Tag Archives: umcgc2019

Reflections on General Conference and the Aftermath

The events of General Conference and the aftermath have been painful. Some, like me, are thankful for the outcome, that the historic and what we believe to be the Biblically faithful position has again been reaffirmed. The thin margin between opposing sides reveals the depth of the division though. Many, many people are deeply saddened, disappointed, frustrated, and extremely angry. I can understand that. I can’t say I haven’t felt that way when things haven’t gone the way I thought they should. I take no pleasure in the angst and pain of others. This General Conference has been revelatory in many ways.

One clergy colleague said, this General Conference has revealed that the denomination is “a nasty, mean rat bastard.” While I do not appreciate the language, and do not agree, I do appreciate the honesty. Emotions are running high, of course, but we do need to be completely honest about the nature of our differences.

gc2016-plenary-floor-584x388
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

In response to another conservative colleague’s statement affirming the traditional position, but also insisting that all people are still welcome in the church, a progressive clergy colleague said it was nothing but a hurtful and hateful statement. She insisted that unless she as a gay person is accepted completely, including the goodness of her sexual behavior, then it is just a message of hate. I disagree, but I appreciate the honesty. Other pastors who have tried to present what they see as more moderate and balanced messages have been severely rebuked for making excuses for great, even grave, harm done to the LGBTQIA+ community.

This type of rhetoric didn’t just start. Long before General Conference 2019, promoters of the liberal One Church Plan and the more progressive Simple Plan said similar things. They insist that the church needs to change to be more inclusive of LGBTQIA+ people because the traditional position is doing harm, greatly and even gravely. As I shared before, these kinds of statements were made repeatedly at two listening sessions in my own conference in early January (See my reflections HERE). During the General Conference and after, that refrain has only grown louder, stronger, and more explicit. Progressives and Centrists clearly believe the traditional position of the church is doing great harm; that it is egregiously unjust, even evil. Many American bishops have themselves repeated this refrain.

Bishop Will Willimon, a One Church Plan supporter, basically framed General Conference as a battle between the pure-hearted, pious progressives and centrists, and the conniving and calculating conservatives. One Church Plan supporters like him, many American bishops among them, were calling “for generosity and openness from the podium, [while] Traditional Plan politicos were busy on the floor counting votes and making deals,” he said. I’m not sure if Bishop Willimon is subtly alluding to the false rumors that were being spread that Africans were bribed by American conservatives to vote their way, but it could be taken that way. Bishop Willimon does appear to double down on the idea at the heart of the One Church plan that the church should be more inclusive of LGBTQIA+ people, but the enlightened Western liberal elite just need to provide a measure of tolerance for conservatives until they eventually come around. His disdain and contempt for supporters of the conservative position was thinly veiled (See article HERE).

The disgust, disdain, and contempt of others, like Bishop Bruce Ough, was not really veiled at all. He seemed quite comfortable framing it as a clear-cut case of good verses evil, the traditional position of course being on the latter side and doing great harm to the LGBTQIA+ community. For Bishop Ough conservatives are “the problem.” He also doubles down on not allowing churches to exit the denomination with their property for conscience sake. (See his video HERE).

Bishop Ken Carter was more diplomatic, but not entirely coherent. He reiterated the refrain that the church has done great harm to the LGBTQIA+ community. He also expressed appreciation for the passionate faith of conservative evangelical United Methodists. And he also doubled down on the idea that remaining together in the same church together despite these deep differences are what it means to be the body of Christ. He is quoted as saying, “We are a church that includes people with different visions of the kingdom of God,” and “I believe that’s the body of Christ” (See article HERE).

I agree with Bishop Carter; we do have different visions of the kingdom of God. But I do not agree that is what it means to be the body of Christ. Unity at all costs, no matter how serious the contradictory and competing views are, is not a recipe for unity at all. We need at least a reasonably similar and complimentary vision of the kingdom if we are going to have unity. It appears that what Bishop Carter perceives to be theological diversity is his highest priority. But I think it is the very attitude of doctrinal indifference that John Wesley called confusion and a curse as he alluded to Ephesians 4:13-14 (See the oft misquoted Sermon 39 Catholic Spirit).

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. ~ Eph 4:13-14 ESV

Exaggerating our differences is wrong; downplaying our differences is wrong too. Both cloud the truth. General Conference and the aftermath has revealed just how stark the differences are. I’m not saying there aren’t sincere people on both sides, and truly in the middle trying to figure things out. But the truth is for a great many on the progressive/centrist side, this is a matter of grave injustice and hate. I know if they sincerely believe that, they cannot help but to fight tooth and nail to keep people from expressing views they find hateful and harmful, and trying to convert people to their vision of the kingdom. But that’s also why conservatives were not buying the assurances given in the One Church Plan. Bishop Ough again reiterated that the One Church Plan was imperfect but a stepping stone to a church of perfect inclusiveness, which would inevitably exclude the expression of traditional beliefs. Richard John Neuhaus put it this way:

Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed. Some otherwise bright people have indicated their puzzlement with that axiom but it seems to me, well, axiomatic. Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/03/the-unhappy-fate-of-optional-orthodoxy

Yesterday a progressive leaning colleague, whom I don’t really know, messaged me and graciously asked what I would say to the LGBTQIA+ people. Here’s a slightly edited version of my response (edited for my fumbling thumbs mainly).

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I have offered clear and specific teaching and guidance to my congregations for years, not only on this issue, but on the traditional Christian position on sexual morality in general. I have never talked about it in a way that singles out any particular class for special condemnation or for special exemptions. I have had members from all walks of life, who struggle with many different kinds of temptation. I have had church members who have disagreed, but we listened to each other very closely. Some have shifted to my viewpoint; others still aren’t sure, but they know they are much more informed.

What I would say today to anyone who is LGBTQIA+ is that God loves you and I love you. You are created in the image of God, but as with us all, that image has been distorted by sin. Sin corrupts our desires and makes us want and want to do things that are not good. The power of sin enslaves us all beyond our own ability to choose otherwise apart from grace. But grace by the blood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit can set us free through forgiveness and transformation. Transformation, however won’t be consummated in this life; it will be consummated in the new heaven and earth (see Rom 5-8).

In the meantime we will all have to struggle together against powerful temptations and forces that will seek our conformity to the ways and corrupted desires of a fallen world (see 1 John 2:15-17). Whether it be pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, or sloth, we all have to be on guard against the devices of the enemy. The grace of God in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit makes salvation possible, but not easy. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and enter into a life of self-denial to follow Jesus on the hard path that leads to life. Christian faith is not just measured by what we gain, but also by what we are willing to lose and give up. There is a serious cost to discipleship, but not to be compared to the glory of the New Creation. Christ calls us to die to our old way of life corrupted by sin to be people of the New Creation. The New Creation is not something we are called to create ourselves, but a reality that has been created for us to enter into by the grace of God through faith in Christ.

“Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'” ~ Matt 16:24-25 ESV

There are many people from the LGBTQIA+ community who have accepted that kind of invitation. One is my friend Angy, who was same-sex attracted and acting on those desires. She says she realized that it wasn’t really preachers like me who were condemning her. She says she came to believe it was actually those who were affirming her in sin who were condemning her. She has been outspoken to share her testimony, but the voices of people like her are not provided with the same platform.

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For some the message I shared above is pure hate; for others, like my friend, Angy, it is genuine love. That is the contrast that is at the heart of our dilemma and lack of unity in the United Methodist Church. The truth is we are not in the dilemma we are in because we have talked about this too much; the truth is we have not talked about it openly, specifically, and honestly enough.

We do have different visions of the kingdom of God, very different visions. The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed requires repentance and self-denial on the part of everyone, no special condemnation, no special exemptions. The grace of God makes it all possible; and we all need it.

No Other gods or goddesses? #UMCGC2019

“We never talked about belief, we just shared our lives and spoke of the divine feminine in ourselves and in the world. The goddess we spoke of never felt to me like a substitute for God, but simply another aspect of the divine. Just like God’s aunt.

When I tell other Christians of my time with the goddess, I think they expect me to characterize it as a period in my life when I was misguided, and that I have now thankfully come back to both Jesus and my senses. But it’s not like that. I can’t imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can’t imagine that God doesn’t reveal God’s self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity.
In a way, I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshiping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine.

In fact, I felt guided by God the whole time I sojourned outside of the church. The divine source of my life and my identity perhaps knew that I needed to bask in a female face of God for a good long while outside the church before I ever could return to it whole and be able see the divine feminine in my own tradition. If feminist scholar Mary Daly was right, that “If God is male, then male is God,” then there was some undoing to be done inside of myself after a childhood of being told that God is male and I am not (but sixth grade Jimmy over there is!).” ~ (From the book Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber writing about the goddess of Wicca)

A couple days ago I received the following quote on a Facebook post of my last article from a United Methodist, who considers himself a centrist. He sent the quote above to me, thinking it should alleviate any concerns about heresy!  Here’s what he said:

“A bit unexpected and shocking but not really heretical. God has been described in a multitude of images over the years.”

Many United Methodists are not very discerning. In fact discernment has fallen on very hard times, along with biblical literacy and trust in the reliability and veracity of the Bible. Thus, it’s no surprise that Nadia also believes the Bible is vague and ambiguous; as she would put it, “It’s not clear about sh&#.” But let’s just do a little thought experiment here.

Imagine part of the above as a conversation between Jezebel and Elijah (1 Kings 18ff).

Jezebel: “Baal never felt to me like a substitute for God, but simply another aspect of the divine. Just like Yahweh’s uncle.”

“Why can’t Israel worship Yahweh AND Baal?”

Elijah: “Yahweh has revealed to us that he is the one, true God, and all other gods are pretenders and deceivers!”

Jezebel: “But it’s not like that. I can’t imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can’t imagine that God doesn’t reveal God’s self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of [Israel].”

Elijah: “God has revealed the truth in his written word. We must be faithful to what God has revealed. We are to worship no other gods and make idols to bow down to them.”

Jezebel: “How can we really be sure that the your covenant with Yahweh is really from God? And even if it is, how can we know what it really means? It’s so vague and confusing. There are countless gods and goddesses worshiped among the nations. Who are you to say they and their ways of life are wrong? You are so narrow-minded Elijah!”

“Israel can worship Yahweh without disparaging the beliefs of other people!”

Elijah: “God has revealed himself and his will. I believe it is clear and true. I trust the word of Yahweh!”

 

So the issue is not whether the One true God has feminine characteristics. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is in Isaiah 49:14-16, where the Lord, Yahweh, promises Israel that he will not forget them and abandon in spite of their rebellion. There Yahweh  compares himself to a nursing mother and the compassion she has for her child. Yet in Isaiah 46:5-9 (ESV) Yahweh also says:

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike? Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble. “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me”

It’s one thing to speak of the feminine aspects of God’s nature; its quite another to say

Nadia BW Gloria Steinem
NBW, Gloria Steinem, and vagina statue.

other gods/goddesses, whose followers engage in practices such as ancient rituals of sorcery and sexual practices specifically forbidden in the Bible, are also legitimate expressions of the same God. This is just a pagan way of thinking. And this is the end result of refusing to believe that the Creator has revealed his nature, character, and will in a reasonably clear way in Scripture and in his Son, Jesus. Dare I say, it is the end result of being more committed to the idea of “theological diversity” than the biblically defined Lordship of Jesus Christ!

The Son, by the way, did say he was the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Biblically speaking, this should not be a great surprise as it is a direct corollary of the First Commandment. Generally speaking the pagan worldview begins with experience; the Judeo-Christian worldview begins with revelation (for more on this listen to RC Bishop Robert Barron discuss “The Return of Paganism HERE; I also recommend John Oswalt’s book, The Bible Among the Myths, for more depth).

When a person doubts the possibility of a clear revelation from God the Father in Scripture and in the Son, and when they exalt their own experience and reason above that revelation, the result will be idolatry. Idolatry and the licentious practices that go along with it are the end result of this kind of confusion of the divine. That’s why it is not far-fetched to compare Nadia Bolz-Weber’s melting down purity rings to turn them into a statue of a golden vagina to the Israelites’ making a golden calf (Ex 32). It’s also not surprising that this stature is directly associated with unfettered sexuality and the child sacrifice that takes place in abortion.

Golden Calf Painting
The Adoration of the Golden Calf – 1633-4, Nicolas Poussin

Despite those that have tried to dismiss all this because Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran and not a Methodist, the fact is she remains incredibly popular among progressive United Methodists. She is a frequent and very popular speaker in progressive United Methodist circles. I shared my experience in the previous article. The following messages were shared by other United Methodists in response to my article and objections to it.

One person in another conference, whom I do not know, sent the following private message:

“Thanks for the follow back. I’m embarrassed to say I doubted the seriousness of your article and Nadia Bolz-Weber. I did what I always encourage people to do and did my own research. She is scheduled to speak at several UMC churches (and strongly embraced and promoted) in my area. Churches that are lobbying hard for One Church Plan. I have been more blind than I believed. We have a lot of praying to do. Thanks for your strength and courage. I’m still in shock that the denomination I’ve known since my UMYF days has let this unspeakable debauchery into our churches. Peace and God bless.”

You certainly can’t say she’s running around rogue promoting her false doctrine without the sanction of leaders in our denomination or her own. Her own Bishop praised her profusely, compares her sexual reformation to Martin Luther’s, and says her teaching is much needed in the Church!

A UM pastor in another conference wrote the following in reply to someone trying the downplay and dismiss any concerns by saying Bolz-Weber is not Methodist.

FYI, Nadia was the lead speaker at a preaching workshop in the NCCUMC last year and I had to watch a video of her thoughts assigned subject in RIOM (residency in ordained ministry). They also had us read some of her writings. She seems to be a Rock star for many in leadership in my conference. Just sayin… ~ Rev. Dusty Sprouse

Our problems run much, much deeper than differences over sexuality. In spite of all those who will continue to try to downplay the seriousness of all this, I would highly recommend we heed the grave warning of Jesus.

… I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. ~ Rev 2:20

There is a limit to what Jesus will tolerate!

May God be merciful, and grant wisdom and discernment.