Monday, October 29, 2012

UMC Judicial Council Rules, World Keeps Spinning

And the gates of hell remain unshaken.

The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church has issued a ruling that has been much anticipated by absolutely no one outside of the United Methodist hierarchy. (FYI: Basically, they overturned a change made at General Conference this year. The change had been to eliminate the idea of a “guaranteed appointment” for United Methodist pastors. The motivation for the change was to increase accountability for excellence in pastoral leadership.)

So this means that the one shred of reform that was left in place after General Conference has been itself shredded. All the work to de-tangle the hairball has been nullified, most of it at General Conference and now the remainder, by the Judicial Council.

A hairball that is tangled tends to remained tangled. It’s organizational entropy. Or something.

With that said, I am not in the least bit discouraged by this decision, any more than I was when the reform efforts all but failed at General Conference. The motivations are there, the principles are there, the mission is there. The picture has been painted in stark reality. Anybody in United Methodist leadership who cannot see the impending Weemsian wave “death tsunami” and appreciate its implications to the church hasn’t been paying attention.

(And by the way, I call dibs on the term “Weemsian Wave.”)

The allusion above to the gates of hell is from a letter John Wesley wrote to Alexander Mather in 1777. I wrote about it here. His point then, and mine today, was/is that the focus of Methodism has been diffused. Our denominational attention is focused on so many different things, many of them internal, that our energy is sapped, our mission is compromised, and our priorities are unclear at best.

In response to the ethos present in his day, John Wesley asked for “one hundred preachers,” clergy or laity, who had an intense focus on God, and they would do no less than “shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of God on earth.”

Whether or not the ordained itinerant clergy of the United Methodist Church are guaranteed an appointment is one of the navel-gazing questions that diffuses our denominational focus and takes it away from God, where it needs to be. And by the way, it is a change that I’m all in favor of trying, knowing that we either have to change intentionally and proactively or we will be changed by the circumstances around us. I’m in favor of all of those “Call to Action” changes that were first resisted, then rejected, and now reversed by the status quo.

Because in the meantime, people and communities and congregations already are changing, in spite of the hairball. Or they might be orbiting around the hairball, drawing on its gravity in order to sustain forward momentum. This is why I’m not discouraged by the Judicial Council’s decision this week. They are going to do what they are going to do, functioning in a system exactly as it is designed. You cannot blame them; they are bound by the system in which they exist.

However, congregations that innovate and change, ministries that are flexible and responsive to community needs, communities of faith who are creative and passionate, individual disciples who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God - these will be surfing on the leading edge of the Weemsian Wave, even as old systems and unchanging structures are drowning in the flood.

The change starts locally, and percolates outward from there. It must. Neither the General Conference nor the Judicial Council are change agents. The local church is. The changes that need to take place must take place at the local level and eventually the General Conference will catch up.

The gates of hell remain unshaken, and the kingdom yet awaits realization.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dividing the UMC is No Solution - Try Local Autonomy

Dividing the United Methodist denomination is a bad idea. (Click here for some background info.)

I thought we were supposed to be a mission focused church. I thought we were supposed to keep the main thing the main thing. I thought that meant an outwardly focused orientation. I thought we were followers of Jesus Christ.

Dividing our denomination does none of those things. Division does not align with our mission. Division is definitely not the “main thing.” Division is the most inwardly focused thing we could do. Division of the body of Christ is incompatible with Christian teaching.

And you know what? You know what would happen if we spend the exorbitant time and money and energy on dividing the denomination?


Nothing would happen. Nobody would care. The people who aren’t coming to United Methodist Churches now would not magically start coming to the Gay Methodist or the Straight Methodist, or whatever Silly Methodist name we would come up with, just because where there used to be one there were now two denominations. Or three, or six, or a dozen.

Nobody would care. And when I say “nobody,” I mean nobody who is supposed to be the “target demographic” for our mission. (For the record, I do not like that term, since it objectifies people in overly simplistic and rather demeaning ways.) In fact, just about everyone who’s not already heavily involved in church has stopped reading this post by now, and is on to more interesting things, I’m sure.

For the record…

…I reject the idea that the body of Christ should be divided as a way to avoid confronting the controversies.

…I reject the idea that it is possible to categorize the diversity present in our denomination into an either/or, us and them, ally and enemy paradigm.

…I reject the idea that all gay people would feel comfortable in the liberal congregations, and all conservative people would feel comfortable in the “not gay” congregations, and every possible permutation of these labels and categories.

…I reject the idea that almost 300 years of Wesleyan tradition isn’t worth as much as a disagreement about sex.

…I reject the short-sightedness that laments the amazing, exponential growth of African and Asian United Methodist churches. (This lament is offered because these regions generally don’t affirm marriage and ordination for all people.)

I reject all of it. I reject it in favor of mission: the “main thing,” an outwardly focused drive into our communities and around the world. It is a drive to share the love of God made known in Christ Jesus. It is a mission that is equipped and empowered by the living presence of God’s Holy Spirit. It is a mission known by various terms and phrases, but at the core it is quite simply to make disciples of Jesus Christ who are transforming the world for God’s sake.

As such, what makes sense to me for the immediate future of the United Methodist denomination is local autonomy with regard to the question of marriage and ordination, a General Conference shift from “shall” to “may,” if you will.

So, according the Book of Discipline, pastors currently have authority with regard to marrying couples. The pastor does not have to marry every couple that asks. A simple extension of that authority would allow individual pastors to marry same-sex couples, or not, depending on their personal convictions and their community context.

Similarly, the Annual Conference is given the authority to ordain individuals. Each Annual Conference has its own variation on that process anyway, whether in mentoring, the role of the various boards, the interaction with the DS, the candidacy process, the residency time, etc. Each Annual Conference could easily be given authority to determine whether a candidate’s sexual life is a significant enough stumbling block to prohibit their ordination.

And voila! A solution with which no one will be completely happy! Sounds like a compromise to me. Some will say it is condoning sin. Some will say it is too random. Some will say it will create a complicated mess of “safe” and “not safe” congregations and conferences. Some will say that it essentially divides the denomination, if not formally then practically. I completely understand where all these perspectives would come from.

But we cannot simply stay status quo; status quo is a steady decline toward an impending tsunami of Weemsian proportions in North American Methodism.

We cannot divide the denomination, for the reasons I stated above. And the same reasons also apply to the “civil disobedience” option in which pastors or conferences intentionally break the rules to force a confrontation. Not missional, not Christlike, not outwardly focused, etc.

The best option is local autonomy. Local autonomy represents an option that is missional, faithful, hopeful, and most importantly, grace-filled and loving. It is not the cleanest option, but we live in a messy world, don’t we?

[Note: This article has been edited from the original post. "Latin American" in the original has been replaced with "Asian." I apologize for the error on my part.]

Monday, October 08, 2012

MLB Playoffs

It has become an annual tradition for me, and I'm a bit late with it this year, but better late than never, here are the total payrolls of the eight teams currently in the Major League Baseball playoffs:

$ 197,962,289
$ 132,300,000
$ 117,620,683
$ 110,300,862
$ 82,203,616
$ 81,336,143
$ 81,428,999
$ 55,372,500

So without a team to truly root for (again), I go with the team with the lower salary in each series.

Which means currently I'm rooting for the A's to come back and beat Detroit, Baltimore to beat the damn Yankees, Washington to beat St. Louis (although I wouldn't totally hate it if the Cards won), and Cincy to beat the Giants.

It's worth noting that the top paying team has paid almost four times as much for this season as the lowest team on the list. And also worth noting that the average salary on the lowest paying team is more than 1.8 million dollars.


Here's the full list.