Sexuality, though, is not the issue which I suspect will be the most consequential to the future of the United Methodist Church. The issue I suspect will most impact the church--and, if successful, has the potential to deal the church the most damage--is much more insidious. This issue is spread across multiple legislative committees and many pieces of legislation, and it amounts to driving out theological exploration within the United Methodist Church and pushing us toward a narrowly defined faith which would tie the hands of our evangelists, restrict the work of our theologians, and dramatically damage the robust witness of the United Methodist Church.
In the name of creating theological clarity--in many ways, a noble task--several pieces of legislation threaten to dramatically remake the church in the image of those writing the legislation.
Such a goal is never explicitly stated, of course, but the goal is woven throughout multiple pieces of legislation. Take Dr. Bill Arnold's rewrite of "Our Theological Task," for instance (60676-FO-¶105-G). In the preamble, Arnold proposes amending Our Theological Task to note that reason, tradition and experience
must be brought to bear in faithful, serious, theological consideration upon the living core of the Christian faith as revealed in Scripture, our primary authority. We turn to these three in the process of interpreting Scripture (a process known as hermeneutics), but not as independent sources of truth.At first glance, there is nothing revolutionary here. Of course, scripture is primary. Of course, the other sources and norms are used to interpret scripture--interpretive lenses, if you will--rather than being co-equal with scripture. But this is not what is written here, and thus would be written into the Discipline. What is written is that there is no truth apart from scripture. Reason, tradition, and experience are not "independent sources of truth" in this rendering, never mind where they fall in the hierarchy with scripture.
Think about this for a minute. There is a proposal, with significant chance of being included in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which says that reason, tradition, and experience are not "independent sources of truth." It does not say "lesser sources." It does not say "informing sources." Whatever the original intention, this legislation literally says that reason, tradition, and experience are not independent sources of truth. This is nitroglycerin, not theology.
Our Theological Task does not exist for the purpose of subverting United Methodist Doctrine! In fact, we have clear Doctrinal Standards, and while it is true that the results of engaging Our Theological Task sometimes stands in tension with the Doctrinal Standards, this tension is carefully crafted to keep one foot firmly planted on the terra firma of sound doctrine, while allowing for theological imagination in the academy and the church. We would never allow the American Medical Association to say that we already have the only text we'll ever need, primary though it is--the human body--and that anything that challenges our traditional understanding of that text is not an independent source of truth. There seems to be a movement in some corners of the church to dispense with Our Theological Task altogether, damaging our witness and moving us toward a faith that demands agreement in all things, essentials and non-essentials alike.
The proposed damage is not limited to Our Theological Task. Take, for instance, a proposal from Joel Watts (60587-MH-¶1422.3-G) to require all full-time faculty at any United Methodist seminary in the United States to
sign a statement affirming their personal agreement with and commitment to the basic, ecumenical Christian doctrine of Articles I, II, and IV of the Methodist Articles of Religion and/or of Articles I, II, and III of the Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church (¶104).On the surface, this commitment seems fine. As clergy, I certainly affirm these doctrines. But I am a church pastor, not a professor. I know of many United Methodist seminaries who employ exemplary Jewish faculty in the area of Biblical studies. Should we fire these people, allowing seminaries to only hire three professors who refuse to sign such a statement? Beyond this, what in Heaven's name are we doing talking about requiring faculty in our seminaries--faculty who are tasked with doing theology--to sign a statement binding their scholastic work in any way?
Or take the requirement (60228-MH-¶1414.2-G), proposed by Beth Ann Cook, that all members of the University Senate--the governing body of United Methodist higher education--be United Methodist. Again, on the surface, this sounds great; of course United Methodists should drive the conversation about our colleges and seminaries. But the purpose here is more than just ensuring theological consistency. By requiring United Methodists in every single position on the Senate, we are limiting a large number of trained, accomplished higher educators to provide input on the very subject out which they are the most knowledgeable. What is more, the entire slate would be voted upon by the General Conference, which means that if the slate were not approved, you'd watch before your very eyes a takeover of our seminaries on the floor of the General Conference.
I do not mean to make more of this danger than necessary; I do not have a significant sense of how successful these proposals are likely to be. Neither do I mean to argue that there is some shadowy coordinated attack afoot. But I would note that while the gate of General Conference petitions is (necessarily and appropriately) wide, I did not randomly pluck these petitions from the Daily Christian Advocate. Each of these petitions was written by a prominent United Methodist leader: Bill Arnold chairs the Biblical Studies department at Asbury Seminary; Beth Ann Cook is a member of the board of Good News, a conservative renewal movement; and Joel Watts is a prolific blogger.
Finally, let me widen my focus a bit and argue that my problem with all I've listed here is not even necessarily theological; while you might quibble with my belief in the legitimacy of committed same-sex partnerships, you'd be hard-pressed to call me anything other than an orthodox Wesleyan evangelical. My problem is that these pieces of legislation, and several petitions like them, would consolidate power in unhealthy ways: power over the makeup of University Senate; power over the historic academic freedoms enjoyed within the academy; and power over Biblical hermeneutics, resulting in the illegitimacy of any interpretive lenses other than those which match the existing biases of those in power.
Theologically speaking, I am no radical. But if the authors of these petitions have their way, I'm not sure there would be room for me in this remade United Methodist Church; I am not sure there would be room for many of us. And perhaps that is precisely the point.
Since I am one of the petition authors mentioned let me say that my concerns for the university senate are more thoroughly spelled out in this petition to the Indiana AC. GC doesn't allow lengthy rationales and our AC does. (it was not adopted and therefore I submitted it to the GC under my name.) http://www.inumc.org/files/file_share/2015_annual_conference/reports/2015-10+membership+of+the+university+senate.pdfReplyDelete
If that link is to more of the rational behind the petition, I do not see additional rational that eases the concerns above or how this proposal is the least destructive means of dealing with the concern that people on the university senate are also leaders at the universities to which they are being evaluated.Delete
Non Indiana UMC folks won't know this but the co-signing names on that petition are not all theologically where I am. (I am very much an orthodox evangelical and do serve on the Good News Board.) In fact I have sharp disagreements with some of them on many issues. Most of us work with or have worked with the Indiana Board of Ordained Ministry in some capacity. Our primary concern was the fiscal pressures that appear to be driving the UC to delist non-official UMC seminaries to funnel students (and dollars) to their own institutions. The way the current system is set up it guarantees at least the appearance of conflict of interest. Several years ago AMBS, a Mennonite Seminary in Indiana, was delisted. That is what began this conversation. This is a seminary that people in Indiana were pleased with. DSs saw quality pastors coming from there. BOM was pleased with candidates. Then bam--delisted without any consultation. (They have worked out a program with Garrett to allow students to study there again in some fashion. In part to allow those world renowned pacifist studies to continue to be accessed.) We also have a fairly new seminary here, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan. We have UMC Elders who teach there. Many of us would like to see it added to the approved seminary list. Indiana Wesleyan had 435 students in 2015, of which I believe approximately 30 have some United Methodist ties. They have 9 full time faculty of which two, Dr. Safiyah Fousa and Dr Kwsi Kena are ordained UM Clergy. Both have served in extension ministries for the General Church and are highly respected. So seriously, this really isn't the working of a vast right-wing conspiracy. You might legitimately argue that this petition might have unintended consequences. Or that the exact makeup proposed isn't quite right. But seriously--not thought police. Not on this one. Trust me. Shoot--go talk to Phil Amerson. He disagrees with me sharply on this proposal. (He spoke against it at AC. Although we only got 1 minute each.) But we talked on the phone for over an hour about it. He will tell you that at no time did I sound like one of the fundamentalists that overtook Southern Seminary in the SB Convention.Delete
I happen to go to one of the "threatened to be delisted" seminaries: Evangelical Theological Seminary in Myerstown, PA. Many UM students go there from all over the Commonwealth. The theological stance is decidedly Wesleyan, as it is coming from the Evangelical Association stream. The only other listed Seminary in the area is Lancaster Theological Seminary. It's the official seminary of the UCC. There was no threat to delist LTS, and yet it's theological stance is decidedly different. For solidly Wesleyan students from south central PA, Evangelical is the only choice short of driving to Drew or Wesley.Delete
So what is the use of Scripture if it is not the only truth? God Himself states that He is truth and He reveals Himself in Scripture. If "new" truth comes along it either has to be backed by Scripture, thus making it no longer new, or it makes God a liar as He says k in Ecclesaticies " there is nothing new under the sun" this would include truth. God may change some things based on something better such as the New Covenant freeing us from the rules of the old, but He does not make new truth based on how society wants things to be today.ReplyDelete
Who are you to tell GOD what He can't do. God's truth can be revealed anew any day, any time, without your permission. God never promised to be consistent or that he can't improve. He can be SHE and do anything She damn well pleases. If you can't find any use for Scripture that you disagree with perhaps you should take another look. The Scriptures are about God being new every moment for eternity.Delete
By the way here is an alarming statement from Bishop Willamon on delisting seminaries. He said it in 2010 and I'll give you the citation to Christianity Today. At the time he was an active Bishop and on the UC! "We have a number of United Methodist seminaries that are really struggling [financially]," he said. "It's [an] encouragement for United Methodist students to go to United Methodist schools that need students." The senate considers whether an approved seminary offers classes on Methodist doctrine, employs any Methodist faculty, or is located near any official Methodist seminaries.”, Willimon said. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/19.18.htmlReplyDelete
Anyone who really cares about theological diversity should want the UC make up to change in a way that doesn't allow for "protectionism". It is not just evangelical schools like Gordon Conwell that are in danger of being delisted. It is any non-UMC owned seminary. (With the possible exception of Asbury which has strong support and would be unlikely to be delisted in this way.)
This blog misrepresents the truth about the petitions from Mr. Joel Watts. That petition explicitly allows for exceptions to the doctrinal requirements for seminary faculty, that could potentially include Jewish or even atheist seminary faculty, provided no more than 3 faculty are hired as exceptions to this provision. So really the issue is why you believe 3 non-Christian faculty is too few a proportion to have at our seminaries. And while you obviously disagree with the theology of these petitions, I would ask you to please try to be honest in how you represent United Methodists who are less progressive than yourself.ReplyDelete
Dalton, I cannot forgive you for Dr. Arnold or Rev. Cook, but I can forgive you for your misrepresentation of my petition and my rationale.ReplyDelete
Interesting post, Dalton. Picking up for UM Insight, with your permission.ReplyDelete
If you pick this up I hope you will have the journalistic integrity mention my objections.Delete
I don't think the UMC has any obligation to seminaries who do not wish to meet the standards set by the United Methodist Church and that we should do all that we can to encourage our students to attend the 13 UM seminaries.ReplyDelete
Por fin encontré a alguien que no sólo sabe de Dios, sino que conoce a Dios, saludos AndyReplyDelete