Honoring Principled Resistance (and a Tongue-in-Cheek Proposal)

IMG_4577In response to leaders among us who have formally rejected requests for a moratorium on charges and trials based on the measures passed at the last General Conference, I start my reflections with a “tongue-in-cheek” proposal (you can’t put your tongue in your cheek without winking.  Try it!). Maybe this will help us re-focus.    

What if hundreds of us file a complaint against ourselves for ways that we have violated the discipline and doctrine of the church?  It would not be hard to find examples.  Almost every Sunday I go out to eat, violating the prohibition against “buying or selling” on the Lord’s Day. Likewise, I cannot claim “a case of extreme necessity” for some of my choices of drinks. I also wonder about “uncharitable or unprofitable conversations, particularly about magistrates and ministers.” After watching the news these days, or reading some statements from leaders, this one is increasingly difficult.  Likewise, I could probably include “wearing costly apparel,” “needless self-indulgence” and “laying up treasures upon earth.” I probably look at my pension statement too often these days.

Concerning pastoral leadership, I have never reported to the “Church Council the names of members who have been neglectful in keeping their baptismal and membership vows.”  I also don’t “keep copies of membership records off-site and secure.”  That might be a good thing to do.  I have definitely failed “to celebrate all six churchwide special offerings.”  And then there are things like “fasting.” I would be in trouble. 

If I wanted to point fingers at others, I could actually address some more serious concerns around re-baptizing, not using United Methodist curriculum, being unwilling to fully itinerant, and interfering in the ministry of another pastor.

All are mandates within our doctrine and discipline. And yet, I would wholeheartedly agree that most of these charges would be frivolous and harmful to the body. I would also say the same thing about charges made possible by the draconian measures passed at the last General Conference. Why would we allow a legalistic approach to gender identity or sexual orientation negate factors that are clearly the work of God in a person’s life – a desire to practice faithfulness and to grow in God’s love as a part of the community of faith?  Why focus on sexuality rather than on virtues and calling? Why actively cause this harm – perhaps as a scapegoat to intentionally ignore the many boards in our own eyes?  Why would we not honor a call for moratoriums when we are moving towards such big decisions except to hold the peddle down on the forces that seek to exclude and silence others?

In this light, I have the utmost respect for leaders who engage in principled resistance to policies that are about to take effect.  Principled resistance can be an honored approach within our democratic process of discernment. Such resistance is in our spiritual DNA, going back to when Wesley ordained Coke and Asbury.  At other times in our history we have witnessed this approach around slavery, segregation of conferences, and women in ministry. And we can actually use our doctrine and discipline to guide us, as opposed to frame such resistance as a violation.

As a part of our doctrine, Wesley commented on the harm that can come from following the letter of the law rather than the spirit.  He says, “…if we adhere to the literal sense even of the moral law, if we regard only the precept and the sanction as they stand in themselves, not as they lead us to Christ, they are doubtless a killing ordinance, and bind us down under the sentence of death.” Likewise, Wesley consistently says that the building of faith on opinions and the belief that we are more “right” than others – is not to build our spiritual home on sand, but on the “froth of the sea.” This is part of our doctrine.

Complaints, Charges, Church Trials. Let us resist this approach and the selective legalism that undergirds it. May our resistance be empowered by opening our lives to the Holy Spirit rather than resisting the Spirit’s consistent call to unity not uniformity and to the transformation of heart that leads us to make room for all, as challenging and messy as this can be. As a United Methodist Christian, a pastor, and a delegate to General Conference, I want to work towards that. 

Author: Michael Roberts

I am the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Conway, Arkansas. I love this work! Playing guitar, reading/writing, and theological conversation are among my favorite pastimes. My wife, Deidre is also an ordained United Methodist minister, and we have three wonderful children, all adults, and two grandchildren. I hold degrees from the University of Central Arkansas (BA), Duke University Divinity School (M.Div), and Southern Methodist University (D.min).

4 thoughts on “Honoring Principled Resistance (and a Tongue-in-Cheek Proposal)”

  1. Sounds reasonable until I realize what you are not addressing. You do not address the ever expanding alphabet of the progressive sexuality ethic that continues to grow way beyond the endorsement of same gender relationships–this is no longer just about homosexuality. You also do not address the underlying theological divide that has made sexuality only one presenting issue in an ever growing list; after GC2016, conferences that declared non-compliance not only with the ban on same gender relationships but also with the decision re severing ties with the RCRC as well as how we view Israel. Furthermore,, you did not address the fact that we are in this mess because Bishops have not exactly been faithful in following the will of General Conference since this matter first appeared in 1972.And last but certainly not least, you failed to address the reality of the 5o years of numerical decline that is plaguing the American UMC regardless of belief about sexuality. I’ll give you a hint on this point: As a lifelong member of the Methodist/Untied Methodist Church who is a traditionalist because of my participation in the Methodist/united Methodist Church, I have had enough. Nobody is on the same page about anything. A church cannot simultaneously say God is for and against something and hope to be effective; what is the good of a wishy washy God who does not know what He intended when he created the world and us? Who needs such a God? I certainly don’t. The other thing I know for a certainty is that the only problem with historic Christianity of the Wesleyan/Methodist persuasion is that it has not had not a clear nor consistent presence in the UMC for a very long time. I also know for a fact it is as applicable to today as it has always been. I also know it has very little in common with modern fundamentalism which rose up in response to the attempt of hierarchy to introduce a new and improved Christianity. In other words, dig deeper into our Methodist/Wesleyan history–you just might be surprised to learn just how much the UMC is not truly Methodist. I know I was! The UMC is Methodism unhinged!

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