This is the opinion piece which appeared in the May 2018 edition of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate. If you are looking for the essay introducing our congregations to the current crisis it can be found here. This short essay addresses the two proposals by our Council of Bishops to resolve that crisis.
There comes a time when nuanced phrasing and parsed words contribute to misunderstanding and a false sense that our critical disagreements are unimportant. There is a time to use what John Wesley called “great plainness of speech,” as he did in the sermon that got him permanently barred from the Oxford pulpit. This essay uses great plainness of speech.
For regular readers, there is little new in it. That is because all that can be said really has been said. The time for dialogue is over.
The two proposals set forth by the Council of Bishops do not represent the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. They look much more like the result of consultations with the executive committee of the Council and leaders of General Church agencies. The guiding principle for each of the two ways is, “There is no understanding of the work of Christ that can’t be set aside for a dollar bill.” Under these plans, we would be more honest in exchanging our “open hearts” motto for, “Anything for a buck.” The COB proposals do not resolve our differences but underscore how much deeper they are than mere sexuality issues and how thorough is the corruption in the United Methodist Church in North America.
The pastor steps off the plane bringing him from a Las Vegas book signing on stewardship…jumps into the back of the limo and while the driver speeds along the pastor changes into blue jeans and t-shirt. Arriving at the church just in time to take the stage following a rousing, rocking, musical exhibition, and, as the spotlight hits, he begins to speak on behalf of a God who said, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” The comedy is that nobody laughs.
The pastor arrives at a guaranteed appointment in a $40,000 automobile which is essential for towing a $25,000 boat. Drapes a $200 rainbow stole over a $400 robe with hand sewn black Velvet panels which covers all of the worldly raiment except for the $175 shoes. All of which were made by children in an Asian sweat shop. Then she climbs into the pulpit to speak on behalf of a God who said, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have your reward…”
The tragedy is that nobody cries.
Thus are the symptoms of corruption in the Church which permeates her in North America as much today as in the days of Chaucer’s Canterbury. By corruption I do not mean deceit, dishonesty, nor fraud. To the contrary, the corruption is in the open, agreed upon, and generally approved. It is called decadence. It is represented in those who justify and celebrate a moral and cultural decline while enjoying the comfortable indulgences to which their position affords them. It comes from a forgetfulness of holy purpose followed by diverting the resources intended to build the City of God into private construction projects.
The corruption is evidenced in Bishops and common clergy who are abided with when they deny the incarnation, the bodily resurrection, and even the atoning blood of Christ. They are permitted to participate in and promote carnal lust and licentiousness. Nothing will disturb their pleasurable estate as long as they know the one rule—the one offense which must not be tolerated—the one cause that will bring abrupt consequences to even the most privileged of their number: “Don’t touch the money!” Keep the cash flowing to the denominational Rome
and you have purchased your position.
These are proposals from those who have never offered an altar call in their entire career. We are led by the ones who console the troubled sinner with the words, “Don’t worry. Jesus never changed my life and he won’t ask you to change yours either.” They have recommended a Way Forward for those who make people comfortable on the road to hell. “Put on a good show. Keep the parish quiet. Send in the money, and take out enough for yourself for a Holy Land cruise or a Las Vegas symposium on stewardship.” These are the Bishops who close the churches that cannot provide properly for the clergy rather than providing the clergy to properly care for the churches. This call for unity by the Council of Bishops is not unity in Christ. It is neither unity of purpose nor of mission. They seek a unity of property…a unity of the purse. Their unity is that of a contractual obligation which can be enforced in civil court.
The Commission on A Way Forward offered a plan that would preserve the covenants already agreed to. The Bishop’s rejected that plan. The COWF promised that each plan would include an exit strategy for those who could not in good conscience abide with the church’s direction. The Bishop’s trashed that promise.
General Conference 2019 should trash the Bishops plans.