Pope Francis’ Address to the #UMC

His Holiness Pope Francis showing off the exact opposite of a 'funeral face,' courtesy Wikipedia.
His Holiness Pope Francis showing off the exact opposite of a ‘funeral face,’ courtesy Wikipedia.

In, “Wow, he never ceases to amaze” news, Pope Francis just dropped a Petrine hammer on his own inner circle.  The Vatican Curia – the upper echelon leaders of the vast Vatican administrative machine – got some coal in their mitres during what is usually a pretty benign Christmas address.  The short version: he said the Curia was sick. Of the 15 ‘ailments’ he named that are harming the life of the Roman Catholic Church, I thought a few especially applied to my own communion, the United Methodist Church.  The full list, and the original numbering, is found here from the AP, from which the following selections are quoted.  The commentary attached is my own.  See if you think the Holy Father’s words are fitting for today’s UMC:

1) Feeling immortal, immune or indispensable. “A Curia that doesn’t criticize itself, that doesn’t update itself, that doesn’t seek to improve itself is a sick body.”

Going on to perfection is kind of our thing, isn’t it?  In 2012, the UMC showed a remarkable ability to avoid self-improvement.  How can we become a healthy body instead of a sick body?

2) Working too hard. “Rest for those who have done their work is necessary, good and should be taken seriously.”

For too many Christians, lay and clergy alike, busyness has become a status symbol and an idol.  Why don’t our clergy preach sabbath? Why don’t our churches expect it of their pastors?

5) Working without coordination, like an orchestra that produces noise. “When the foot tells the hand, ‘I don’t need you’ or the hand tells the head ‘I’m in charge.'”

It is easy to look upon other corners of the church as backwards, our out there, or fruitless, or whatever.  But we are all in this together, folks. (By the by, Bishop Grant Hagiya recently had some great things to say about the Pacifict-Northwest, often dismissed by Methodists here in the Bible Belt, on episode #7 of the WesleyCast).  Moreover, coordination – aligning our ministries, resources, and energies – is critical to accomplishing our ministry.  See also #1.

6) Having ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s.’ “We see it in the people who have forgotten their encounter with the Lord … in those who depend completely on their here and now, on their passions, whims and manias, in those who build walls around themselves and becomes enslaved to the idols that they have built with their own hands.”

Ask about rescinding the Guaranteed Appointment and watch our clergy suddenly develop ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s.’

7) Being rivals or boastful. “When one’s appearance, the color of one’s vestments or honorific titles become the primary objective of life.”

We are too damned competitive with each other.  The megachurch pastors all want the number one spot.  The mid-size church in town competes with the large downtown church.  On a charge, the smaller church or churches feel inferior to the larger.  Clergy boast about “God’s work” in their church, sharing posts on social media about all the amazing things going on but really we just want our colleagues and superiors to think better of us. In internet parlance, this is called a “humblebrag.” All of this is poison. Pure poison.

9) Committing the ‘terrorism of gossip.’ “It’s the sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs.”

Christians should not be gossips, and we in the UMC are as guilty as anyone. We talk behind the backs of our pastors, our lay leadership, our bishops, etc..  We of all people know the power of words to make and unmake lives, galaxies, families, and churches.  Clergy should take the lead in condemning gossip in all its forms.  Dave Ramsey’s (I know, I know) take is helpful.  If you think Ramsey is too strong on this, remember – the Pope just called this terrorism.

12) Having a ‘funeral face.’ “In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity. The apostle must be polite, serene, enthusiastic and happy and transmit joy wherever he goes.”

The subtext for too many of our denominational gatherings – international, national, and local – is death.  We Methodists wear the funeral face well. We shouldn’t.  As another Bishop of Rome, John Paul II, said, “We are Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

14) Forming ‘closed circles’ that seek to be stronger than the whole. “This sickness always starts with good intentions but as time goes by, it enslaves its members by becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body and causes so much bad — scandals — especially to our younger brothers.”

If all or most of your friends are on the same side as you, in the church or in the world – you need to rid yourself of this sickness.  Caucuses (such as the IRD, RMN, Good News, and Love Prevails) have done the UMC precisely what some of the Founders – quite correctly – warned that parties would do the the US.  If you want to affiliate with some sub-group of the UMC, fine; but we are contributing to the dissolution of the church and our own spiritual myopia if we only associate with like-minded folk.

There’s my annotated, partial list of Pope Francis’ recommendations for United Methodists.  What do you think?  What should be added? Might the UMC benefit from a similar speech from one of our Bishops?

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10 thoughts on “Pope Francis’ Address to the #UMC”

  1. Our bishops need to HEAR a speech like this Drew. But I see you criticize everyone one but a bishop. Pope Francis was speaking first and foremost to cardinals and bishops i.e. the primary audience he delivered this sermon to were cardinals and bishops.

    And not everyone who supports guaranteed appointment is a self serving pastor who sees the ministry as a career. I support it. Many pastors who have sought the Kingdom of God first for many years support it. It is the only balance of power against our bishops gaining absolute authority. I don’t see what good it does for our sick body to accuse clergy who support guaranteed appointment as having spiritual Alzheimer’s. And after all the Judicial Council ruled the rescinding guaranteed appointment as contrary to the discipline.

    Hey you skipped 10) Glorifying one’s bosses. “It’s the sickness of those who court their superiors, hoping for their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, they honor people who aren’t God.”

  2. David, thanks for your feedback. I suppose I would say bishops can only give speeches like this if they are empowered to act on them; but we put our bishops in a very difficult spot, we ask them to lead but give them very little actual authority. That is a recipe for problems, and since I can’t imagine walking in those shoes (or that of a DS), I try to focus on what I know: being a pastor in a church. And I feel that if we are doing our work as best we can, our bishops – however arbitrary they can sometimes appear with their decisions – will not give us any trouble. I know I haven’t been around as long as you, so it’s possible I have rose-tinted lenses here, but I’ve been pretty impressed with Bishop Goodpaster’s leadership. I fully agree that careerism is a huge issue, and a serious temptation, for pastors as well as bishops in our system.

    1. You need to re-read Bro. Spaulding’s comment and Francis’ # 10.

      None of our Bishops is capable of making such a speech to the Council of Bishops because our Shepherds value collegiality over Truth and fildelity to Jesus.

      As for Bp. Goodpaster’s leadership, I can understand why you are “pretty impressed” with his leadership. As a lowly lay person, I would grade our Bishop C- at best. As for his leadership concerning the presenting issue referenced in your most recent post (hospitality to homosexuals and fidelity to Scripture, he gets an “F.” I only attended the “holy conference” he led at Christ Church, but those of us attending that dog and pony show who support the Discipline as written didn’t feel any love or welcoming hospitality.

      1. Had a very different experience at the dialogue in University City, can’t speak to yours. Also, did you read the letter he sent out after the state laws changed? Not sure what more conservatives could have wanted. That said, there is much more to episcopal leadership than one issue; I would further suggest our Bishop, or any Bishop, needs our prayers rather than our vitriole.

  3. You are naive if you think bishops will leave you alone if you just do your ministry. The guaranteed appointment protects you from being “unappointed” if the Bishop decides s/he doesn’t like you. Unlike call systems, you aren’t free to seek your own of placement. In no other profession is one unable to practice if ones credentials are valid, but a lack of a guaranteed appointment would create that situation and you will have no recourse. Do you really want to wait by the phone to see if the Bishop will let you stay this year? Are you OK with being removed with no reason given or for a trumped up offense without a trial or right to appeal a decision? Because that’s what can happen–in fact it already does happen. I’ve seen it and clergy colleagues turn a blind eye because “at least it’s not me.” Many bishops already play fast and loose with the BOD; some even count on you not knowing what your rights are. Guaranteed appointments also ensure women and non-white clergy get appointed. If you want to know what that’s like talk to AME clergy–they aren’t guaranteed an appointment. Listen to how that prevents them from being prophetic or disagreeing with the powers that be or even getting an appointment! Better still, talk to your female and non-white colleagues in North Georgia conference even though they [supposedly] are.

    1. Luckily I want to get rid of the guaranteed appointment as well. There is no reason a modified call system could not work as effectively or more effectively than what we have now – and it would be much better to clergy and clergy families, and free up thousands of hours wasted in an antiquated yearly ritual by some of our most effective leaders (a routine called “appointment-making”). I agree there was a time the GA was needed; it is now an artifact, a liability, and too often a cover for ineffective clergy.

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