With social media, we have many new ways to connect in church life. Historical boundaries set by geography are diminished, allowing access by anyone who would search for us online.
For some, this media revolution has opened up new forms of community, growth, and inspiration. For others, it has tested the boundaries of modesty, privacy, and decency. For those prone to feel scandal, online religious media can become a catalyst for conflict. This presents an opportunity for the propagandist who will gather and amplify what is most likely to inflame anxiety and alienation. The goal is polarization and radicalization that drives individuals and factions to act out in ways that may be against friends, family, and their own best interests.
Propaganda has contributed to the division of the United Methodist Church. Inflamed by propaganda, over 100 churches within my annual conference have entered a process to sever historic relationships with the United Methodist Church. The church I serve is not in this process.
Yesterday, I watched an online video of a disaffiliation discernment session held in the sanctuary of a local church. It was difficult to watch. I love my clergy brother who is appointed there, but this suspension of the trust clause also suspended his constitutional right to fair process. With the “discernment process,” factions of laity are free to put the UMC on trial, arguing whether or not to continue his employment and their relationship to the UMC. He is not alone in this peril.
At one point, the presiding church officer stated the reason some desire disaffiliation: the refusal of conference officials to enforce rules against gay people and their allies. This grievance impacts families in that church but is prompted by situations entirely outside that local church. This external stimulus, amplified by propaganda, provided the sole warrant for unleashing a congregationalist trial process they acknowledge will bring destructive and traumatic consequences to their church regardless of who wins.
Are we entitled to a flawless, homogeneous, like-minded church?
I am in my 28th year under appointment in the UMC. As an advocate for Hispanic Methodism, there has never been a time when I felt my own values aligned fully with the values of the majority or those in power. Through the practice of ministry, some aspects of my understanding and values have changed. Consequently, I have stood, written, spoken, ministered, and voted on both sides of the sexuality debate.
Every year at Clergy Session, I heard the question raised: Are all blameless in administration?
The answer was always chosen and written already: “yes.” That means I was blameless when I was anti-gay even as I am blameless now for repenting of that perspective and conduct.
What does it mean to be blameless in administration?
A blameless administration would be finished with colonialism and racism. Our churches of color would prosper and the UMC would reflect the ethnic diversity of our ministerial context. Blameless clergy would never seek to maximize and flaunt their privilege while minimizing their responsibility or put more trust in money, personality, and popularity than they put in God. A blameless administration would not defund its own missions in order to provide inequitable support to those making the decisions. Blameless authority would be free of cronyism, nepotism, gender, wealth, and cultural bias. Blameless churches would celebrate the opportunity to share the cost and oversight of ministry. Blameless power would have no fear of truth, welcoming honest and civil debate in uncensored media and political assemblies. The blameless would never marginalize or repress intellectuals, critics, advocates, prophets, or the common person. The blameless would render faithful and transparent stewardship of souls, finances, properties, and process, shunning conflicts of interest, secrets, cover-ups, and payoffs. The blameless would defend our institutions beginning with the most vital and vulnerable and protect those who serve in mutual loyalty. A blameless church would not shun evidence, science, or the testimony of those with greatest experience.
Is the UMC blameless? Will the alternative be blameless? If not, we will continue to blame others while ignoring our own flaws, and our blame will remain whether we stay our leave.
Without honesty or repentance, our claim to blamelessness will continue to humiliate those whose lives, ministries, and communities have been ignored, silenced, marginalized, and sacrificed on the unjust scales of pride, greed, bias, selfishness, inequity, and double-standards.
I can say that we are not “all blameless” because I am not blameless. I am a sinner. I kneel before the table of my Savior. My pleading hands are stained with the same blood that he offers me to drink. My life is nourished by the same body that I nailed to the cross. A blameless church would not be invited to this meal.
Four years ago, a precious friend and mentor invited me to leave with him into the “new” denomination he was helping organize. This gracious invitation came after he learned that I no longer shared his perspective on human sexuality. Had I accepted, I would have become their first dissident!
As we were finishing our lunch, I took a piece of cornbread, cut it in half, handed him the other half, and said, “here is your half of the people and problems of the UMC. Go plant this in the ground and try to grow corn.” Division of an already homogeneous church in order to create even more homogeneity is just one more expression of consumption.
My choice to remain in the UMC in spite of flaws and painful experiences does not mean that I celebrate, enjoy, or benefit from corruption, betrayal, and suffering. I decide to stay because there is nowhere I can go where people will be blameless. I thank God that there is also nowhere I can go to escape the love, mercy, and calling of Jesus that saves me from my blame.
16 thoughts on “Blameless”
Your continued by biased commentary regarding leaving the UMC is getting tiresome. You continue to use examples of local churches who are biblically based as not being concerned with their pastors future or they are dealing with issues far outside their purview. They have the right. If the UMC name is connected to them they are saying they support the rampant sin taking place in the larger church. The UMC is apostate. Rather than influencing society it has been taken over by societal norms and the woke culture. Then these churches leaving this apostate denomination are accused of not having “love” or forgiveness in their hearts. far be it. It is love that points out a sinners sin. It is Jesus who said go and sin no more. What does the UMC denomination do? Accepts practicing sinful lifestyles. Voting in bishops who are OPENLY defying the Scriptures and BOD. And bishops who act as gods over conferences. Taking property from good people who built and paid for the churches they are in. This process which was agreed upon in 2019 is now a tool of the liberal elite who speak for the UMC now. It is nothing less than extortion. It’s all about money and power to you people to n the “high” offices disconnected from believing Christian’s in the local church. Shame!
Thank you for providing our readers with this perspective. The charge of apostasy is indeed the basis of the “discernment” trial process taking place in many churches.
Your “reply” may qualify as an example of a “Narcissistic Word Salad,” a circular language tactic where you ensure that the article writer’s viewpoint is not received on its merits as a positive contribution to the conversation. Word salad: Apostate, Shame, Sinful, Tiresome, Biblically-based, Woke, and Extortion–all of it written to obfuscate the point made in the article. No one is blameless. But then you unfurl your true colors: “Taking property from good people who built and paid for the churches they are in.” Here’s what I learned from reading the Bible and following Jesus: It’s never right to do something wrong to do something right. Ever. You’re about the money, but most people in UM churches didn’t pay a dime or give time to build the churches they sit and serve in. They inherited those churches from those who came before them who, with missionary zeal, built churches as outposts of Word, Sacrament, and Service. Those ancestors expected their churches to remain in the denomination through thick and thin and everything in between. If the UMC is apostate (it isn’t), then go with missionary zeal and plant churches. It’s not right to take what doesn’t belong to you (a wrong) to do what you think is right. Do what the ancestors did: stand on your beliefs, make sacrifices, and build something new.
What a wonderfully worded and well thought out piece of literature. The writer expresses my reason as a layperson to remain and to work hard to be the best I can and as Wesley said in his sermon, ‘A Caution Against Bigotry’, “…it is much easier to despise (or pretend to despise) an argument than to answer it.” I thought about leaving Methodism to find a haven but realized not one exists and so I stay to work at being blameless instead.
The Wesleyan Spirit: seeking Christian perfection rather than seeking perfect Christians.
It is about the Bible; it is about Jesus’ words to us to love our neighbors as ourselves, it is about his sacrifice so we can be sin-free in God’s eyes, it is about Faith in God’s Word; it is about truth and honor and self discipline to follow Jesus. It is not about Gays, LGBTQ, Bishops who lie and violate the BOD; it is not about drag queens in pulpits. The final word is IT IS ABOUT LIVING FOR AND IN JESUS. We must always put Jesus and HIS Words first. Just a lay leader’s simple view of loving Jesus not this World. I pray UMC will return to Jesus.
Well said! And the focus of the article is about propaganda and casting stones at members that take a Wesleyan approach to believing that we are in the world to influence the world and not to become like the world. Thus, in his own words, he reinforces where most of the propaganda lies! To fault those that say, we have a Discipline and a General Conference that are the basis of this denomination and expect those in absolute power to honor their covenant made with the membership, is beyond belief! With the covenant in tatters and being flaunted in churches and with members daily, it is expected that ‘discernment’ would occur. And to use 2553 with punitive actions so it is unusable in many areas, is also indefensible.
We are called to love people and to invite them to Christ, but we are not to forgive sin as only God can do that. We ask the writer to create another piece that does not try to justify the arbitrary deconstruction of the denomination on those with firm beliefs. Look inward first and get his own house in order! We refuse to pay for such as is going on within the denomination and it is time to leave. Stop trying to impede the fair use of discernment just because of personal views that are not defensible to many of us. Consider discernment just another version of ‘consequences’ and the application of ‘justice’ coming from those expected to fund anything without accountability! Just another laity view.
You express the feelings of many. I have left the Methodist with no intention of returning. I have been disappointed at every turn
Thank you for a well thought out letter. Let him without sin throw the first stone. Sin is sin and who decides which sin is worse.
Affirming sin? No thank you. 38 years as a member of the UMC. Weak leadership for decades is the reason why we are where we currently find ourselves.
I respect your decision to remain in one more apostate mainline church. My family has been involved in te Methodist Church from before the U.S. Civil War. One of my ancestors was a Methodist pastor in Georgia during the 19th century. So we all have history in the Methodist denomination. I have thought long and hard on my decision to leave the UMC since first joining the Confessing Movement that has now evolved into the Global Methodist Church.
This is not political, though I cannot escape the politically correct secular society that America has become emulated by UMC. For me, and I suspect many others, this is Biblical, not even denominational, though the UMC Book of Discipline is supposed to be based in the Bible. I speak against the outright disobedience of God’s unchanged Word by UMC Bishops, Pastors, and Laity.
I will be a bit specific. This LGBTQ+ stance isn’t over my refusal to minister to these poor people. It is against practicing homosexuals serving as Bishops, Pastors and the Lay Leaders; the so-called wedding of same sex people from the church pulpit beneath the UMC roof, by Bishops and Padtors. It is against a denomination that has long been soft on the murder of preborn innocent babies as it slouches toward full approval of this infanticide. It is against lies, accusations, and plain fraud that is seen in the UMC backing out of the agreement made in 2019 with disaffiliating churches that allowed Methodist congregations to graciously exit with their property, while the General Conference is repeatedly and unnecessarily delayed. This list that I have stated could easily grow longer to speak of the money issues, but I believe that my point is made.
I greatly regret being forced to depart, but I no longer am comfortable worshipping Almighty God in the UMC facilities. I will depart after much thought and many restless days, but I will find a church that worships Christ Jesus without disobeying the Father’s Word or blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
For the record, I attend Northern Hills UMC in San Antonio, Texas and spent several years at St. Matthews UMC in San Antonio. I will continue as a lay member at NHUMC until a decision is made on disaffiliation.
Shalom in Yeshua ha’Mashiach
Thank you for your comment. Is your church doing the “discernment process”? (Without that process, there is no vote on disaffiliation.) If so, how is that going?
Thank you for this thoughtful commentary. I and the congregation I serve plan to remain within the UMC as well. We are better together despite our differences of opinion and interpretation of Scripture. I pray that God will use both the UMC and GMC to fulfill God’s will.
Thank you, brother John, for you thoughtful and necessary example of a legitimate contemporary apologetic essay. We need more like this! It’s a nice change from what we’ve been offered from the Insitute on Religion and Democracy. I might gently remind you, however, that the doctrine of ‘Assurance’ suggests that it might be a sin to spend too much time dissecting the past, especially when you’re still on the clock! ( Jesus too indulged in a certain amount of rhetorical hyperbole.)
As a retired GBGM missionary, I am grateful, since I can’t go now, that the UMC, via GBGM and UMCOR, despite our blameworthy shortcomings, is able to send and coordinate help to 45,000 earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria. While we are debating our ‘storm in a doctrinal teacup’, the real storms of life are not abating. I wonder how the so- called GMC ( ‘gnostic montanist cult’?) will be responding to this earthquake or others. Or to the continued murder of children, the next display of police violence or incompetence, melting glaciers, droughts, floods, and increasing wildland fires, the plight of refugees around the globe, famine, hunger, and the next pandemic? Of course the Bible is primary; it mandates a response to the real suffering in the world, beyond our collective sacred navel gazing. Let justice (mishpat) roll! (Amos 5:21-24)
God Bless the UMC Do all the good you can and to everyone you can~~~!!!!!
John Feagin writes that anyone who is leaving must be wanting a “..homogenous church…” Yikes. This kind of language is what inflames the fire. I am probably one of the few people from the midwest (now west) that heard Karen P. Oliveto preach one of her last sermons before she became Bishop. I almost fainted. Her lay leader spoke beforehand and proudly announced he was NOT a Christian, NOT a United Methodist, but a “Glidian” (Glide UMC), and everyone clapped–including Oliveto–I had to keep my husband from leaving the church. The sermon followed suit. The message was about current events–and God was thrown in as a sidebar.
My heart has grown weary–from praying that we return to being Christ’s followers.