I was working on the Sunday worship this morning on the computer in the sanctuary and I saw this picture of Russian President Putin with the words, “Moscow Officials Urge Putin to GTFO: Everything Went Wrong.” I was going to make a joke that GTFO must be Russian for something. If you do not know, let me save you the Googling: “Get The F-word Out”. I was a little shocked to see it on the Microsoft News web page. Probably no more shocked as you are to see it in my blog post. However, when the Lord inspires me with a word, I try to be obedient. I want to run with this idea of where things are headed and the willingness for course correction, specifically in the United Methodist Church. I realize many of you will pass on today’s post as it is not my standard offering.
It seems like everything has been going wrong with the United Methodist Church ever since I became a pastor, with nobody willing to course-correct. I do not think the two churches I have served would say they had a dry season while I was their pastor. On the other hand, if the UMC had a “Smokey Bear” fire danger sign, it has been on “Fire Danger: Extreme” due to the “UMC dry season” since I became a provisional elder in the UMC in 2010. From the time I began paying attention at the 2012 General Conference, it has seemed to me that those guiding the UMC have been taking the denomination further and further down the progressive path. I found it to be more subtle at first, and now the majority have pushed all their chips to the center of the table placing their bets on “cultural Christianity”. Conservative and centrist Bishops are retiring and undoubtedly more progressive ones will be chosen later this year to replace them. Understand, Bishops do not get votes, but they lead the conferences and many call on the right people at these meetings who can shut down conversations or who can make motions… and much of the time they know exactly who they are calling on and what they will say. Bishops also hold the power of enforcement of our covenant, and that is very selective enforcement for way too many of them. Every pastor who writes or speaks out stating such runs the risk of repercussions. I would be remiss if I did not add that my own WV Bishop and District Superintendent have been very gracious to not interfere or coerce me in my efforts to keep people informed of my views of how and where things are going. I hope that is because I try not to be inflammatory. That being said, I also have no doubt I am on their radar.
I also acknowledge that, even as the UMC lurches forward casting their lot with a lost society, much of the official doctrine of the UMC will likely never change. The Virgin birth, Jesus is the Son of God, the resurrection, salvation through Christ alone… those official beliefs are not going anywhere. However, there will also be more acceptance under the “big tent” for those who oppose those, and other, foundational tenets of the faith. In the name of inclusivity, the UMC leadership says not only will they have a place for the most liberal theologies, they will also have a place for traditionalists who believe wholeheartedly in the official historic doctrines of the UMC. The question for both progressives and traditionalists is whether they are willing to tolerate the antithetical views. Are progressives willing to allow, and be associated with, the “-isms” of traditionalists? Are traditionalists willing to do the same for what they see as the “live and let live” theology of non-traditionalists? The other question, primarily for traditionalists is, do we believe them when they tell us there is room for us?
In “The Case for Christianity”, C.S. Lewis wrote, “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it’s pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We’re on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”
Many traditional, UMC doctrine supporting pastors and churches have to decide if The United Methodist Church is “going nearer to the place they want to be.” I do not think progressives have any question. With or without the blessing of General Conference (the only group that sets doctrine for the church), progressives know where the UMC train is going and it is where progressives want to be. I think most traditionalists would say it is not. For the ones who would like to “do an about turn” and “walk back to (what they view as) the right road”, the problem becomes, “How do we best get off?”
I’m on this train, I can’t slow down, and theOn This Train (Zac Brown Band)
Brakes are gone and I’m running out
Of reasons to even try to stop me now
And it seems to me no matter where I turn
I fall off these tracks and I get burned
But someday, I’m gonna finally make it home