The Way Forward for the UMC: Getting Rid of Her Pastors

Jason Micheli —  June 10, 2014 — 11 Comments

Church-RainbowLast week I received a book in the mail, gratis: Seeing Black and White in a World of Gray. In both its title and cover design, the book presents itself as the doppleganger to Adam Hamilton’s ‘Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.’

843504001902‘Seeing Black and White’ purports to be the orthodox correction to Hamilton’s insufficiently biblical, conservative, traditional, historic, theological, _____________ book.

My church folks will be the first to tell you that I’m neither a Hamilton aficionado nor apologist. His books and sermons have always struck me as so intentionally unoffensive as to be uninteresting. I’ve always thought him too vanilla, serving up barely spoonful of medicine with all the helpings of safe, saccharine piety.

This is a confession that will probably prevent my ascension to bishop but I’ve even (and often) joked that Adam Hamilton would be the perfect pastor for the First Church of Pleasantville– before the residents of the cinematic town discovered color.

But apparently my estimations of Hamilton as milk-toast, whitebread, and benign to the point of narcolepsy were wrong because somehow he’s managed to offend the black-and-white residents of the United Methodist Church.

Let me pause there and just reiterate the point:

The fact Adam Hamilton has managed to offend an entire segment of the UMC- offend to the point of provoking a rival book- says much more about the self-righteous, persecuted self-image of the offended backers of Seeing Black and White than it does Adam Hamilton.

You can judge a lot by a book’s cover. That ‘Seeing Black and White’ mimics (mocks?) Hamilton’s book and is not published by the official publishing house of the United Methodist reveals much about the state of the denomination.

The introduction alone to the book damns Hamilton with faint ‘bless his heart’ praise for his leadership and pastoral wisdom while accusing him of elementary missteps of logic and contradictions against the plain reading of scripture.

The rest of the book goes on to deconstruct Hamilton’s work and to argue the traditional perspective on marriage and sexuality. There’s nothing surprising or new in the book save the posturing of its title, it’s self-professed brave stand against the ‘gray’ of our postmodern, permissive relativistic society.

Indeed the only real surprise in Seeing Black and White is the delusion that what this stymied debate needs is but another impassioned exegesis of the conservative (or the liberal) position.

You’d think if it’s one thing conservatives and liberals could agree upon it’s that both sides are well aware of the other’s facts, texts and arguments.

Seeing Black and White is a clever title given its a rejoinder to Seeing Gray.

Still, while I’m neither liberal nor conservative, I have to admit I’m at a loss how anyone could seriously survey our culture, which is hyper-partisan to the point of dysfunction, and come away with the conclusion that what our world or Church needs MORE of is black-and-white thinking.

Black and white is exactly what ails my (increasingly) little corner of the Christian world.

Case in point, last night I viewed a live chat on Twitter hosted by Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter, two of the primary sponsors of A Way Forward, a proposed third way through the Church’s impasse on sexuality.

In a nutshell the third way boils down to this statement:

We propose that the United Methodist Church entrust to each local church the authority to determine how they will be in ministry with gay and lesbian people   including whether they will, or will not, allow for homosexual marriages or unions.

The live chat I viewed involved Methodists, mostly pastors, from all over the country discussing the (de)merits of A Way Forward.

I sat transfixed the way one is when there’s pileup of cars and limbs strewn across the highway.

Karl Barth once quipped derisively that it’s a miracle any one comes to Church expecting to hear a word from the Lord. Watching the ticker-tape of mean-spirited condescension and self-righteous finger-wagging from my duly ordained colleagues, Barth’s words hit home last night, revealing the true sinfulness of this debate.

It’s not simply that one side has equated their view with ‘biblical authority’ and the other with ‘the Gospel of inclusion and love’ such that to compromise isn’t just impossible but immoral, for it would be to compromise either the scriptural word or the Word Made Flesh.

It’s not simply that the heels-dug-in nature of both the liberal and conservative views prevents the Church from addressing more urgent concerns like poverty in the developing world and discipleship in the post-Christian one. arnoldbook

No, the true sin is that the assumed righteousness of the conservatives’ and liberals’ respective causes is so BLACK AND WHITE that it leads to- and even justifies- self-righteousness.

There’s something wrong with a position when pastor upon pastor on Twitter don’t even pretend to be practicing what they preach.

I don’t give a damn about what Romans 1 says or what part of Leviticus Jesus never contradicted or who is the 21st century equivalent of the eunuch Phillip came across in the Book of Acts. None of that matters.

Because  there’s something very wrong about the ‘rightness’ of a cause that permits ministers to be mean and blithely so.

As in most things, I think Barth was right.

It’s a miracle people even go to Church given what I see from her leaders on Facebook and Twitter and Tumbler.

And maybe Adam Hamilton is wrong.

Maybe the best way forward for the UMC is for its members to get rid of its pastors. Maybe then they could find the path to comprise.

Jason Micheli

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11 responses to The Way Forward for the UMC: Getting Rid of Her Pastors

  1. Maybe after the UMC members get rid of their pastors they can get rid of their bibles too; then harmony and unity will dawn.

  2. Honestly this post seems a bit flippant, because like “poverty in the developing world” this debate leaves actual victims. To lay blame with both ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ suggests that the debate (i.e. real human beings caught in the middle) has merits on both sides with seemingly equal outcomes if one side prevails over the other. This isn’t a morally ambiguous situation like “should we have traditional or contemporary worship.” There is a righteous position and an unrighteous position, and so the blame for the acrid environment should fall on the shoulders of those on the wrong side.

  3. You should have been watching baseball, it is less hurtful.

  4. As a non-methodist “lurker,” I appreciate the survey of the present arguments on the marriage issue. I have a convicted position on the issue myself, but my question is about the sentence near the end of the essay, “Because there’s something very wrong about the ‘rightness’ of a cause that permits ministers to be mean and blithely so.” I’m wondering about the use of the term “mean,” primarily because it can be used in so many ways, but today seems to point primarily to the intentions of one’s soul or emotional state. It seems a deflection from the question of what black and white action to DO in our “gray” world. One can do the right thing for a thousand different reasons, but it is still good that the “right” thing was done. While we see the hurt and pain of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, is that the only or even the main consideration in this dialogue?

    • I shouldn’t speak for Jason, but what think he means when he writes about ministers being “mean” is that for any Christian (and especially an ordained pastor), we are commanded to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). I don’t know what specific incidents Jason may be referring to, but I get the impression that some folks’ emotions and passions may have gotten out of hand. This would be a sin, plain and simple. “Truth”, assuming you possess it, is never a license to be “mean” in the defense of your view.

      That’s one of the reasons why over and over again on this blog I keep returning to the theme of the bible (the whole bible) as the source of truth and our faith. Our connection will not thrive or survive if we don’t ground ourselves in the authority of the Bible (the whole bible), beginning always with Jesus’ command to love each other.

      • Jason Micheli June 11, 2014 at 3:21 PM

        Yes that’s mostly what I had in mind Jean. And I do think the bible is important on this matter, I just don’t agree that the conservative perspective is the only one with biblical backing. I’ll have to repost those old blogs about the bible and homosexuality. I think they said everything I have to say on the matter.

        • Thanks Jason. I’ve read your blogs on the topic. I’ve also read Preston Sprinkles’ many blogs on the topic including his review of the book by Matthew Vines. I’ve also read the Bible and Ben Witherington’s commentary on the topic. I try the best I can to be open minded and will continue to be so. At this point, however, I’m not persuaded by any so called progressive interpretation of the relevant biblical texts. So, in the place I’m in, I can do nothing else but follow and try to be obedient to scripture as I believe teaches. Would you have me do anything less?

          It is true that I’m not my brother’s judge, so I don’t respond with judgment or hate to others who believe differently. But at the same time, I can’t confer God’s blessing on something I believe is contrary to scripture, and I can’t expect others to confer God’s blessing on something they believe is contrary to scripture. If I (or they) did that, the gospel, in my opinion would fall apart and everything would become relative. That is why I personally believe a split is the best solution. It would allow people to worship with in fidelity to what they believe.

    • Jason Micheli June 11, 2014 at 3:19 PM

      Perhaps I wasn’t clear T because I didn’t mean to imply that only the conservatives seem to feel the freedom to be ugly since their cause is a righteous one. Equating conservative position with bigotry to a person is no different than those who insist the liberal position has no scriptural or theological warrant.

  5. “Meanness,’ like ‘politeness’ I believe are often thrown around by those in a position of power to silence opposition. Let’s call a spade a spade, in this issue one side’s inherent argument is essentially just ‘meanness,’ exclusion-persecution-rejection. You can say “the Bible condemns homosexuality” in the nicest, sugar-coated way possible and it is still essentially a ‘mean’ (i.e. cruel) statement. To say both sides launch into this argument with equal meanness is just not true.

  6. Andrew, for those of us who believe that the Bible is the word of God, you are in essence saying that God is mean and cruel. For those of us who believe the Bible is the word of God, we believe that when he tells us not to do certain things it’s because he loves us, not because he’s mean. God is not mean. To say that God is mean if he doesn’t permit his creatures to do whatever they desire does not make any sense. God is our heavenly father. Do we consider our earthly fathers mean if they place things off limits to us for our own good?

  7. By the way Andrew, and I ask this sincerely, in your opinion is there any way for a brother to hold to a traditional interpretation of scripture without being declared mean or cruel?

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