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.