Thursday, August 25, 2016

Being Orthodox in a Rogue Church

Rogue /rōg/ - to act on one's own, usually against expectation or instruction. 
I posted an old article a few days ago on my Facebook page. I started out by daring someone else to do it, and then realized, "McCracken, you aren't running for bishop anymore. You post it." And I did. And I watched the reactions. Mercy, the people called Methodists are a divided bunch.

The beginnings of Methodism could be described as rogue: An Anglican priest holding clandestine "Holy Club" meetings, preaching out in the open fields, banned from Anglican pulpits, and ordaining preachers when no bishop would do it... with no authority other than his belief that elders/presbyters and bishops were of the same order. And while we quote Wesley ad nauseam, the fact remains that John Wesley died an Anglican priest. He never intended to start a new denomination.

So when we talk about orthodoxy and orthopraxy, we Methodists have to be careful. It doesn't mean that these words don't have meaning for today's Methodists, and indeed Wesley was so very clear in the first part of the quote (which we often omit) from The Heart of a Methodist: "But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, [Methodists] think and let think."

And therein lies the root of the problem. Which root?

As some Anglicans tried to take the best from many traditions by taking the via media - which, contrary to popular belief, isn't sitting on the fence but intentionally placing one in the middle of the Catholicism and the Reformed church - Early Methodists tried to take the best of Anglicanism, balancing the sacramental and the evangelical, the Word and deed, and taking them to the least and the lost. Today's United Methodism - and more accurately, United Methodism in the United States - has created a chasm of ideology that has little to do with any of the things that Methodism was birthed from (or, for that matter, any other faith tradition in the above diagram). Worse, we have lost our innovative edge as Anglican evangelists and become once again that which Wesley tried to renew. "Making disciples for the transformation of the world" is our Great Commission and our mission as a denomination, yet such received little - if any - debate or consideration, much less passion or fervor, at General Conference. We more resembled American politics and an FFA (Future Farmers of America) mock meeting where we tried to trip up the presider with parliamentary procedure than a denomination that has as its main mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

As I have written before (here, here, here, and here) Wesley tried to do an 180° to reform Anglicanism, but what we have ended up doing is a 360° - and are right back where we started. A rogue denomination has become status quo. General Conference with its consent calendars, committee filibustering, and parliamentary bullying and maneuvering is not the place to make substantive change that a hurting world needs. That change will have to start from the ground up - loving people up, witnessing to the prevenient grace of God, discipling people in Jesus' name, raising leaders (lay and clergy) for the Church and the Kingdom, and doing so in local churches AND missional communities (which may not look like traditional churches). It is clear that we are being led away (indeed, have led ourselves away) from our missional mandate towards majoring in the minors.

We do not like to talk WITH people; we want to talk AT people. We seem to want NOT to foster relationships, but instead pigeonhole people by what group they align with, where they are from, and how they feel about "the issue." If General Conference was indicative of the Church, an outsider would rightly label us as Idol Worshipers. Thankfully, most of the UMC (I dare say 85%) does not consider General Conference and its issues as much of an indicator of the Church and reality. And - thankfully! - most of the major media outlets didn't give us much press. Unfortunately, that also proves how uninteresting and, more damning, inconsequential we are becoming as an agent of transformation for God's world.

Stephen Long wrote an excellent essay, "The Grace of Doing Nothing - Again: A Defense of the UM Bishops' Call for Silence." He says so well what I have believed in our denomination's struggles with sexuality: we have not had the candid critical and theological conversations we need to have on the subject, and we have lacked a consistent ethic. We have talked past these issues, and past other people, but not with them. As Long says, "Our deliberations lack theological direction." To handle these things faithfully, we will have to do these things.

In the meantime, we lose ground with those who are hungry for a Church that DOES something. A Church that MEANS something. A Church that embodies CHRIST. A Church that majors in the majors instead of the minors.  The Great Commandment and Great Commission are plain and are our priorities. Is there evidence we are living such?

Yes - there is. I could list hundreds of awesome things that local churches do every day. Feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. Making relationships and ministering to the least, the last, and the lost. Making disciples and leaders.

But in UM circles, it all gets buried beneath that which has become idolatrous - namely, "the issue." And, after spending a year among the unchurched in a Third Place/Fresh Expressions-like community, I can say that those outside of the Church are as divided as those inside the Church on "the issue." But for them, it's a minor. And they see the Church as just another political body that either counts you "in" or "out."

I hate pigeonholing people. I even hate being pigeonholed even more. But that's the moniker we're starting to be given - we're just another "interest group." And as many can testify, once you get a nickname, it's hard to be rid of it.

I'm still hopeful. I think the people called Methodists have a theology and practice that is best suited to change the world, one person, one neighborhood at a time.  To do so we'll have to let go of minors and embrace majors. And I'm bound and determined to do it. I want to fulfill the mission in the district, churches, and neighborhoods around me.

We can change the world - in Jesus' name.


1 comment:

Brantley Blog'n said...

In your opinion, what would have been the top three or four reasons why Wesley and the Holy Clubs went rogue from the Church of England?