Happenings Around the Church, July 15, 2010

By Dr. Riley Case

I was speaking with a fellow pastor several years ago and inquired whether he and his church might be interested in the Good News magazine. He replied no because they were upset enough with the denomination as it was without hearing more stuff. He went on to explain that the denominational papers were bad enough even with their institutional spin. If his people got the real news they would be tempted to “jump ship.”

So it is. In this pastor’s mind it is better to keep the people in the dark than that they should be informed about what the church was really doing. I thought of that conversation several weeks ago when the following stories broke:

1) Claremont School of Theology. The UM seminary in California is now “multi-faith” meaning they are bringing on board Muslim professors to train Muslim imama (clergy) and Jewish professors to train rabbis. Soon they will train Hindus and Buddhists. UM apportionment monies support this endeavor to the tune of about 1 million dollars a year. In a world of great poverty, in a world crying out for preachers to claim the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ, in a denomination short of funds, our tithes and offerings are being used to promote the idea that all religions are various roads to the same god. The president of the seminary, Dr. Jerry Campbell, has said that persons who seek to evangelize persons of other faiths to accept Jesus Christ have “an incorrect perception of what it means to follow Jesus.”

2) “Sex and the Church-an Ordained Single Woman and the Discipline.” This article, part of a series on human sexuality appearing in the Faith and Action electronic newsletter sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society, argues basically that the church’s standard on sexuality, “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage,” needs to be changed. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage can be loving and fulfilling and should not be considered sinful, even for clergy. In August, 2009, a Unitarian minister was given space to make a somewhat similar argument. Other articles in the series have argued that abstinence programs don’t work, teen-agers need to be instructed in maturity for the timing of sexual encounters, and abortion is OK.

Missing are articles that are written from the perspective of the traditional and Biblical view of marriage and human sexuality. Missing for the last 38 years (since 1972 when the board was founded) are any articles or statements in defense of the Biblical (and United Methodist) stance that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

3) The church’s support and lobbying for the Democrat health care plan recently passed by the congress. When Nancy Pelosi thanked the UM Church for its support in passing the Democrat’s health plan it took many UM’s by surprise. How did we get lined up on only one side of a partisan issue? Those who have been around the inside workings of the church were not so surprised. It used to be different. Many years ago the church’s moral and social stances came from the people. There were no general agencies to pontificate that the use of alcohol was sin or the slavery was against the will of God. These views grew out of the convictions of the people responding to Biblical preaching. Today social stances are decreed from the top down. General agencies, such as the General Board of Church and Society, are staffed by some of the most liberal persons in the denomination. These persons write General Conference legislation out of their own biases. This legislation is pushed through the General Conference, often without debate, and placed in the 1084-page Book of Resolutions. Then the same staff members who wrote the legislation quote the Book of Resolutions, “represent” the “church’s stand” on numbers of controversial issues, and argue before lawmakers that this is the considered United Methodist position. Obviously, the system is flawed.

Perhaps as never before there is a fundamental divide between the corporate leadership of the United Methodist Church and its people. In addition, the corporate leadership is either unwilling or unable to recognize the seriousness of this problem and relate it to the membership and financial crisis presently facing the church.

The Claremont situation should be considered as exhibit #1 illustrating our problems.
That a denomination that claims to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that speaks of its mission as making disciples of Jesus Christ, that operates with doctrinal standards in the Wesleyan tradition, that historically has been in large part responsible for defining the word “evangelical” in American church life-that such a denomination should continue to pour money into an institution that operates with a philosophy that undermines all that United Methodism has been about, is indefensible.

Claremont operates without regard to United Methodist history and doctrine. It has declared itself to be going in a different direction from the church. This is fine, but this means there should be disaffiliation. Let the school raise money from sources in the Middle East (as it has spoken of doing). But why should bishops urge local churches to cut back staff and program to “pay apportionments” when those apportionments are used as “bail out” money to prop up sick seminaries. Furthermore, MEF (Ministerial Education Fund) monies should support students (who graduate with huge debts), not institutions. And, if the fund supports seminaries it should support seminaries overseas where the church is growing, and not be restricted only to seminaries in the states.

Are these matters even being debated? The Council of Bishops is quiet; the General Board of Higher Education and the Ministry is quiet; the other UM seminaries are hesitant to criticize another seminary lest they too should come under criticism.

Is there hope? At the moment the only hope seems to be the Call to Action Committee, which will be making recommendations with the goal of reforming and renewing the church. The church is investing a great deal of energy and trust in this committee. Will the committee rise to the challenge? Will the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops be willing to support any of the controversial recommendations? Or will the corporate culture, which is invested in institutions and in a defective church structure that simply is not working, be too much to overcome?

The future of the church is at stake.

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