Do We Need a Catholic Order of Methodists?

Would you burn down your house because the furnace needed repairs?  Obviously not.  But the current disagreement, discussion, and proposed remedies over the issue of human sexuality within The United Methodist Church seems to be following that line of logic.  When applied anywhere else, it seems obvious.  If your engine is misfiring, you don’t rebuild the transmission.  If your bicycle has a flat tire, you don’t disassemble it and sell its parts.   Unfortunately, that seems to be how most everyone has been approaching the disagreement within our church.

But maybe there’s another solution that doesn’t involve burning down the house.

Let me explain.

The way that I see it, there are two principal disagreements within the church regarding human sexuality.  First, those persons who feel that sex outside of a monogamous, heterosexual relationship is sinful believe that they cannot, in good conscience, formalize or bless such a relationship.  And second, those same persons have difficulty belonging to a church that would ordain pastors and bishops who are in such relationships. 

Oddly, while both are disagreements over the role and membership of clergy, the solutions being proposed to the next General Conference in 2020 is to split up the church by forcing the laity to vote.  But if we are having a disagreement over the role and membership of the clergy, why isn’t anyone offering a solution that divides the clergy instead of dividing the laity?

Although this may seem strange, I think we might find a solution in the Catholic Church.  While my knowledge of the intricacies of the Catholic Church is admittedly weak, I know that within that structure there are at least three different orders who, to me, seem to be orders of priests and not laity, Dominicans, Jesuits, and Benedictines.  Without worrying about how these orders work within the Catholic system, this division, I think, points to a solution for United Methodists.

Rather than dividing churches and laity over a disagreement over the role of the clergy, why not simply divide the clergy?  I think a division of clergy solves our immediate problem, without dividing the laity or the church, better than the solutions that I’ve seen proposed to date. 

Here’s what I’m suggesting:  Under the existing United Methodist structure, we create a new order of clergy, the name doesn’t matter.  But those clergy that choose to belong to the new order, in line with their conscience, would be prohibited from performing LGBT weddings or officiating in the ordination of such persons.  Local churches, under such a system, would not choose whether to leave the denomination, but would vote, as a congregation, on two things.  First, would that congregation accept a pastor that only belonged to the new order, would they only accept a pastor that did not belong to the order, or would they accept a pastor from either the order.  Second, the church would vote whether they would be willing to allow same sex unions to be conducted in their building.  Churches could, therefore, accept a pastor from the new order while still allowing same sex marriages to be officiated in their church if there were an officiant (not the church pastor) willing to do so.

While there would be some significant logistical issues with such a system, rather than forcing local churches to vote on its denominational affiliation, bishops (and their cabinets) would be responsible to match churches with pastors (much as they already do) with some, admittedly, new and complicating differentiation.  Two obvious consequences would be that it would complicate the appointment process, and that it would likely necessitate the elimination of guaranteed appointment for ordained elders.  The second simply because, in many cases, there would be a significant disparity between the number of available clergy (of one type or the other) and the number of churches willing to accept them.

The advantage of such a system, of course, is that while the clergy would be divided, the church would remain whole.

Maybe we can take a hint from the Catholic Church.

Why burn down the house if you can fix the furnace?

 

 

 

 


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Fear

Special General Conference

Fear

This is it.

As I write this, the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church will begin its session at the end of this week.  Delegates from around the world have already begun their journeys to St. Louis for their deliberations.  This appears to be a great watershed moment and the future of the United Methodist Church will be forever changed.

We worry.

Some of us may even experience fear.

I admit to being concerned.  Many of the proposals specifically designed to hold our church together will instead drive the church apart or accelerate its decline. 

So, what will we do?

My advice, to those who have asked me, is to relax (a little).  There are many proposals that the General Conference will consider but they are not obligated to pass any of them.  They might choose one, but it is more likely that they will craft something new from pieces taken from among the various proposals or, at the very least, modify one of those proposals before passing it.  There is also a reasonable chance that they won’t pass anything at all and decide that the best way to keep us together, however unhappily, is not to change anything.  And finally, there is a chance that some elements of whatever may get “kicked down the road” for debate at the regular General Conference in 2020.

But, assuming that the General Conference passes something, then what?

Still, my advice is that we should still not get excited too quickly.

Some proposed changes may require ratification by the annual conferences and that would take a year before the results were known.  But even if a major change were to be passed by the Special General Conference, many of those changes would require Annual Conference action.  And, since our Annual Conference doesn’t meet until June, nothing could happen until then, and understanding the difficulty of preparing that legislation for the Annual Conference, there is a fair chance that we wouldn’t take any action as a conference until June of 2020.  Other actions that are being proposed would open a window for churches to decide and in most cases, we would have a year or so to choose a path forward.

Are you confused?  Of course, you are.

At this point the road ahead looks like a bowl of spaghetti, or a road map of the Los Angeles freeways.  That is precisely why I have been advising folks not to get too excited.  The path ahead, for now, is confusing and unknown.  But, once the General Conference passes something, whether that is next month or in 2020, then the path ahead, and our options, will become much clearer.

And until it does, we will continue to be in ministry to the people around us as Christ Church has for over a hundred years.  For now, we should continue to pray for all of the General Conference delegates.

Trust that God knows what is going to happen.

Have faith that God is in control.

Try not to worry.

And fear not.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

– Isaiah 41:10

 


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