Where is the Good News? (Or: Please Stop Giving Money to the Caucuses)

emmettkelly
Emmett Kelly, courtesy Wikimedia commons.

Good News, a conservative evangelical caucus, is not pleased with how things are going in the UMC.  A statement following a recent board meeting, denouncing our current state of affairs as “untenable,” read in part:

“We see the present situation as untenable. We are aware of conversations taking place among leading pastors and other groups around the country to examine what options are available for those of us who are biblical Christians and who have agreed to live by The Book of Discipline.  Those options include sweeping reform of the church or the creation of a different kind of future.  If we are one church, we cannot act as if we are two.  If in reality we are two churches, it may not be wise to pretend any longer that we are one.  Many are discussing the wisdom of churches continuing to fund a denomination that is unwilling to live by its policies and whose chief officers do not enforce its beliefs.  Some have already curtailed their financial support in protest.  Concrete and dramatic actions are likely to come out of those conversations in the next few months.”

Notice the vague language: “We are aware of conversations”; “leading pastors”; “some” and “many,” etc.  This got me thinking about how complaints and controversial matters are handled on church boards.  One of the rules that any healthy church holds among its decision-making bodies is something like “speak for self, use only ‘I’ statements.”  This is because often times people will attempt to manipulate a process of discernment by implying that untold numbers of persons have a problem with thus-and-such.  You’ve probably heard of conversations like this.  “Pastor, a bunch people are really upset about [x].”  Or, “I’ve been talking to a lot of people, and they are thinking about leaving unless you do something.”  Oftentimes, the unnamed masses are really just one or two ornery troublemakers who are attempting to augment their influence by claiming others as anonymous co-conspirators.

I would hope that Good News, composed as it is of many who serve in various leadership capacities in local churches, would be astute and honest enough to avoid this kind of power play.  These kinds of veiled threats are, on the whole,  unbecoming of the body of Christ.  What is true at the local church level is equally, if not more so, true at the level of denominational advocacy.

A particularly troubling tactic is the threat of withholding funds unless the one gets their way.  An all-too-common ploy, this is often reserved by power brokers in a local church to use when all else has failed.  Again, what is true of the parish is true of a caucus; hostage-taking should be beneath an organization dedicated to the renewal of the church.  It is, pure and simple, a manipulative tool unworthy of Christians in covenant together.  Apportionments are not dues paid when all is well, but the shared burden that makes shared ministry possible.  As I would say to someone in my church, you aren’t withholding from the local church, you are withholding from the God to whom you have promised a portion.

One last request: can we stop resorting to the self-righteous rhetoric that declares some Christians “biblical” and others (by default) “un-biblical?”  Perceiving oneself as following Scripture on a particular ethical question probably doesn’t mean that one follows every jot and tittle of Scripture at all times.  In that sense, none of us are “biblical.”  This is the conservative equivalent of the Christian left accusing anyone who questions their agenda “homophobic.”  Both are often crass and self-serving adjectives that say nothing helpful in furthering a conversation.

Perhaps the time has come for the people called United Methodists to withhold their funds from these caucus groups, which seem to be more and more intent on running headlong toward a cliff.  They don’t seem to be getting us anywhere: they aren’t sharing good news, they aren’t interested in reconciling, they aren’t confessing anything interesting, they only want love to prevail through bullying and intimidation, and rather than “religion and democracy” they are promoting idolatry and ideology.

Mind you, this is just a humble proposal.  I’m not aware of any others expressing a similar desire. So I won’t promise you that incalculable legions have my back on this.

I’m just speaking for myself.

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10 thoughts on “Where is the Good News? (Or: Please Stop Giving Money to the Caucuses)”

    1. Ad hominem attacks are usually employed by those who can’t engage in healthy debate nor handle honest criticism. Perhaps if representatives of Good News could engage instead of accusing those who disagree with them of thumb twiddling and aloofness, it might raise the level of discussion.

  1. Point taken about the imprecise use of “we.” However, I believe the time has come for people to be clear about where they stand, and I’m grateful for the statement Good News made. I believe our best hope for the future is in all of us speaking respectfully and honestly to each other about the issues where we disagree. I also believe that will inevitably lead to a split in the church, what’s the value of a Christian ministry that won’t speak to tough issues?

  2. Certainly we need to talk about these issues, but how that is done matters a great deal. And it is an open question as to whether this dialogue is best accomplished vicariously by caucuses at the far end of the ideological spectrums than by Christians, classes, conferences, and councils in holy conversation with one another. Thanks for stopping by, David.

  3. Drew, thanks for being an equal opportunity critic of all the caucus groups! :-) I wish there didn’t have to be a Good News caucus. The striking thing to me is that in the course of the Schaefer trial (for example), there was NO ONE who is part of the church hierarchy (bishops, staff, etc.) who publicly defended the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. That is just one snapshot of why Good News exists, to give voice to the “silent minority” identified by Chuck Keysor in 1966. When there is a vacuum of leadership willing to proclaim and defend the church’s doctrines and teachings, the need arises for others to step in and fill the void.

    As to “naming names” I believe there will shortly come a time when people will name their own names as being opposed to the church’s capitulation to our culture on issues of sexual morality and marriage and the abandonment of orthodox United Methodist doctrine. We felt the need to speak for ourselves in naming the crisis that besets the church. Ours will not be the last word. It’s just that we have heard from people all over the country who are engaging in these conversations, and we wanted to lift up the current reality for our leaders to respond to. We have also approached individual bishops with our concerns, and like-minded people around the country will continue to do that.

    1. Tom, you are a refreshing voice within the caucuses. Your openness to dialogue and your refraining from ad hominem arguments and empty posturing really models for the UMC holy conferencing. I wish others in caucuses, regardless of their mission, might do the same. Thank you for engaging us at Via Media Methodists, and I look forward to continued dialogue. God’s blessings.

      1. I would echo Evan’s good wishes, Tom. I, too, wish there was not a felt need for these caucuses. I am not bothered that bishops don’t come out in support of the church’s position, but I am worried that some bishops seem to think they don’t have to enforce it. This seems, to me, a fundamental failure of office. That said, I would push back on the conflation of traditional sexual morality and orthodox doctrine. One can be a progressive on matters of sexuality and still be a creedal, orthodox Christian. I wish we were more concerned, as a denomination, with the latter than we are the former. Peace to you and thanks again.

  4. Great stuff, sir. That last paragraph is a piece of masterful wordplay. And I would agree. However, with some hilarity I once walked into my office to check my mailbox to find the RMN and the GN newsletters waiting for me. Neither do I subscribe to. But it reminded me of what the peaceful kingdom should look like.

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