Is It Time?

The Internet is abuzz with the recent actions of (retired) Bishop Melvin Talbert. Following-up on a threat to violate the United Methodist Book of Discipline, Talbert officiated a same-sex wedding in Alabama. The threat was made as early as May, 2013. In the 4+ months in between, Talbert notified North Alabama Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett that he intended to officiate said wedding within her jurisdiction. This is the proper method to take in our polity. Part of the covenant of pastors, elders and bishops is to never
undermine the ministry of another UM pastor, thus weddings, funerals, etc. within another’s area of authority are to be approved prior to the ceremony as a part of our covenant relationship.
Himageowever, Wallace-Padgett requested in no uncertain terms that Talbert not officiate this service within her area of authority. She wrote, “For a bishop or any ordained or licensed minister to disregard a law of the church creates a breach of the covenant they made at their consecration, ordination or licensing.” (UMNS) Knowing that this service would violate Church law and create a season of chaos within the congregations of the North Alabama Conference (and beyond), she did not grant permission…adding a second layer to Talbert’s breach of covenant.
Because there was ample time leading up to this event, the Council of Bishops also made a public statement (somewhat unprecedented). “The bishops of the church are bound together in a covenant and all ordained elders are committed to uphold the Book of Discipline,” the [executive] committee wrote. “‘Conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies’ are chargeable offenses in the United Methodist Church. (¶2702.1.b)” (UM Reporter)
On October 26, 2013, Talbert defied the Book of Discipline, the Presiding Bishop of the North Alabama Conference, the Council of Bishops and every United Methodist by officiating at the wedding.
Agree or disagree with the United Methodist position on homosexuality, gay marriage and ordination, this is still a breach of Talbert’s covenant with the rest of us. If he does not suffer the consequences for such a violation, the door opens for all sorts of brazen disregard. (And suffering the consequences is an integral part of ‘civil disobedience’.)
At General Conference 2004, several church leaders proposed an “amicable separation.” The proposal was quickly pulled from the floor, followed by a hastily drafted statement of unity being passed. (Steven Tipton, Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life, p. 123)
I have no doubt that we are indeed headed to a schism of some form. The ‘amicable separation’ proposal seems like a proposal to keep such from becoming a fiasco like the Episcopal Church experienced with legal wranglings over buildings and pensions. Perhaps now may be the time to start discussions.
Why schism? Because this argument has not been settled in over a quarter-century of infighting about it. Because the side who has not succeeded in forcing a change in the doctrine is willing to blur and push the lines of the covenant they agreed to uphold to make their statement. (Note that covenant is not negotiated like a contract. Covenant is offered and accepted or rejected as offered.) But mainly because the issue at hand is not really homosexuality.
I have had the homosexuality and Christianity discussion with countless people. I fall on the side of the current UM position (Peyton Jones wrote the best explanation of my position in this article. If this link only allows you to see Page 1, see the link/explanation below.) I have only had one person on the other side of the debate admit that the discord is really about the position the Bible holds in our lives. Is the Bible an authoritative book, or is it a collection of stories, songs, allegories, histories, letters, etc.? That person was a nationally known leader within the denomination.
Given that the issue is deeper than a surface discussion of a cultural topic, this is a schismatic issue in my opinion. Having just completed the process (fight?) to join this covenant, I cringe to think some (any) would intentionally breach the covenant for just a cultural issue. It is a deeply held difference that is not going away…in fact it is growing worse with age. With such an insolent defiance, maybe the time has come?
How would it look? How could a separation be achieved with diminished ire and legal fighting? I have some ideas for a start, but what do you think?

EDIT: The Peyton Jones article is only available in full if you subscribe or google search for it first. Try this link to the google search, and click on the article.  Sorry for any confusion.

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About gadlage

I am a Christian, Husband, Father, and Pastor (in that order). I enjoy the typical things that come with most of those titles. I also play guitar (rhythm) and sing, love to tinker with 'techie stuff' and learn (love learning, hate school). I hope to blog about a range of issues, but the primary posts (at least in the beginning) will be related to the Christian life. Politics, sports, etc. will take a second seat.

9 responses to “Is It Time?”

  1. Phil Collier says :

    One of my good friends is the superintendent (“bishop”) of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends (Quaker). He became weary of the same debate in the Quaker denomination that we have experienced and he advocated a separation. He was strongly condemned by the progressive/liberal faction, but now the church has unity and can get on with the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

    • gadlage says :

      Good to hear from you, Phil. I have “grown” into this idea. I certainly didn’t like the idea when it was proposed in 2004. I think we are at a point where this issue has become such a giant albatross around both “sides” necks that it distracts from the business of making/growing disciples. I definitely wouldn’t want a tumultuous separation, but an amicable split sounds like a wise move at this stage to me.

  2. hollyboardman says :

    The structure is not-Biblical. Voting is not a Biblical way to make decisions. The majority OFTEN makes serious errors. The best (and worst) example of this is the crowds decision to release Barabas instead of Jesus when Pilate gave them the opportunity to do so. Our polity is inherently divisive and polarizing because we vote…

    Bishop Ruben Job has written a great deal about the process of discernment in decisions in the church. I commend his writings to you.

    • gadlage says :

      I’m certainly not disagreeing with your structural suggestion…I just have trouble wrapping my hands around what it looks like. We certainly are lead astray by public sentiment (and not just on the current topic du jour). I’ll look for Bishop Job’s stuff.

  3. hollyboardman says :

    I would like to see the next incarnation of the Wesleyan movement focus on setting up accountability groups in homes, and using church buildings to offer Holy Communion FREQUENTLY.

    I’d also like to see us DROP the democratic processes that we use to make decisions. As long as we make decisions by VOTING, our church will move along with the culture. Voting to make decisions has led to this collapse in our church. I see no need to govern a global CHURCH using a model based on the US government as we do now. Neither should we model ourselves after Willow Creek, or the best practices of American business. Why don’t we look at the obviously sustainable models of CHURCH that we find in Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Let’s borrow the best features and give them a Wesleyan twist..

    Just some humble suggestions from a retired pastor..

    • gadlage says :

      Not sure about the structure, but I love the small group start (sounds like the original), and the frequent communion.

    • gadlage says :

      Holly, as I’ve thought more about this suggestion, the more I like it. It ‘frees’ up
      Sundays to focus more on the celebration of the sacrament instead of the sermon-focused models. I have long thought that the Methodist movement lost steam when it became a church, and that the Methodist church lost a LOT of steam when we dropped the idea of bands and societies. We seem to be more institutionally focused (everything important must happen within the institution), rather than transformation taking place in the Church (the believers…regardless of the building in which they happen to be at the moment) and celebration taking place in worship. I would love to have the sacrament more often, but hesitate to add a longer liturgy to an already packed timeframe. However, if that’s the focus, it would bring that liturgy back to the fore, instead of an “add-on.” [I hope I never treat The Lord’s Supper as an add-on, but I fear that’s the perspective of many in the pews.]
      Thinking…

  4. hollyboardman says :

    As the United Methodist Church begins to recognize that we are now a GLOBAL church, I believe it is time to completely rewrite our Book of
    Discipline–tweeking it here and there is inadequate. Fortunately the 2012 General Conference also recognized the need for a new Global Book of Discipline, and designated the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters to develop proposals to be considered at the 2016 General Conference. I think this is a great opportunity for a RESTART of Wesleyan Christianity. Perhaps we should just admit that we (The United Methodist Church) have failed to be an obedient church and start over again.

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