Via Media Methodists Respond to the A&W Plan: Part II

In a recent conversation, Stephen, Evan, and I were asked for a Via Media Methodists response to the new proposals from Dr. Bill Arnold and Dr. David Watson; these proposals have been dubbed the “A&W proposals.” We are honored that the via media is asked to be a conversation partner. Having followed Dr. Arnold and Dr. Watson for some time on social media, it is clear to us that they exemplify the ethos of the via media, a way that is so beautifully summed up by John Wesley in his sermon “Catholic Spirit”: “rooted in the faith once delivered to the saints and grounded in love, in true, catholic love…” “A&W” love God and they love The United Methodist Church, and they desire from her nothing but the strongest witness and the deepest commitment to Christ.  This is the second of a three part response.  Read Evan’s previous post here.  Drew offers the second response.

crosier

13th-century Archbishop’s crozier, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I miss Roger Ebert.  As a movie fanatic, I relied on his reviews and trusted his perspective.  What I most appreciated about Ebert was that he reviewed films based on what they were trying to accomplish, rather than comparing every film to a Citizen Kane or Godfather.  In that spirit, I will offer some thoughts on the A&W proposals based on their intended goal rather than what I think that goal should be.  Their intention, then, is “only to restore our polity to proper functioning, rather than restructure the denomination to accommodate irreconcilable perspectives.”  I confess I do not understand why we cannot or should not accommodate “irreconcilable” perspectives on sexuality, when we already do on matters like divorce, abortion, and evolution – but that is a separate question.

So the goal is to restore our polity to “proper functioning” rather than undertake a major restructuring.  On that score, I think what Drs. Watson and Arnold offer is quite successful if it could be implemented.  While imperfect, their suggestions are worth serious consideration.

Proposals #1 & 2 deal with the suspension of the trust clause for churches that cannot live within the current Book of Discipline, so that these churches can vote and decide to leave the UMC with their property intact.  This is interesting because it is offering an exit door to progressives for which some conservatives (such as members of the UM College of Cardinals) have pined.  While I believe there are legitimate concerns about this offering a kind of temporary congregationalism, I think the more serious issue is whether or not a critical mass of progressive churches would take this avenue if available.

This is, to my mind, offering a conservative dream solution to progressives who don’t want it.  Were progressives desirous to start their own church, and confident they could build a network of healthy progressive Methodist churches, I think they would.  For all the pious grandstanding from the far left about how “this is our church, too” I genuinely think they know that they don’t have the ability to start their own church from scratch.  Where are the progressive megachurches and healthy progressive denominations? (Before you say Resurrection, note that Hamilton only recently changed his view on sexuality, and in all other respects is far from a radical.) The progressive strategy for decades has been to agitate and advocate for change from within, rather than take an entrepreneurial approach, because they are quite aware that they have no ability to build something from the ground up.  Many of our most progressive jurisdictions and conferences could not survive as it is without support from other parts of the Connection, and so (on my humble view) they have made a virtue out of the necessity of staying.

Proposal #3 is connected to 1 and 2, offering a similar exit for progressive clergy to leave with their pensions and retirement intact.  I think #3 suffers from the same issues that #1 and #2 present: who would actually take the church up on these?  This may be even less likely for clergy.  United Methodist clergy who are ordained in full connection enjoy some of the best benefits packages around.  If it is unlikely that a progressive Methodist denomination would be economically strong enough to offer something similar – and I would all but guarantee that would be the case – then clergy would be hard pressed to make that choice.

Proposal #4 alters the Disciplinary language and practice about “Just Resolutions” so that the complainants would be required to be included in whatever resolution is reached.  My interpretation is that this is designed to avoid incidents like the Ogletree resolution, in which no accountability is present and the church clearly privileges the defendant over the complainants.  I was on stage with Dr. Arnold when he suggested the Ogletree decision was neither just nor a resolution, and I am inclined to agree with him.  No one likes trials, but the only thing worse than continued trials might well be avoiding trials either through ignoring Disciplinary breaches or legal fictions such as the Ogletree decision.

Proposals #5-7 add a set-apart bishop to lead the Council of Bishops and charge that bishop to enforce the Book of Discipline (presumably, the sexuality clauses in particular).  Additionally, the final proposal changes the status of retired bishops to bishops emerita/us (I can’t help but think this is inspired by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI).  This seems clearly aimed at Bishop Talbert and others who would follow in his schismatic footsteps.

I am heartily in favor of all the proposals related to the episcopacy, and it is in these proposals that I think “A&W” have their greatest contribution.  A worldwide church such as ours needs a unified voice to lead it, and the set-apart bishop is long overdue.  I have watched a bishop I deeply respect attempt to juggle the duties of a standard episcopal area and the Presidency of the Council of Bishops, and I can only say – even for our most talented bishops – it is an utterly inhumane burden to place on anyone.

I find it pathetic that we may need to pass legislation to ensure that bishops uphold their consecration vows, but I suppose that is where we are.  The episcopal office, not just in Methodism but in the church catholic, is chiefly charged with guarding the faith of the apostles and serving as a point of unity and agent of order for the church.  Prophets and activists will inevitably make bad bishops, and if we need to legislate that fact to make the point then so be it.

To conclude, I would suggest that the best of the A&W proposal could shore up the weaknesses inherent in Adam Hamilton’s “A Way Forward.”  While I share concerns about congregationalism, I am not against a loosening up of the polity to accommodate various perspectives on sexuality (within reason, but that is beyond the scope of this essay), so long as basic doctrinal commitments are in place and vigorously defended.  I agree with Joel Watts’ take that the middle/via media/third way is more about priorities than positions.  I am less concerned that United Methodists come to different conclusions about sexuality than I am the un-theological roads that both extremes take to get there and the un-Christian ways they seek to force their conclusions upon the whole church.  Even many conservatives will admit that sexuality is only the “presenting issue,” indicative of deeper and more serious divides.  I agree, but I’d much rather fight about those deeper issues than a surface iteration like genital activity.

Something has to give.  Whether the path forward is the commendable A&W plan, that offers a gracious exit for those whose consciences will not allow them to stay, or something like A Way Forward with some teeth, so that a new, loosened arrangement actually brings peace to our warring factions rather than just moving the battle lines (this is where a functional episcopacy comes in), I am open to the suggestions.  Do I think the progressives churches and clergy will leave? I don’t. Is this potentially a reasonable carrot to offer before presenting the stick? Probably.

I have little interest in the sexuality debate, and such that I do possess wanes the longer it prattles on.  We don’t know how to have a healthy, doctrinally informed, logically sound and charitable discussion.  Most of our so-called conversation is nothing more than an endless parade of shibboleths designed more to show which team we are on than to understand one another.  As Allan Bevere suggested on a recent WesleyCast interview, it isn’t just the positions we arrive at, but the way that we get there that matters.  Too much of the UMC debate on sexuality is childish and/or pagan, and frankly – as it is usually carried out, from both sides – it’s boring.

But I care deeply about order, because I care about the mission of the church.  No organization can achieve its goals without alignment around ends, without some agreement on basic purposes,  and without healthy leadership.  The best pieces of the A&W plan offer a return to functionality that we desperately need.  That said, I am open to any arrangement that is biblically and doctrinally sound, and that promises not just a new settlement but a church that cares enough about her calling to live by a new arrangement and hold accountable those who refuse to abide by it.

I don’t think that is too much to ask.  What say you?

19 comments

  1. I seriously don’t think the Via Media has any concept of who progressives are nor what progressives are capable of.

    “Where are the progressive megachurches?” Seriously. Glide Memorial in San Francisco is unabashadly liberal and as of 2011 was the #11 church in the United Methodist Church with 3000 average attendance of 12000 members. And they are rocking. Progressive powerhouse churches exist even if you haven’t seen them in your corner of Methodism. Are any others of the Top 100 churches progressive? I don’t know well enough. But even 1 out of 100 negates your comment.

    “Where are the progressive entrepreneurs?” Seriously. Urban Village in Chicago is a multi-site plant that is rocking. The Table in California is a multi-site network of house churches that is rocking. There’s a creation care ministry in PNW, a coffeehouse in OR, cooperative parishes, and the whole gamut of missions and ministries just like the “real” UMC. If you ask me, it takes more entrepreneurial ability to figure out how to do church in a culture like the West that rejects faith than it is to be in the cultures where faith still has social currency. I guess we’ll see eventually when secularism creeps through the Bible Belt whether Traditionalists can sustain the same growth (cue the church growth stoppage of the SBC).

    In short, the authors of this blog are all concentrated in parts of the Connection that are NOT progressive and thus do not tend to champion progressive ideas, churches, pastors, or laity. *Support* and match like-minded people? Sure. But champion? No. Until you start living alongside today’s progressives who are building the church rather than reading about the reactionary ones of yore, you’ll continue to mischaracterize progressive Methodism in a way that I, having served in three jurisdictions, cannot recognize as authentic or real.

    1. Jeremy, thanks for stopping by. It strikes me as not a very strong point that a progressive UM megachurch exists in San Francisco. That seems like of like low-hanging fruit, especially if that’s the only one of the top 100. More interesting to me, and which you didn’t address, is the fate not just of the conferences and jurisdictions in progressive areas, but of denominations that have gone more progressive and not been able to reverse (or even stem) decline. Contrast that with, say, the ACNA.

      I don’t have knowledge of how much my partners know about progressives Methodism in their respective areas. I daresay I’ve never thought of New Jersey as a particularly conservative place (not to mention Drew seminary, where Evan went).

      I have made a serious effort to get to know the progressive churches in my own area (including the one that my wife came out of in Raleigh). Before the NYAC dialogue, I got together with the pastors of two of our RMN churches in WNCC; both of these are pastors who are excellent leaders, at outstanding churches, who I consider friends. So I know that it is not impossible for progressive Christians to have wonderful ministries, even here in the Bible Belt. What I questioned was the ability of progressives to build a strong network of or denomination built upon the HuffPo Religion/Patheos Progressive brand of faith. I’ve seen no evidence of this, but I’m happy to be corrected.

      In conclusion, I’m not sure what your closing paragraph is about. If you’ve read our other writings here (and I think you have), you should know that we have no interest in “championing” either progressive or conservative Christianity, because we think going along with that dichotomy is itself part of the problem.

      1. Drew, thanks for the comment.

        You asked “where is a healthy progressive megachurch?” I pointed one out and you poo-pooed on it. Sorry to not meet your unexpressed standards as I am only answer the question you actually ask. Also, your unexpressed standards are not equally applied to megachurches who are in the Bible Belt and also after “low-hanging fruit” and thus are also not “strong points in your favor.” Please be consistent.

        The closing comment was in reference to CONFERENCES that have progressive churches and clergy but do not champion progressive ideals. None of you are in those conferences and can see what happens when progressives are actually let loose. So the characterization of progressivism that you are railing against may not exist in conferences that DO champion progressive values. I’m not asking you to add a token progressive on this blog: I’m asking you to consider that progressive Methodism may look a lot different when it is in the majority rather than the minority.

        Finally, I’m not interested in creating a progressive denomination nor in comparing ourselves to current incarnations of non-Wesleyan progressive denominations. It’s tricky to compare us to the ACNA which has taken a women-inclusive denomination (TEC) and removed women from the pastoral clergy pool. Neither of us see that as an improvement in the Kingdom of God, regardless of their numerical growth.

        I’m interested in a denomination that allows different mission fields to have different missional approaches to reach people for Jesus Christ and to transform the world around us. The A&W plan closes those opportunities and tightens the noose around progressive conferences who are already out-of-sync with their missional culture thanks to worldwide uniformity. Only the West has taken the stand in 2012 to reject the LGBT exclusion language of the Discipline and to live as if it doesn’t exist. Let’s give it a minute and see how it workd: We’ll see how it grows, shapes, and is formed in the decades to come.

      2. Instead of a minute, how about eighteen months from the 2012 Western Jurisdiction meeting to December 31, 2013? California-Nevada at their annual conference where they are lifting up Glide as the model reported declines in membership and attendance but also in professions of faith and baptisms. There is not a surge of new people coming in the door. Cal-Pac, Desert Southwest, OREGON-IDAHO and Pacific Northwest all declined in membership and attendance. The same was true for New England and Northern Illinois which reported spending a lot of time and energy on discussion of these issues. Have ye fruits? Why should the rest of us pay for unproductive vineyards?

        Are any of us surprised that Northern Georgia increased membership again and is now over 9% larger than the whole Western Jurisdiction (this is before the reports from Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone which are likely to show further declines as well).

      3. Drew,

        I don’t understand what you wanted. You asked where the UMC progressive megachurches. I pointed out one. I don’t see how that didn’t satisfy the question. Whether there is 1 out of 100 or what, you asked and I provided. A simple acknowledgement that a progressive Methodist megachurch exists is too much to ask?

        I guess I’ll refrain from responding to your questions in the future before I’ve asked what criteria you want my answers to satisfy.

        And ultimately, again, you misunderstand (or willfully misconstrue) the progressive ecclesiology. My rejection of a wholly other denomination is not for logistical reasons (your claim “couldn’t do it if they wanted”) but for a hundred other considerations. Because gay children will be born in an even more homophobic church that is left behind. Because we are better together. Because we learn from each other. Because it is a counterbalance to society’s tendency to ghettoize. A hundred “Becauses” that I’ve blogged about and you’ve blogged about. To say “you just couldn’t do it if you tried” is to disregard the good hearts and minds that are progressive and simply believe that to do church together is to do church better. I know you know those people: why aren’t they in your mind when you write about progressives?

        If the Via Media can’t even depict the other side of the spectrum, then this balancing act that claims to be between two poles may want to look down and see that you are just standing on one side and can’t even see the other.

      4. Drew,

        I don’t understand what you wanted. You asked where the UMC progressive megachurches. I pointed out one. I don’t see how that didn’t satisfy the question. Whether there is 1 out of 100 or what, you asked and I provided. A simple acknowledgement that a progressive Methodist megachurch exists is too much to ask?

        I guess I’ll refrain from responding to your questions in the future before I’ve asked what criteria you want my answers to satisfy.

        And ultimately, again, you misunderstand (or willfully misconstrue) the progressive ecclesiology. My rejection of a wholly other denomination is not for logistical reasons (your claim “couldn’t do it if they wanted”) but for a hundred other considerations. Because gay children will be born in an even more homophobic church that is left behind. Because we are better together. Because we learn from each other. Because it is a counterbalance to society’s tendency to ghettoize. A hundred “Becauses” that I’ve blogged about and you’ve blogged about. To say “you just couldn’t do it if you tried” is to disregard the good hearts and minds that are progressive and simply believe that to do church together is to do church better. I know you know those people: why aren’t they in your mind when you write about progressives?

        If the Via Media can’t even depict the other side of the spectrum, then this balancing act that claims to be between two poles may want to look down and see that you are just standing on one side and can’t even see the other.

    2. Glide Memorial in 2012 only claimed an attendance of 1,832 out of a membership of 12,576 which is by far the lowest attendance/membership ratio of the 100 largest. How much of Glide UMC’s operations are subsidized by the Glide Foundation? When you start to look at the reality of Glide, it does not appear to be a model that can be replicated.

      Urban Village has a Presbyterian minister at one and a part-timer at another.

      House churches and coffeehouses can be great faith communities but are they going to have full-time ordained clergy? Are they going to contribute their share of apportionments at any point? Sustainability is a major issue even if Jeremy wants to ignore it. Instead, he has illustrated the point that Drew was trying to make (and Mark Tooley has repeatedly made as well!) that progressive/revisionist/”Athens” theology often does not create the critical mass necessary to move beyond a relatively small group or to thrive on its own without relying on the resources provided by previous generations.

      Like I keep reminding Jeremy (and annoying him when I do it), the Western Jurisdiction is the ONLY one of the five that doesn’t even pay for its own bishops and contributes NOTHING toward the central conferences or the retirees. You can’t keep a connectional denomination going that way.

      1. Jeremy, I don’t disagree that conservative megachurches in the Bible Belt are also reaching low-hanging fruit, but they are also much more successful at it. You can point to one progressive megachurch, maybe a couple of others, but there are dozens of conservative UM megachurches at least.

        I am well aware that the UM left has no interest in creating a new denomination, because they couldn’t do it if they wanted to.

        Finally, I am not against a loosening up of the polity as you suggest. I do think it is odd for Christians to define a mission field around a particular sexual practice, and, moreover, to attempt to reach that culture by assuming sexual morays rather than challenging them (this seems to a reverse of the usual tactic). That said, I wouldn’t be against allowing for some regional variation in the US, since we already allow it in the Central Conferences. I am against how that has been achieved, though – as Allan Bevere said, it’s not just about the results but the process. And the way the Western Jurisdiction got there was to give the finger to the rest of the Connection, and that, I believe, is simply schismatic.

      2. We should keep in mind that the apparent reality is that the European central conferences’ language is virtually the same as the “regular” BOD’s.

        The Western Jurisdiction has been on its own path for decades and has been melting for decades while asking the rest of us to subsidize them.

    3. Dear Jeremy: Please don’t speak for my annual conference, and I won’t speak for the Pacific Northwest. Greater NJ has quite a few progressive congregations that are doing good ministry, and our bishop is certainly a progressive one. I have also been a clergy member of the New England Annual Conference, and that conference is as liberal/progressive as any. There are also some great progressive ministries happening there, and the conference as a whole has clearly “championed” progressivism. Do you realize I attended Drew Theological School? They are one of the most progressive United Methodist seminaries. So while I may not be a “progressive,” don’t question my understanding of or appreciation for progressive ideals. I understand how progressivism looks, and the good it can accomplish, as well as you.

      1. Evan, that’s fine and good to know more about you. Do you find Drew’s characterization of progressivism above, including his claim that progressives lack any ability to succeed at entrepreneurial ideas of doing church, in-line with your experience or not?

  2. Drew, thank you for this response. I value your perspective, as well as that of the other folks affiliated with VMM. You make some excellent points, as Evan did in his post. I just wish to clarify one matter. What Bill and I have proposed is not an exit ramp for progressive churches. It is a way out for churches that cannot and will not live within the structures of the Social Principles. These churches are progressive, yes, but not all progressives are engaging in the tactic of ecclesial disobedience.

    One other issue: I, too, would like to see our UM denomination more worked up about basic Christian doctrine than about human sexuality. That is why I co-wrote a book on the topic. Basic doctrine is very, very important to me. I don’t think, though, that if we come to some resolution like “A Way Forward,” we will then turn our attention to doctrinal renewal. Progressive Christianity is about more than sex. It is a broad alternative to what is perceived as the constrictive and oppressive nature of Christian orthodoxy. Right now, both evangelicals and progressives are focused on the sexuality debate. Once the presenting issue is removed, however, the deeper issues that inhere between these groups will become ever more apparent.

    Again, thank you for your work.

  3. Jeremy, the thrust of my questions was this: could progressive Methodists form a new denomination if they so desired? Granted the ministries we both named, I would still maintain the balance of the evidence suggests not. I confess to not being entirely convinced that what progressives want is a healthy, strong, UMC that ordains and marries gays and lesbians, because the efforts that UM progressives are either directly taking or tacitly supporting are threatening the health of the whole, not to mention saying to many other parts of the Body, “I have no need of you.” (1 Cor. 12:21)

    As for how we “depict” the progressive UMC, I can only go off those whom I know and what I read. The arguments I read from progressives who want inclusion (so-called) are not theologically strong. I don’t see progressives show much interest in doctrine (except for you). I don’t see progressives talking much about making disciples and growing healthy communities of faith. I don’t see progressives articulating an ecclesiology much beyond the church as a clearing house for community organizing where no one ever, for any reason, has any choice they make questioned.

    You and I both know that I am a harsh critic of the UM right when the time calls for it as well, and I’m sure I exaggerate at times with them – when it happens, I’m happy to be corrected. But if I am as wrong about the left as you suggest, that’s fine, but you folks need better PR because what is coming across the wire – at least to me – is just what I describe above.

    1. Drew,

      You’ve seriously gone off-the-rails with this discussion from what the Via Media thus far has been all about. Instead of ghettoizing and playing both sides against each other, why aren’t you asking “what would Methodism look like today if it didn’t have Progressives?” or “What would Methodism look like today without Traditionalists?” Would the Traditional-only church have ordained women or refuted slavery? Would the Progressive-only church have grown or created a sustainable network? That would be a helpful approach because it brings up the best of both sides and asks why can’t we work together through this like we have before? I suspect you are afraid of the current answer to that question.

      Instead of that approach (which has been more part and parcel of previous VMM posts), you fall into the tired “this side can’t do this” or “that side can’t do that” that has been more evident on your personal blog than this communal one. By doing so, you fail to recognize that creating a progressive-only church is NOT the goal or desire of many progressives. While you say that means we lack an entrepreneurial spirit, ability, or sense in empire-building, the reality is that if you are committed to justice, reconciliation, and sustainable holistic spirituality, progressives cannot leave entire segments of society to the outer darkness. If you are judging progressives because we have heretofore not been into empire-building, then you are judging progressives on a quality we aren’t seeking to exhibit anyway.

      The truth is that neither side can cede a quality to the other. Progressives are not the only ones concerned about justice: traditionalists are too, just in different ways. Traditionalists are not the only ones with an entrepreneurial zeal: progressives are too, just in different ways. But to label one side as completely lacking in a quality is to fail to recognize that you’ve defined a quality in a way to presupposes the answer, which I reject.

      There’s a Native American saying “Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find money cannot be eaten.” I truly believe that if the Watson plan becomes a reality and you force an exodus from the Methodist Church, you’ll realize how much worse off we are apart than together. For VMM to be wholly supportive of the effort is telling of who you really value in the church and who you really see has potential to sustain it.

      And it’s not me.

  4. Jeremy – I agree with you 100%. But a decent amount of $$ from the SEJ also helps fund the WJ and the alternative way of being Methodist. How about we consider the beauty of the connection and the different roles we serve to more fully embody the grace of God and maybe drop these geographic and ideological labels and stereotypes? That’s actually a question for all of us.

  5. I really enjoyed this article and the follow-up comments. I think it’s worth reinforcing that the ‘Via Media’ is not necessarily aiming to occupy a ‘middle position’ between two poles, but is rather aimed at modeling a different method of discerning a way forward. The impression I get is that each of you actually probably leans to one side or another, but all of you share a strong concern than the loudest voices in our denomination have been exacerbating tensions, rather than helping us to get to a better place in the conversation. Jeremy has been one of the leading voices for the liberal side of the discussion, and so I think it was probably a matter of time before you guys came into conflict. The area where Jeremy took issue and you defended is a big part of the equation in how we move forward. A lot of the left’s power in the conversation is based on the assumption that they could conceivably leave. But when that option is considered laughable, their place at the table becomes less important.

    And this all stems to the larger area of debate, which is whether there actually are robust, faithful liberal Christian communities. As an evangelical pastor located in the Western Jurisdiction, my attention is often called to the most successful liberal churches around here. And while there are some interesting programs and experiments, they are not as impressive and powerful as would be ideal. I also question the longevity of such churches and programs. Regardless, even at their best, successful liberal churches look very different from evangelical churches. It is hard to believe that we are really a part of the same body. And that’s really the key issue here: How can we talk about being part of the same body when we don’t seem to share any of the same DNA? Watson’s contribution above highlights this underlying division, which we really do need to address, and the success of liberal churches is a relevant factor in that discussion.

  6. I know I am a little late to the party but just now only discovered this website; I like what I see.

    I felt compelled to add my two cents worth because of the discussion between Jeremy Smith and Drew McIntyre.

    Do you really know what it is like for the person in the pew who simply wants to know who God is and who I am and how do I live a life centered in God? It is hard. Especially when you are a member of a church who will blow in the wind with whatever pastor walks in the door. I am a lifelong Methodist; as my husband puts it, if you cut me, I would bleed Methodist. My mother was Director of Christian Education. Her Father and brother were clergy. I literally grew up at the church. Finally, after 20 years as an adult in the local United Methodist Church, I finally became confused and hurt enough, I chunked church and went on a quest and at the tender age of 59 learned what all I did not know about basic orthodox Christianity. And when I say that, I learned of the existence of a triune God of holy love who is definitely way more verb than noun; an unfathomable God of mystery who loves me even more than I can love myself; all he requires of me is to let Him make me into the person he created me to be.

    What I find most disturbing was that I could not find what I needed clearly an easily explained within the Methodist/Wesleyan fold. My most mind-blowing comprehensive understanding came while reading the Heidelberg catechism and three books about it. The first book, by a PRESBYTERIAN, became one long question; “Why has nobody ever had this conversation with me before??????????” Before I was done I had acquired a favorite young Calvinist because of his absolute love and passion for the Christian faith and his ability to deal with an ancient catechism in a modern and upbeat way without diminishing the wonderfulness of it! Plus he stated what I had been experiencing: trying to glean an understanding from the Bible was a bit like trying to discover America on foot. By the time I was through with the Heidelberg, all the random pieces of the puzzle of Christianity I had been acquiring had a home! I came to describe the experience like this: Imagine gazing at something for a very long time; the light is not very good but you can discern some things, but it is all fuzzy. And then WHAM somebody starts flipping on a series of high intensity lights and all of a sudden you can see details that you never knew existed! Best of all, the Bible starts making sense! But bestest of all: God’s plan of salvation includes me!

    My take on the homosexuality argument: it is a wasteful distraction! Like a bishop recently stated about the congregations he oversees, I just want the argument to go away. My impression of progressives are they are bound and determined to force their enlightened understanding on everybody whether the church survives or not. As far as I am concerned, the argument has been settled 10 times over the last 40 years at General Conference. I have come to the conclusion we are a church that does not trust God to work through our processes! Come on! Gideon only had to throw that fleece down twice before he was able to move on; the apostles only had to roll the dice once before they replaced Judas and moved on! As far as I am concerned, the ball is in the progressive’s court as to whether or not we can move on and get down to some serious business of saving lives, not the church!

    And the gay contingent has nothing on me. Every time I read that the church makes them feel like a second class citizen, I almost laugh. To date, I have refrained from responding with “I can relate and I am not even gay.” If you think the church can affirm your worth, then you have this all wrong. The only hard and fast lesson I learned from the church is that it will let you down. If only it had grounded me in an understanding of who God is and who I am in relation and how do I become a Christian and how do I thrive and grow as a Christian!

    The most spiritually grounded person I know is a UMC pastor. He came along side of me and became my walking partner from what felt like the edge of the abyss–and the church had its role in helping me get to such a dark place–if it wasn’t for him, I do not know where I would be. He literally showed me the gospel and what a life looked like centered in God. Problem is, I needed some head knowledge and I did not know it until I encountered the Heidelberg. One of the most astonishing things he told me was that he had never learned anything about God from what a church did. It is most definitely time to change that.

    The church can not legislate the acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle. Have you ever witnessed the melt-down of a church over this issue? I live in a town of 20,000 in south Texas. One of the Lutheran churches had such a meltdown–it was not pretty. And it was not the pro gay contingent that came out “on top”–if it can be said anybody came out “on top”. The local PFLAG chapter has a better understanding–they flat out state this community is not ready.

    I honestly do not know what God’s will is for the homosexual. It’s beyond my pay grade to understand. All I know is my life is full of holes because of the family and the church I was given. But knowing there is God who loves even me and can use even me makes all the difference. But I have had to lay down all my precious expectations of who I think I am and what I think I need to be doing.

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