world not of substance but of wishful thinking. The conference, billed as an attempt to bring together United Methodists of differing views on the church’s disciplinary stand on sexuality, instead posed arguments for why the UM discipline is wrong.
Annoyed that the UMC’s General Conference (the final word for theology and polity) has fended off assaults on traditional morality by an increasing majority vote every four years for forty years, organizers insist our differences exist in scriptural interpretation. Having dissected the “clobber passages” in Scripture (Old Testament and Pauline arguments against the practice of homosexuality), they have not chosen to deal with the order of creation passages in the first two chapters of Genesis.
Instead, Uniting Methodist leadership has chosen to reinterpret Jesus’ words in John 16:13-14. Mike Slaughter, former pastor of Ginghamsburg (Ohio) UMC and satellite churches in Dayton, Ohio, insisted that Christians do no have to take the written word (the Greek word Graphes) in the Bible as seriously, because “Jesus (Logos, living word) did not leave us a book, he sent us a Counselor” to interpret Jesus to us. Evidently the canon has been broken open and revised.
Additionally, author David Field, member of the Commission on a Way Forward, delivered two extensive lectures from Wesley’s sermons, reducing holiness to loving God and neighbor. That loved appeared to allow people to follow impulses contrary to Scripture and affirm those in their behavior. No mention was made of the Holy Spirit gently convicting us of sin or Jesus’ words, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
We were reminded on video by Rev. Justin Coleman that laws on marriage have changed in the United States. However, many things are legal in parts of this country, but not biblical. Laws on prostitution, recreational marijuana use and age of consent vary in different states, not to mention abortion on demand, are legal, but not necessarily moral or biblical.
The calls for “love” rang hollow to me. Loving us, Christ was tortured and crucified for our sins, not to give us permission to sin boldly (apologies to Mr. Luther). Several speakers called the group to be “counter cultural.” To paraphrase The Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya, “I do not think they know what that word means.” In today’s culture, supporting traditional marriage and proclaiming the transformative power of Christ to heal our sinful thoughts and practices from envy to sexual behavior is counter cultural.
I identified myself by my church membership in Georgia, but not as a former evangelical publisher. Most people were gracious. No one asked me what I thought, assuming I agreed with the program. At one point the group was divided up by jurisdiction. I sat at a table with lay people and pastors from the Southeastern Jurisdiction. One pastor was sympathetic. He’d grown up in a conservative church in Georgia. “I still love those people,” he generously commented, even though he disagreed with them. Another pastor was more hostile, calling the Wesleyan Covenant Association “organized hate.” The group complained about how organized evangelicals were in their annual conferences.
“We’re too nice,” a progressive woman complained. I almost laughed out loud, wanting to say, “The conservatives learned how to organize from the progressives.” “We’re too nice” was a common complaint from conservatives thirty years ago.
I could say much more, but I have been ruminating on the admonition to be “counter-cultural,” which Uniting movement organizers stress. I can identify with fighting racism and helping the hungry and homeless, but is it really counter cultural in light of the Harvey Weinstein-Charley Rose-Roy Moore-Al Franken-Kevin Spacey, etc, etc., etc., controversies to support cultural licentious patterns (I have heard that some progressives would like to eliminate all restrictions on all clergy sexual behavior—including pre-marital sex and adultery)? I began to wonder, is this really all about sexual license? Is the Creature defying and laughing at the Creator? Has the UMC become so secularized and disconnected from the Scripture and John Wesley that we chose to cherry-pick and misinterpret the words of both? Are churches so determined to parade their acceptance of behavior contrary to the Scriptures that they put on affirming pedestals persons in desperate need of love, hope, grace, and transformation? Christians are called to change the world, not to conform to it.