Towards Schism at Ludicrous Speed

spaceballs meme

One of my favorite films of all time is actually a spoof of one of my other favorites.  As you may have guessed from the title, it is Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, a classic slapstick comedy that pokes fun at the Star Wars saga (later George Lucas would release three “Prequels” that were even more hysterical parodies of his original work).  At one point in the film, the villain Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), sets out to pursue the hero Lone Star (Bill Pullman).  His second-in-command orders light speed, but Dark Helmet informs him that “light speed is too slow” and orders him to take it to the next level: ludicrous speed.  (Watch the scene here if you wish – minor language warning, though.)

Today a self-appointed College of Cardinals mysterious cabal of conservative pastors and theologians announced in a press release through Good News that schism is already a reality, and we should  be Christian enough to go our separate ways in charity.  In other words, they have just gone from light speed to ludicrous speed.

I was particularly disappointed in their dismissal of a “middle way,” for which my colleagues and others have been advocating.  I cannot resist the temptation to use their own wording against them and suggest:

Talk of an “amicable” separation is comforting and sounds Christ-like.  However, such language only denies the reality that we need to admit.  Neither extreme represents either the main thrust or the majority view of the UMC, most of whose members and clergy live somewhere in between.

But today, mostly I am just sad that it has come to this.  The will of God is not divorce, however polite and “win-win,” but reconciliation.  Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann reflects,

“It grieves the heart of God that the children are estranged from God and from one another. God wills an utterly reconciled community and is at work toward that reality…the task of reconciliation includes the ordering of the family of faith itself. It is ludicrous for the beloved sons and daughters of God to be alienated in their own life. Surely at the center of God’s vision of reconciliation is an image of a united church. That will not come by trade-offs or power plays but by a new radical obedience in which our hoped-for unity calls us to abandon much of our divisive history, even that part of it that we treasure.” (104)

I am on retreat this week at a Benedictine monastery, planning sermons for the upcoming year.  Part of my time has involved worshiping with the community throughout the day.  A couple of nights ago at vespers, we sang Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!”

It was deeply moving, not only to sing that as a United Methodist in a  time of chaos, but to do so among a group of brethren who have taken the Bible seriously enough to pursue the hard work of what Brueggemann calls “radical obedience” towards that vision. God’s ultimate will for his church is not brokenness, however harmless and cordial, but unity.  The extremes – both left and right, mind you – seem intent on running in the opposite direction.  But we will not accomplish God’s will through “trade-offs or power plays.”  You ludicrous speedcan end a hostage standoff by shooting the hostage, but that defeats the purpose.  Likewise, two (or more?) churches that would result from the desired schism may purchase a measure of relief, but it will  come at great cost.

Ludicrous speed it is.  If the extremists in both camps – and yes, I think both are equally responsible – don’t take their hands off the accelerator soon, there is only one place left to go: to plaid.

And while I don’t know what that means, I don’t want to find out.


28 thoughts on “Towards Schism at Ludicrous Speed”

  1. The failure of this “marriage” was foreshadowed in the first acts of infidelity. Since that time, the infidelities have ONLY increased, in spite of incessant pleas for it to stop. Every remedial attempt (pleadings with bishops and colleagues, and by due process) to renounce the use of disobedience as tactics has been rebuffed or howled off stage. Even in your blog piece you stoop to ridicule Good News and others who are grieved over this state of affairs. This sham needs to be called out for what it is.

    1. I agree with Gary. Rev. Dunnam is right: schism is already our reality. When I counsel married couples where one or both have cheated on the other, I tell them God hates divorce and that they should do everything they can to reconcile, but that reconciliation cannot begin until the offending party repents. If he or she will not repent of their sin yet insist on continuing to cheat, then what sort of marriage is that?

      Drew, your calls to pursue a middle way would have some teeth if they included calls for repentance. Void of that, there is no unity worth staying together for.

      1. I think I have called for repentance, of a sort. Surely the conflation of power and money with influence, which this mysterious group represents, is far from the New Testament vision of the ecclesia and a complete capitulation to market capitalism, where money talks and [everything else] walks. Calling on everyone to take their feet off of the accelerator is asking for a change; I think we should all be ashamed at the power plays and machinations, by whatever group brings them. This is not the way of God’s people.

      2. Drew, do you have proof that their motivation is power and money?
        Is it possible that they are motivated by a desire to remain faithful to Gods word? And being faithful to Gods word does not include remaining in fellowship with those who call evil, good.

      3. Chad, might I suggest you take a cue from the press release and consider using more gracious words towards those you disagree with. Calling for those on the left advocating inclusion to repent, is akin to progressives calling on conservatives to repent of their homophobia; each side being adamant that they’re right and holy, and the other is wrong and sinful, is not helpful.

      4. Karl,
        “Repent” is one of the most gracious words and offers in all of scripture. It’s something I do daily and preach weekly. It is perhaps a sign of how deluded we are as a church when we start thinking repentance is insulting.

      5. Chad,
        We are indeed called to invite people to repent, (so that they might confess their sin, turn from sin to holiness, and cease walking away from God and begin walking with Christ toward God). Calling people to repent, must be done with great humility, because the history record of Christians condemning other people’s behavior is filled with arrogant and misguided theology.

        To tell gay people (in same sex relationships) along with their allies they simply need to repent, sounds awfully familiar to past and present day preachers calling on female preachers and their allies to repent.

      6. Karl,

        Several years ago I lost my family, my faith and my pulpit. God used all of that to finally get my attention and help me realize how lost I really was and how little I submitted to His word. I promised God that if I ever preached again I would preach repentance, holiness, the fear of God and our duty to obey Him out of love – real love, as people who have been bought with a price.

        The Bible is not ambiguous with matters of sexual immorality. It is clear, black and white, not gray as the progressives (of which I was one) of the last 50 years wish us to think.

        You can call people caught in the sin of same sex attraction and those who approve of their sin to repentance with as much authority and confidence as you can (and I hope do) those caught in the sin of adultery and those who approve of it. We need pastors who speak boldly the truth of God’s word and the power of the gospel to transform lives from the inside out, calling people to repent, just as every preacher in the Old and New Testament did. We need pastors who like the Psalmist have “eyes that shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (119:136). Do you cry tears over the fact that God’s law is being trampled upon, and by people who call themselves Christians? I do, often.

        In 20 years, in your progressive churches after the split, what will you say to the adult father and daughter who wish you to bless their “union”? No doubt they will quote your own words back to you, saying, “You bless homosexual marriage and you were wrong about women in ministry, so how can you call us to repent when we truly love each other?”

        This is not directed to you alone, Karl, but the word of God is profitable for teaching, for REBUKE, for CORRECTION, and for training in righteousness so that we may be competent and equipped for every good work. You have all the authority you need when you are standing firm on God’s word to call people to repent. I know how impossible that is, however, having once been standing on the other side, the mushy middle or the progressive left. But thanks be to God, you don’t have to stay there. Repent, and believe the gospel.

      7. Chad,

        Don’t be obtuse. You know that “repent” in this case is intended as an insult. Several progressive Bishops and Pastors have broken faith with the discipline in acts of civil disobedience going along with their consciences and prepared to suffer the consequences. They do not recognize what they are doing as “sin”, and I think you understand that.

        The conservative side is no better – your most recent post that I commented on fell fall short of having any respect or Christian consideration for those that disagree with you, and these schismatics are not being called by you to an act of repentance when disunity is to me the greater sin.

        You’re a Christian, you love Christ, and I believe you are motivated out of that love – heap coals on peoples heads, out do the other side in showing honor (also from the book of Romans), and I will join you in working to get better at these things.

        In the mean time, maybe write up some particular form of liturgy of confession for the church to have a via media – because our witness is diluted if we don’t find a middle way.

      8. Repent intended as an insult? If it offends you, that is between you and God. I don’t call for repentance lightly, nor without full knowledge of what it means and will entail (as I’ve gone through the painful process of realizing I was just a peddler of religion but denying the power of God for many years).

        The via media is a mockery of God apart from repentance. Our witness is already diluted as we are already not of one mind, which is what true unity consists of. The Bible is full of commands about what to do when people continue in unrepentant sin (1 Cor. 5 is one example). What fellowship does light have with darkness? Our witness is diluted when we continue to pretend to be in fellowship with people who call sin, good. The Holy Spirit will not bless such a union.

      9. You clearly do call for repentance lightly. Otherwise, you’d be clear who and for what you believe repentance is necessary. Perhaps you could even offer up the story of your peddling and transformation.

        The via media, or finding a way forward together, is a form of reconciliation and repentance specifically for the disunity and dishonor that are being propagated by the extremes within our church.

        There are complexities within the issue of lgbt that you do not fairly represent, nor do you engage with Paul when he says in Philippians 3:16 to let God reveal differences of opinion to you. It’s a stretch to take this as allowance for what you are describing, but scripture teaches very clear positions on divorce, anger, lust, honesty, taking vows – none of these seem to bother, Mr. UMC Holiness. Nor do you seem to be touting the General Rules for Methodist Societies as a way of fleeing from the wrath that is to come. So you have already called evil, good. Or at least are very comfortable with those who have.

        I do not have a problem sharing fellowship with those who think differently than I do. I pray that they are right and I am wrong and that God can bless such a union. I can also stay in fellowship with those who believe that such an act is sin, just as you willingly stay in relationship with those who practice remarriage: why? Because the situation and the interpretation of scripture is more complicated than looking at single passages and single cases.

        So, to recap: calling a spade a spade? Good for the most part. Calling other people to repentance without offering your own confession of sin and seeking pardon? Or asking in one sentence for repentance? Probably more insulting and simplified than it should be – just like your nice little post on the Smiths.

        By the way – perhaps you should change the title of your blog from UMC Holiness to something more inline with your position against homosexuality. Otherwise people will get confused and stray into your blog looking for guidelines on “growing in grace unto eternity”.

  2. Plaid: the color of what happens to whatever remains when you go that fast.

  3. Mocking the question is how some cabinets deal with the concerns brought to them. But meanwhile, a sober conversation proceeds. It won’t be on the level proposed here, a kind of ribald play at what troubles us. Infidelities ruin a marriage in the same way. The scoffer yuks it up, but the denouement proceeds.

  4. It is worth mentioning that the potential for schism is accelerated in this age where internet snark and flippancy replace discourse, calls for repentance are mocked, and straw men are constructed at every turn. The pain is real; the damage is done. God help us.

    1. All that would be more powerful if you were not commenting anonymously, friend. I am not flippant at all about the possibility of schism. I think it’s a horrible, sinful possibility.

  5. So… when will you become Roman Catholic? If you are against separation, I would suspect you would make the same choice as John Henry Newman, I’m not being flippant. My disagreements with conservative UMC members is as significant and profound as my rejection of Roman Transubstantiation. If I cannot live in the same house with the Romans, why should I live in the same house those who support “Biblical Inerrancy” and use it to reject GLBT people?

  6. Drew, Thank you for your post! It is deeply disappointing that we are not headed towards a via media. Those who spend so much time speaking of the sin of homosexuality forget that Jesus and Paul spoke of breaking unity far more frequently. This is”tearing the bride of Christ asunder” without mutual recognition that both sides (even these pastors) love Christ deeply and seek to live faithfully.

    The polarization these guys represent has probably already moved into plaid speed. Blessings on your work finding a via media for those with strong enough conviction to remain.

    1. Sean, thank you for stopping by. I agree. There is no way to read the New Testament witness and not see that the unity of the body was central to its witness. Is it easy? No. Is a gift that is worth the hard work of receiving? God seems to think so. Peace to you.

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