Today, Jeremy Smith over at Hacking Christianity has made a post publicizing the opposition towards Asbury Theological Seminary and the Wesleyan Covenant Association as it pertains to the work of the Commission on the Way Forward. Smith, true to his own theological and ethical convictions consistently presents a plea for people to stand against these two people for what he deems to be the future of Methodism in the One Church plan.
For whatever it is worth and whatever little attention I have, this has motivated me to speak up myself. While I have much pain that stems from my time at Asbury Theological Seminary that has never fully healed, while I have reticence about the potential directions the WCA could take that has made me hesitant about being involved, while I can share some concerns that many of my colleagues in the United Methodist Church and fellow alumni from Asbury who would support the One Church plan, and while I have qualms about the potential for the Traditional plan that is put forth that ATS and WCA support, I choose to stand with them.
My reasoning isn’t simply about sexuality, marriage, and ordination. While I certainly support a more traditional view of sexual behavior and marriage in the context of the Church, I am not conservative in this manner. I am deeply concerned about and recognize the complexity and diverse factors when it comes to people’s sexual orientation and identity. I am disturbed by the attempts of many of the supporters of the traditional, Biblical view of marriage to try to institute this vision through secular, political mechanisms on those who have never wholeheartedly confessed Jesus as Lord. I share no desire to join in the masses of conservative who would seek to pressure people to change their sexual orientations. My heart goes out to the many people who have been excluded, ostracized, and abused for actual or perceived sexual orientation, as in my past I had been made of fun for being gay and a target of such rumors. In short, if it were not for my support of the traditional pattern for sexual behavior and marriage, you would probably not be able to categorize me as a conservative/traditional on the topic of sexuality.
But to date, I have yet to ever find what I deem to be a theologically responsible and robust account for why the Church, in whole or in part within a specific denomination, should change our practice as it pertains to matters of sex and marriage. In fact, I would suggest the arguments I typically hear have deep theological problems.
But before I expound upon that, allow me to say this so people do not misunderstand what follows: to the many colleagues who share alternative views on sexuality and/or alternative ecclesiastical views on how the Church should address diverge opinions, I recognize your faith. I recognize many of you deeply love Jesus. I have no doubts that many of you have the Spirit of God stirring within your hearts and you have gifts and graces. Furthermore, I have not doubt that there are many gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who have a love for Jesus and themselves have experienced the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. In what follows, I do not wish to deny what I believe to be a spiritual reality for many of you. Nor, will what I am saying is intended to imply this reality will be different simply due to your support and response in the future.
But let me state this clearly: the One Church plan is a step toward being drunk on the wisdom of the Empire of this present age, and the theological reasoning I have seen in favor of changing the stances on sexuality and marriage only confirms this concern for me. I refuse to be bewitched by it; I refuse to support the Body of Christ taking a step forward to partake in the Empire of this world.
At stake is the fundamental question: what is the Gospel of Jesus Christ ultimately about? For so long, the United Methodist Church and other mainline denominations have defined the Gospel in part by its American world. This is in part due to the evangelistic success of these denominations, such that they wielded political influence. When this happens because the Gospel is spreading, while it can have unfortunate consequences that should be avoided if possible, it is a reality we tolerate because the expansion of God’s Kingdom doesn’t come to perfect people, but it comes in the midst of the realities of life, including our political realities. However, let me
The decision to go towards the One Church will be a step towards Americanizing,
Nevertheless, it isn’t fair to suggest that support for the One Church plan is simply a matter of Americanizing, Imperializing, and Capitalizing. I can imagine one could make an argument for the One Church plan that would avoid this trifecta, and it be done with all authenticity. But let me ask you: imagine a Church where it is said “I am for same-sex marriage” and “I am against same-sex marriage?” That is what we have right now. Do you see growing unity and peace in the midst of this, or do you see continuing division? How will the “One” Church plan actually make us one? It appears to me that the “One” church plan will simply codify the divisions that already exist. To me, it would be like the Apostle Paul saying to the church in Corinth, who would say “I am of Paul,” “I am Apollos,” and so on, as follows: “I know you have different opinions and different knowledge, so let us celebrate each other’s knowledge and join together in spite of this; you each get to have your own piece and corner for you to do as you want.” But is it not the Apostle Paul who says that “knowledge makes arrogant.” Is it not the Apostle Paul who called everyone to abandon their allegiances that had them dividing so that they come to be defined by Jesus Christ? Do you think the Apostle Paul would say “Let us form a church that formalizes our disagreements into a permanent arrangement?”
Absolutely not! Paul condemns this way of the Corinthian church as really being beholden to the wisdom of the present age, to the present empire, whereas Paul has a different wisdom he wants the Corinthians to know about in Jesus Christ. But the reason the Corinthians cannot receive this wisdom that comes from God is
But I will not be going with you in if the One Church plan passes. Because, it the end, we have very different visions of what the Gospel is ultimately about. You see, for me, as I understand the Apostle Paul, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about new creation that is not constrained to the current arrangements; it is a wisdom that can not be seen, heard, or imagined apart from the Holy Spirit. My faith is in the power of God, who does far more than anything I can imagine or know with my own mental powers. It is a Gospel that is radically inclusive in who can be included in the work of transformation and radically counter-cultural from the powers of the present day and age. But when I hear inclusion from others, I hear a buzzword that is more about membership and status than it is transformation and when I hear counter-culture from many of them, I hear simply a resistance to the more traditional
But let me clear despite this strong rhetoric, I don’t think you who support the One Church plan are outside the Church. Paul believed the Corinthians who were still beholden to the wisdom of the Empire had faith, were justified, and had the marks of
If you can hear in my voice, I do not echo any substantive support for the other proposals. There are concerns I have with them. Beyond that, I have come to learn that I don’t know what the distant future must contain; I don’t know everything the United Methodist Church or the global Church should have for its future. The more I have learned, the more I realize I don’t have any answers for all of that. But, I do believe that God has transformed me through the renewal of my mind so that I can discern the will of God, which isn’t about me having a whole system of knowledge or a clear, expansive vision for the future. Rather, I believe God has transformed, as He calls for all of us to have, to have the capacity to discern the will of God in specific situations and concrete circumstances, be this arrogant to believe about myself or not.
To me, the One Church plan is in effect to ignore Paul’s letters to Corinth and in so doing, hinders people from hearing and understanding the wisdom of God in Jesus Christ. If the United Methodist Church takes a step towards the One Church plan, it will be a step