Refusing Both Options: Scripture and the Via Media with Hauerwas & Brueggemann

Two sides of the same coin? A mercury dime, courtesy Wikipedia.

Two sides of the same coin? A mercury dime, courtesy Wikipedia.

“Indeed literalist-fundamentalism and the critical approaches to the Bible are but two sides of the same coin, insofar as each assumes that the text should be accessible to anyone without the necessary mediation by the church.”

-Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture

The Via Media has many detractors, which is kind of funny because there isn’t much of a definition.  As Evan Rohrs-Dodge has pointed out, it is more of a hermeneutic than a monolithic perspective.  Joel Watts has helpfully differentiated between the Via Media and the Third Way; at its best, the Via Media is not so much about picking the “middle” between existing options, but about emphatically refusing both and choosing something different.

This shows up in how we approach Scripture.  Both conservatives and progressives approach the text in quite similar ways.  The fundamentalist-modernist split of the early 20th century was not, as is often advertised, a divide between moderns and anti-moderns, but between different types of modernists who were ultimately kissing cousins.  Hauerwas, in his firecracker of a book on Scripture, puts it this way:

“…the debate between fundamentalists and biblical critics is really more a debate between friends who share many of the same assumptions. The most prominent shared assumption is that the interpretation of the biblical texts is not a political process involving questions of power and authority. By privileging the individual interpreter, who is thought capable of discerning the meaning of the text apart form the consideration of the good ends of a community, fundamentalists and biblical critics make the Church incidental.” (25-26, emphasis added)

In today’s UMC, the church is indeed incidental to how traditionalists and liberals read Scripture.  Both affirm the church insofar as it affirms their reading of Scripture, and reject the church insofar as it rejects their reading.  The individual interpreter – and their respective camps – is king.  True heirs of the Reformation, we Methodists are happy to each be our own Luthers, declaring our sole ability to take a stand on Scripture and close our ears to all other readings.  The shared attitude of liberals and traditionalists is thus:  power and authority are ‘mine,’ and the church only deserves either if and when she agrees with me.

This Enlightenment focus on the rational individual means that fundamentalists and modern critics are really allies.  As Walter Brueggemann tells it, this 18th century “text” dominates (however covertly) the reading of those who consider themselves opposites:

“The power of this text shows up [1] in an excessive theological conservatism that has transposed fidelity into certitudes that are absolutes about morality as about theology, as though somewhere there are rational formulations that will powerfully veto the human ambiguities so palpable among us. The power of this text also shows up [2] in overstated theological liberalism in which every woman and every man is one’s own pope, in which autonomous freedom becomes a fetish and all notions of communal accountability evaporate into a polite but innocuous mantra of “each to her or his own.” (5, emphasis added)

In other words: conservatives have no room for ambiguity, and progressives have no room for accountability, and both have a poverty of hospitality because of shared assumptions about how to properly read the Biblical text.  That sounds to me like exactly where the UMC is at present.  The Via Media rejects both of these individualistic, modern readings of the Bible because both are fundamentally modern (pun intended).

What is the alternative? That is a whole separate post, and probably more than one. A hint: something like a Barthian reading of Scripture, or a narrative reading.  I would suggest a view of Scripture that takes the text seriously, but short of bibliolatry and far away from demythologizing.  The Bible is not merely a list of rules or an outmoded, ancient list of rules (see: literalist and modernist readings) but a story.  That story is the narrative of a God known through the travails of Israel and the Church, and most particularly through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  A focus on the person and work of Christ as the primary hermeneutic lens through which to read Scripture thus upends the Pharisees on the left and the right, for whom the only lens is The Agenda.  The teaching and the way of Christ are best determined and lived out in the community of faith, the Church.

Hauerwas and Brueggemann give us ammunition for just such a rejection of the twin options of modernist Biblical interpretation.  The Via Media refuses to do an end-run around the Church, but bears with her, warts and fights and pitiful controversies and all, daring to listen to the discernment of the church catholic (small-c).  The resulting conversation is much more interesting than the alternatives.

Say: Why I Write (Guest Post by Robin Fitzgerald)

braveBuckle in folks, this may be a long one. Triple your latte or tea. I’ve got a lot to say on this one. Let’s start here: my blogging “name” is Sassy. That name was deemed unto me by colleagues during a period of ministry when I finally started to claim my voice. I think you get it: I became sassy. When I started this blog, I wanted to speak from that voice. The voice that was sassy: bold, creative, pushed me and boundaries. Let me say that another way: I did not want to be another preacher-posting-sermons blogger. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I read some of my colleagues’ blogs and appreciate this niche; it just isn’t mine. I NEEDED with every ounce of my being for Sassy to have a place to come out. I needed to write.

It’s like this. I was reading one of my own beloved bloggers, Glennon Doyle Melton, of momastery. Let us all take a moment and thank Jesus for the witty wisdom and fun and truth that is Glennon. I was reading G (she lets me call her that—she lets everybody call her that) one day, and she said to me—to us, just write. If you are feeling the pulling at your soul and you want to begin writing and you don’t know where to start, just write. I wish I could find that post to link, but my tech team is out of the office (ha!).

So, I started this blog. I began with the name. I used my twitter handle and I thought about what I wanted this blog’s content to be and what I wanted it to reflect. But before I tell you that, I need to take you back in time to the other 2 blogs I had. The first was a blog I started that was more like a devotional for my church members. It fed them, but it didn’t feed me. I struggled hard for content because it wasn’t my true voice talking. And looking back, I suspect the reason is two-fold. First, I was writing solely out of a professional context. So, I was trying not to “dry up the well.” You know, not use all the ideas up so that I would have some sermon illustrations to use on Sunday. As if God would stop supplying them. Second, there was this. The churches that I served were loving but there was this underlying thing. My anatomy. And my ability to carry and deliver babies. That’s the best way I know how to say that. “Who are you to say?” they subconsciously and sometimes out loud said to me. We allowed you to be a woman in our pulpit but a woman with a growing belly, a woman nursing a baby, a MOTHER AND A PREACHER? That we can’t allow. That began to close down the relationship. And my blogging voice still had not fully developed because of this.

The next blog I tried for healing. Well, I am NOT writing for CHURCH FOLK anymore! I am writing for me. “Sassyandfree” was born. I had one post. In a year. That was not my voice.

As I type this post, my almost five year old is literally clinging to me, despite my protests, but that is so fitting for this post, I think. When I was deciding on the new blog, I thought: yes there ARE lots of women bloggers out there. There ARE lots of CHRISTIAN women bloggers out there. Some I read. Like Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey and UM Donna Claycomb Sokol. Some I don’t. Some I read for home design and find that they have an LDS button on their sidebar. You would be amazed at the number of Mormon women bloggers in the blogosphere!! What is unique about my voice I thought? I started with the name. Reverend Mommy. If nothing else, I would claim who I am. I am Pastor AND Mommy. And I would weave together both. I write about both parts of these.

What else do I bring to the table? Though my church friends read my blog, and I am grateful for that, it is no longer a “church” blog. It is my vision that this blog be for me to express whatever God needs me to express and that God use me to reach people through The Interwebs. So, I’ve had to be brave and broach some terrifying subjects: ghosts from my past, depression, imperfection. What is it like to be a woman writing in this niche? It is incredibly affirming. I have such an eclectic mix of readers, and I LOVE that. I love that people find a connection to what I have to say. Through it all, God continues to shape me and make more of me. That’s how I know it is God at work. Gail Godwin in the fantastic book Evensong says “Something is your vocation if it keeps making more of you.”

Rev. Robin Fitzgerald is the Pastor of a lively group of Jesus people at Pine Grove United Methodist Church in Winston Salem, NC. She has served with the “churchy friends” of Midway, Mocksville, and Lexington, NC. She is married to a darn cute Yankee and has two lovely little ladies. Visit her blog at or follow her on Twitter @reverendmommy.

Baptism: What Happens After the Water? (Guest Post by Cynthia Astle)


By Cynthia B. Astle

Baptism presents one of the most contentious issues in the history of Christianity. Armed conflicts have broken out over baptism’s proper application, i.e. whether water is to be applied by sprinkling, pouring or immersion as initiation into the Church of Jesus Christ. Christians have fought one another over the wording of baptismal vows, and whether one must be of the age of consent in order to respond appropriately to the ritual.

However, what happens after the baptismal vows are pronounced gets much less attention from United Methodists and their Christian kindred. More clergy and laity today have become aware of this gap, and are embracing a deeper understanding of baptism’s nature and its daily application.

Baptism typically runs a distant second to Holy Communion in United Methodist sacramental esteem, despite the availability of the gracefully crafted theological statement, By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism. Since United Methodists practice infant baptism, the ritual often is seen as something performed primarily for babies. For example, those with little Christian education often to seek out United Methodist pastors in order to “get the baby done,” either in response to grandparents’ pleadings or as a kind of magical thinking, a superstitious protection for the child.

A more accurate understanding of baptism, however, emphasizes God’s grace active in human lives, humans’ response to the awareness of divine grace, and the faith community’s witness to God and service to the world. Ironically, one of the most impressive modern visual interpretations of baptism’s significance can be found in the dramatic climax of the now-classic film, “The Godfather.” Having been urged into the role of godfather by his sister, crime boss Michael Coreleone recites Catholic baptismal responses, pledging to renounce the works of Satan as intercut scenes show his minions assassinating the leaders of rival crime families. In less than two minutes, the sequence demonstrates not only Michael’s fall from grace, but also the nature of evil that Christians pledge to renounce, reject and resist.

“Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola clearly grasped a key element of Christian initiation often missing from today’s understanding: Baptism embraces both death and life. Just as those who bypass Crucifixion to savor Resurrection glory practice a truncated theology, baptism stresses that one cannot receive newness of life without simultaneously “dying” to death-dealing practices. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote in A.D. 352 of the “dying and living” aspects of early baptism, in which catechumens of all ages were immersed naked and then clothed with white robes to represent their new lives. (This tradition is now remembered liturgically in the garment known as an alb, a white robe without decoration suitable for any baptized Christian to wear when leading in worship).

Let’s consider our United Methodist baptismal vows in this light of dying and living:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

Look at the action verbs in this ritual, which reflects the form adopted in a 1982 World Council of Churches document, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. “Renounce, reject, repent, resist, confess, trust, accept, serve” constitutes a powerful set of marching orders for Jesus’ followers. Yet rare is the congregation where our baptismal vows are more than a footnote to other communal activities.

This year Discipleship Ministries (formerly known as the General Board of Discipleship) has been conducting two-day learning retreats throughout Texas to emphasize baptismal vows. I recently attended the North Texas session, “Leaders Living (and Dying) Baptismally.” While to date these sessions have drawn small groups of 15 to 20 participants, they have opened encouraging discussions on baptism’s potential to transform The United Methodist Church.

As our Discipleship Ministries session suggested, one way to restore baptism’s importance for United Methodists would be to develop more accountability through small groups. Called “class meetings” in the Wesleyan tradition, these gatherings of five to eight people are places where we make sure we fulfill the vows we’ve pledged. Current spiritual descendants of the historic Methodist class meeting include Covenant Discipleship, Companions in Christ, Walk to Emmaus’ 4th Day groups and the Order of Saint Luke.

Accountability groups such as these can improve individual spiritual practice and encourage congregations to deepen their baptismal understanding. For example, in order to “renounce the forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of … sin,” a local congregation would have to take a hard look at the world outside its sanctuary walls, asking questions such as:

  1. Who are our neighbors? Are they people who live closest to our church, or are we called to serve people beyond our local neighborhood?
  2. What do our neighbors tell us they need from us?
  3. How could we adapt our worship and activities to meet our neighbors’ spiritual needs rather than our own habits or desires?

If we intend to give more than lip service to our United Methodist mission – “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” – then we must pay more attention to helping one another become the followers of Jesus that we pledge to be in baptism. By focusing on our baptismal vows to renounce evil, repent of our sin, and live like Jesus, we can indeed transform the world, starting where we need it most – with ourselves.

United Methodist laywoman Cynthia B. Astle of Dallas, TX, is an internationally recognized religion journalist, a certified spiritual director, and a member of the UMC-founded Order of Saint Luke, an ecumenical association of clergy and lay women and men devoted to liturgical scholarship. She currently coordinates United Methodist Insight, a collaborative website for leaders and influencers seeking God’s will for the future of The United Methodist Church.


A Prayer for General Conference 2016

In June of 2009, I was ordained as an Elder in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church in the The Pontchartrain Center, Kenner, LA. All my family and friends came to see my ordination. I remember the event, but more than the event, I remember events around the event. That year, someone didn’t get ordained, so there was a protest during the ordination service where folks stood up and made loud noises to disrupt the service. For a moment in time the entire ordination service just stopped while people caused a ruckus in the room. Everyone looked at one another not knowing what to do. Do we keep going? Do we stop? Do we do something different? It was a confusing interruption for an otherwise solemn moment.

The next day, something else happened that made me even angrier than the interruption during the ordination service. We were voting on constitutional amendments that year, and right outside the doorway four people were handing out voting guides. The voting guides were printed to look official. There was no names printed on the voting guide, just which amendments to vote for any why. I quickly scanned the voting guide and noticed that all of the why part was from a conservative caucus group. I got so angry I stormed back out and confronted the pastor handing out these guides. I told him, “You can’t do this!” He was passing these voting guides out as “official UMC documents”. We had a heated discussion on why he could not pass this stuff out with no names attached to it. When our session started, we had to have multiple clarifications on how this caucus group’s voting guide was NOT official.

Why do I share these two moments with you? Because apparently a lot of folks care if GC2016 will be closed or open or closed or open or closed.

While this blog didn’t originate the idea, one of the contributors added to the idea. Personally, I don’t see the big deal or why it caused so much drama, but it definitely struck a nerve with a lot of people.

So I thought I might share my annual conference story with a reminder about what it is we do at General Conference. We have General Conference every four years to lead an entire world wide denomination. General Conference is responsible for everything from doctrine to hymnals! (Only General Conference can authorize a new hymnal.) They have huge tasks to undertake for two weeks every four years.

In one of Jeremy Smith’s best blog posts he reminds us of one of the most important things about General Conference. We elect delegates, NOT representatives.

That is a great distinction. A representative represents their constituency. So one would expect a representative to vote how their constituency would want them to. But a delegate has had authority delegated to them. They have been elected on their own character and bring only the good of the Church Universal to the table at General Conference.

We elected delegates at this past Annual Conference. Whether or not the person(s) I voted for got elected doesn’t change the fact that these are the people we are sending to discern what is best for the entire body of The United Methodist Church. It does not help for me to pester them with a thousand questions on which way they are going to vote and why and would they consider changing their minds. The best thing I can do for those who have been elected from my conference is pray for them, and that is what I have done since our Annual Conference. I have prayed for our delegates and the delegates from other Annual Conferences. No matter what I believe on this issue or that issue, these are the people have the responsibility to lead The United Methodist Church into the next four years.

I can honestly say I don’t want them to vote for me. I want them to vote for the entire church and God’s kingdom.

My hope and prayer for them is not that they vote the way that I want them to or the way that a caucus group wants them to or the way a voting guide wants them to or the way whoever yells the loudest wants them to or the way whoever gives them a cell phone wants them to.

I pray they engage in real holy conferencing with other delegates from across the world seeking God’s will.

I pray they worship with one another, eat with one another, discern with one another.

I pray they read scripture together and not voting guides.

I pray they can tune out all the noise and listen for the Holy Spirit.

I pray they can listen for that still small voice.

It is not found in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire.

Insanity or Integrity? On Closing the Floor at #GC2016

Will we choose insanity or integrity?

Will we choose insanity or integrity?

“These kinds of ‘organisms’ often express themselves with beautiful ‘values’.  The      problem is not in their beliefs;  it is in how they function with those beliefs.”                  Rabbi Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve

For the UMC to move into Portland with nothing unchanged would be a textbook example of insanity.  But that is a choice, not destiny.  The question is, do United Methodists care enough about the work of General Conference to establish policies and procedures that encourage its integrity?  David Watson has offered a modest proposal toward that end:

“I suggest that we close the GC meeting space to all but delegates, bishops, and other essential personnel. Anyone who wishes to watch the proceedings can do so via live streaming. We should ban all caucus groups from having a presence inside our gathering space: no protests, no signs, no distribution of materials, no flash mobs, no stopping our work together. We should focus on the business at hand with as little distraction as possible.”

Simple enough, yes?  Joel Watts has also added to this conversation, spelling out how this might be achieved.  An important distinction that hasn’t been consistently made in this discussion is just what one means by “closed.”  Following Watson’s language, I refer specifically to the physical floor space during voting sessions.  That is, I would encourage the floor of General Conference be closed to only voting members, essential personnel, and bishops during debate, discussion, and voting.  All proceedings that are usually public would remain so, but via closed-circuit television and live streaming.  The intent – and this is crucial – is not secrecy in any form, but the integrity of the proceedings themselves.

Many folks – delegates, potential delegates, and not-a-snowballs-chance-in-hell-of-being-delegates like myself – are already dreading 2016.  I recently heard a North Carolina delegate describe Tampa as “a carnage of ugliness.”  How can we expect true holy conferencing, not to mention wise, fruitful decisions, to be made in such an environs?  Closing the floor would not necessarily lead to a utopia, but it would be a step in the right direction.

Why is this?  Because closing the floor would prevent some of idealogical grandstanding by unelected and uninvited parties.  No protests.  No propaganda.  No seizing the table.  No caucuses, at least inside the bar.  Just doing the work the church has called this body to do during the only time it can be done: the quadrennial gathering in which the whole UMC can make its most significant decisions.  This is exactly the same measure my Conference takes when electing delegates to General Conference; all may watch the proceedings, but only voting members are allowed on the floor.  If it’s necessary for Annual Conference, why would it be unwise for General Conference?

As the quote at the top from Friedman suggests, this isn’t about keeping out any particular point of view.  The issue isn’t belief but behavior.  Let the caucuses do their work – they do serve an important role – but do not let their private missions interfere with accomplishing General Conference’s task.

No healthy organization would allow interest groups and other uninvited parties free reign to  jeopardize a senior board meeting or other significant gathering.  Does Congress let the Tea Party take over the floor?  Would GE let Occupy Wall Street into their board of directors meeting to distribute fliers and make speeches?  More to the point, pastors, how would you react if a Sunday School class or Bible study group demanded space and air time during an Administrative Council or SPRC meeting?

For all its wisdom and obviousness, I am not hopeful that our leadership will be interested in this proposal.  I fear they are too concerned over pushback in what will already be a heated gathering. Indeed, invasive persons often rely on the decency of others to get their way. As Friedman observes,“in institution after institution the invasive forces get their way because of a lack of ‘stamina’ that is hard to muster up in the ‘peace-loving.’” (149)

We know what to expect at Portland.  Insanity is hoping for different results while repeating the same things.  Integrity is not about judgmentalism or exclusion, but about health.  Every healthy organism, down the the cell itself, has functional (i.e. permeable to some but not all outside agents, but still present) boundaries.  Part of why recent General Conferences have lacked basic functionality is because the leadership has not promoted the integrity of the body.

In 2016, the choice is before us: insanity or integrity?  My hope, unfounded as it may be, is that we can see the storm clouds approaching and choose a different path, and thus reasonably anticipate some new possibilities, in Portland.

What do you think? Are there drawbacks to this approach I’m not thinking of? Are there other benefits?

Source: Edwin Friedman, Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Seabury 2007), 146-149.  For a great summary of Friedman’s theory of differentiated leadership, check out this video.

Remembering Bishop Martin McLee



I was, like many others, saddened to hear of the death of New York Annual Conference’s Bishop Martin McLee on September 6.  I had heard that he was on leave for an illness but I had no idea it was this serious.  I now wish I had reached out to him to share my prayers and appreciation for his ministry.  In lieu of that regret, I will do so here.

I met Bishop McLee because of the Ogletree Just Resolution.  I had first heard about this through media outlets – some praising, others criticizing.  Later, I was surprised to receive an invitation to participate in the forum resulting from the Just Resolution.  The video of that event is here.

What strikes me as I think back over that event was Bishop McLee’s character and charisma.  This is clearly a man who loved, and was loved by, his church(es).  He took a stand on something that was meaningful to him and was willing to face the critics and the consequences, knowing many would disagree.  Whether one approves of the Ogletree resolution or not, we should all respect someone who takes a stand for their convictions.

Bishop McLee was a generous soul.  He was kind and hospitable to me, an outsider and guest in his Conference.  It is a rare combination, and one that all of us would do well to emulate, to see someone who so convinced of their own course and yet so gracious to their critics and interlocutors.

His parting words to me at the conclusion of the event were of the via media.  “We’re a middle way Conference here in New York,” he said.  “We have all kinds.”

Indeed, I respect Bishop McLee for seeking a via media through a difficult path; an advocate for justice and full inclusion of LGBT persons in the UMC, but a Bishop charged with upholding the Discipline.  He sought to honor both of these roles rather than choose one or the other.  For that, I am grateful.

But Bishop McLee’s life and ministry are much more than this, his most famous action as a Bishop.  He was a servant of God, a pastor’s pastor and a courageous leader.  May he rest in peace, and may God continue to raise up men and women like Bishop Martin McLee among the people called United Methodists.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” (Rev. 14:13, NRSV)

Listening Over Labeling: Refusing the Easy Way Out

Pigeons in holes, courtesy Wikipedia.

Pigeons in holes, courtesy Wikipedia.

Viggo Mortensen, perhaps now most famous for his portrayal of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is one of my favorite actors. A few years ago, he was cast in an adaptation of the 1981 play Good; he played a mellow literature professor in Germany in the 1930’s who wrote a book on euthanasia that heavily influenced the Third Reich. It was such a different role from the sort of character he’s often portrayed: the rough, rugged, sometimes violent protagonist (consider A History of Violence, Hidalgo, and The Road).

Well, for many film fans, it was somewhat discomfiting seeing Mortensen act in such a drastically different role. In a 2009 interview in The Telegraph, Mortensen talked about people’s reaction to his being cast in Good:

“People like to pigeonhole you. It’s easier.” 

The Via Media Methodists stated goal is to “hear both sides” (read more in our about section). We have tried, in our short existence, to do just that, all the while realizing we will never live up to some people’s demands expectations. Tom Lambrecht, vice president of Good News, an evangelical United Methodist group, has been a frequent conversation partner, commenting on several of our posts and interacting on other social media sites. David Nuckols, a member of the board of directors of the progressive Reconciling Ministries Network, has also been a supporter of VMM and has been actively engaged with us. We at VMM truly believe that both progressives AND conservatives have so much to offer The United Methodist Church, and a via media can mine the richness of both traditions. 

Rev. Jeremy Smith at Hacking Christianity recently wrote a post in which he levels all sorts of criticism at the writers of this blog; namely, that we have mischaracterized and not adequately included progressive voices. While we have had a self-described progressive write for us (you can read Dennis Sander’s piece here), Smith casually dismisses this inclusion as “token” and “parroting” (I’m just not sure if Rev. Smith realizes how offensive and inappropriate it is to refer to a gay African-American man as such). He also attempts to pigeonhole us as a “conservative” blog, a charge rejected by others across the theological spectrum who have engaged with our work.

What Smith’s post reveals is that those firmly entrenched in one camp or another, be it progressive or conservative, seem to not be able to deal with difference in such a way that avoids pigeonholing and defaults to easy labeling. For many of those on the left, if something doesn’t fit the progressive narrative, it is immediately labeled conservative. The same goes for those on the right. When our blog doesn’t include more self-identified progressive guest writers, it is called conservative. On the other hand, we’ve been called leftists in many comments on our blog posts (you’ll find some upon on a quick perusal). 

This pigeonholing reveals a misconception regarding the very nature of the via media. The power and beauty of the via media is that it isn’t a position; it’s a process. The via media is not about adhering to one static set of standards; it is a hermenutic, an interpretive lens, that draws from the best of a variety of paradigms — from progressives and conservatives alike— with prayerful discernment. It stands firmly in the tradition of the Wesleys, who were both/and folks: evangelical and sacramental, concerned with personal holiness and social holiness, committed to tradition and innovation. This does not mean that those of us in the via media lack core convictions; just the opposite! We believe in the need for doctrine, and Stephen, Drew, and I embrace orthodoxy as elucidated in the creeds of the church along with a strong and thoughtful social witness. We believe we need both progressive and conservative voices — along with those who don’t adopt either label — to truly have a via media.

Where we have failed to account for multiple voices or have mischaracterized them, we apologize. We are, after all, human. But we ask that you, dear reader, refrain from pigeonholing or thoughtless labeling. All that does is perpetuate the culture of echo chambers that has so damaged our society. Listen to us; engage with us; tease out that rich nuance between progressive and conservative. Make this a spiritual discipline.

Pigeonholing is easy. Don’t take the easy way out.

As always, we welcome your comments.

Mark Driscoll’s Lesson for the UMC

MD meme

It’s tempting…but don’t do it.

Controversial uber-Reformed pastor Mark Driscoll is temporarily stepping down from his leadership post at the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church.  Following a great deal of controversy about his public and private behavior, he has agreed to a leave of absence to assess his ministry and allow time for the church to investigate a long list of charges against him.  I cannot say I am always above the popular schadenfreude that enjoys gloating over the misfortunes of those I dislike. (See Proverbs 24:7 for more on why this is a problem.)  It is unfortunate how easily we all, with the aid of social media and the concomitant self-obsession with our own thoughts, turn to outrage in the face of dysfunction and pain.  In the light of Driscoll’s temporary resignation and the reaction following, I think there are some lessons for the current strife in the UMC.  Part of last Sunday’s message from Driscoll included this:

“God is not honored by conflict, strife, disunity, arguing, slander, gossip, or anything else that is inconsistent with the fruit of the spirit, and I am deeply sorry, genuinely sorry, for the times I have not lived peaceably with all men,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll has, for years, been on the giving and receiving end of social media (and regular media) criticism.  Few other Christians in the public sphere have received as much sustained ire as he.  And so it is refreshing to see such a humble response from someone not usually known for them.  That gives me hope for my own tribe.

As Florida Bishop Ken Carter has written, we must “do the work of Jesus in the way of Jesus.”  We may or may not agree with where the UMC is regarding some matters or where it may be heading.  In a big tent denomination, there will be differences among us.  That should be a strength, and I believe it is – but that strength becomes a weakness if we approach difference the way the world does: with conflict, slander, strife, and disunity.

Surely if Mark Driscoll can take a step back and reevaluate his own ministry and behavior, we in the UMC can as well.  2016 is just around the corner.  Will we contribute more resentment and strife to the world and to the church, or will we find a way to do the work of Jesus in the way of Jesus?

What’s Missing (Guest Post by Dennis Sanders)


Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) logo, courtesy Wikipedia.

I’m not a Methodist, but I do play one during the week.

My name is Dennis Sanders.  I’m an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I’m a bivocational pastor, spending Sunday and a few hours during the week as the pastor of First Christian Church of St.Paul in the nearby suburb of Mahtomedi.  During the week, I’m the Information Technology person at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, MN.  Drew McIntyre suggested a I write a little introduction about myself and the state of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

I’ve been a Disciple for nearly 20 years and I’ve been a mainline Protestant for since the early 90s, a time when I started to move away from the evangelicalism of my youth.  For the most part, it has been a good fit, a place where I can be the best Christian God wants me to be.

But as much as I love my denomination, I’ve become concerned over time that we Disciples don’t do much reflecting on what it means to do ministry in this day and age.  We aren’t equipping churches to meet the demands of this new time and we are not creating new faith communities in a sustainable manner.

None of this is to say that nothing is taking place.  Faith communities are being planted through Disciples Church Extension for example.  Communications Ministry and Board of Christian Unity have produced a wonderful resource on Disciples identity.  All of this is good; what isn’t good is that there has been little if any thoughtful discussion on the state of our movement, where it’s headed, what should be change, and who will do this.  What’s missing is a real discussion on mission and ministry.

As is the case in most progressive Christian denominations what we tend to talk about are related to political and cultural issues of the day.  I think some of that discussion is needed- as an openly gay man, I do want churches to be a place where fellow gays and lesbians know that they are fully welcomed.  I want to talk about how to help the poor or how to seek other solutions than war.  Progressive Christians are right in saying these issues need to be talked about over and over and solutions must be provided.  Where Progressives fall short is that too often than not conversations on politics and culture tend to crowd  out other substantial discussions such as mission, ministry and discipleship.  It’s important to talk about the inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church, but if we aren’t also talking about how to keep churches healthy, how to make disciples, there may likely be no churches that have opened God’s tables to LGBT folk.

This is one the reason I am a bit jealous of you Methodists in having a resource like Via Media Methodists.  VMM (and groups like Confessing Christ in the UCC) are helping your faith traditions keep the main thing the Main Thing.

My hope is to find like-minded Disciples who would like to follow in VMM’s footsteps and create a group of our own ready to walk together and learn how to be God’s church in this day and age.

Dennis Sanders is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is currently pastor of First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota.  He lives with his husband Daniel in Minneapolis and blogs at The Clockwork Pastor.


Help Us With Upcoming Interviews: Grant Hagiya, Elaine Heath, & Steven Manskar (#WesleyCast)

Sennheiser microphon, via Creative Commons License.

Sennheiser microphone, via Creative Commons License.

This week, we will be conducting interviews for future episodes of the #WesleyCast with three outstanding United Methodist leaders:

  • Grant Hagiya is Bishop of the Greater Northwest Area of the United Methodist Church and author of Spiritual Kaizen.  Prior to being elected Bishop, he was appointed as the Executive Director of the Center for Leadership Excellence, a joint position between the California-Pacific Annual Conference and the Claremont School of Theology, where he served as the Director of Leadership for the annual conference and a faculty member at the Claremont School of Theology.

  • Elaine Heath is a Professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, United Methodist elder, and the author of numerous books on evangelism and mission.  She is a sought-after speaker and is a leading voice for and active leader in Wesleyan missional communities, particularly through her role as co-founder and Executive Director of the Missional Wisdom Foundation.

  • Steven Manskar is a clergy member of the Minnesota Conference of The United Methodist Church and currently serves the General Board of Discipleship as Director of Wesleyan Leadership.  Steven writes and leads workshops and seminars on Covenant Discipleship groups, Small Group Ministry in the Wesleyan Tradition, and Wesleyan leadership, theology and practice. He leads two annual events: The Wesley Pilgrimage in England and Wesleyan Leadership Conference.

Like we said, these are three outstanding Wesleyan leaders! We are ecstatic to share wisdom from these folks, and we want you to help us do the best possible job.  Here’s how you can be of assistance:

  • Leave questions for one or more of these leaders in the comments section on this blog post or in our Facebook group.
  • Leave questions or share your favorite resource from one of these authors on Twitter using #WesleyCast.
  • Listen to these interviews once they are released, share the podcast on Twitter or Facebook and give us a review on iTunes if you already haven’t, and – as a bonus – you will be entered to win a free book or other swag related to one of these fascinating Wesleyan thought leaders!

Finally, thank you to all of our readers and listeners for spreading the word and encouraging this ministry – we couldn’t do it without you!