Blest Be The Ties That Bind
By Bishop Scott Jones
During the last four months, I have had multiple invitations to break my vows. Many people have suggested that, in the name of protesting against perceived injustice, I should disobey the discipline of The United Methodist Church and violate the sacred promises I have made at two key points in my life — ordination as an elder and consecration as a bishop.
I decline those invitations.
I will keep my promises.
I will be faithful to God’s calling on my life as a leader in our church.
Because American culture so little values obedience and discipline today, and because too many persons in the UMC are following the culture in this direction, it is important that I explain why such a refusal to participate in disobedience is the right course of action.
When we sing “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love” we express two aspects of our life in Christ. First, it is a life of love for God and neighbor. The love of Christ shapes our minds and hearts. This leads to love for sisters and brothers in the Lord. I deeply respect and love many people who disagree about key issues in the life of our church. They are friends and colleagues.
The second aspect is the binding nature of our unity in the body of Christ. It is Christ’s prayer that followers of Jesus should be one. While the body of Christ is fractured into multiple denominations, it is important to maintain as much visible, organic unity as possible. We believe as United Methodists that we are “united by doctrine, discipline, and mission through our connectional covenant” (¶101, Book of Discipline, 2012).
The gravest threat to our mission and our unity today arises from leaders who deliberately violate our discipline. Some are elders. Some are bishops. Some are annual conference boards of ordained ministry. Violations of the covenant by leaders have consequences and result in broken relationships.
Years ago a located United Methodist elder who was also the teacher of an adult Sunday School class and chair of the evangelism committee began an affair with a woman. He wished to continue the affair, remain married to his wife, and live with her and his children while continuing as a leader in the congregation. My conversation with him was bizarre. He did not understand that violating one’s covenantal promises carries consequences and results inevitably in broken relationships. He was removed from all church leadership positions. Eventually his wife realized the damage his behavior was doing and she divorced him. She did not want the divorce, but it was the least bad thing she could do when he refused to change his ways.
Some violators of our church’s laws will argue they are justified by allegiance to higher principles such as their view of justice. But it is the General Conference that determines our United Methodist definition of justice. Once a leader is permitted to substitute a private or even an annual-conference-wide definition for our connectional covenant, all sorts of violations of the covenant become possible. If individual leaders are allowed to violate the discipline of the church as a matter of policy, our common work as a denomination will be weakened if not destroyed. If such disobedience becomes the norm, what is to prevent the following:
- Annual Conferences from withholding contributions to the seven general church funds as a matter of principle?
- Annual Conferences from ordaining as elders whoever they find acceptable, regardless of which seminary they attended?
- Local churches from hiring whoever they wish as their pastor?
- Local churches from withholding apportionments as a matter of principle, not inability to pay?
- Bishops refusing to appoint elders who are in full connection?
We are not talking about minor aspects of our discipline that can be violated without danger. When a local church has too many or two few members of a committee there is not a wide impact on our mission or unity. The bullet points above as well as the human sexuality issues are major aspects of our connectional covenant. They cannot be broken without serious consequences following.
The General Conference and the Judicial Council have no enforcement mechanism other than bishops and boards of ordained ministry. It is our covenant along with our doctrine and mission that bind us together. Almost all of us would prefer that some section of the Book of Discipline were different. But our covenantal commitment to the mission of The United Methodist Church requires that all elders and especially all bishops uphold the key aspects of our discipline for the sake of our mission.
When people justify their actions as “civil disobedience,” they are misusing language. It is not disobedience against the government. It is ecclesical disobedience. They are violating the rules of a church they have freely joined when other, similar churches offer acceptable ways of pursuing their calling. If I ever get to the point where I cannot in good conscience obey the key aspects of our discipline – and I pray such a day never happens – it will be time to surrender my credentials as a United Methodist bishop and elder and dins some other way to follow Christ.
Bishop Scott Jones serves the United Methodist Church Great Plains Conference, which comprises all of Kansas and Nebraska. Although Bishop Jones has no official relationship with Good News, he has granted us permission to reprint this excerpt from his website www.extremecenter.com.
Provocation upon provocation
More than 70 United Methodist pastors from the West Ohio Annual Conference participated in or bore witness to the same-sex wedding ceremony on Saturday, May 7. One of the clergy participants acknowledged the ceremony is in violation of UM Church teaching, but said it would “excite, engage and motivate others working for change.”
The same sex union came just days before the General Conference once again takes up the contentious issues of marriage and sexuality.
Even though the church has debated this issue for nearly 45 years, and has repeatedly declined to endorse same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy, for the past several years LGBTQ advocates have decided to break covenant with the vast majority of the denomination, and engage in these acts of ecclesial disobedience.
Currently, United Methodism shares the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman with the vast majority of Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox.
The ceremony in Ohio – and various provocations in Portland – are clearly part of an orchestrated effort on the part of LGBTQ advocacy groups seeking to change the UM Church’s position on sexuality and marriage. It comes just two weeks after a same-sex wedding service held in a UM Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, led by retired Bishop Melvin Talbert.
Not to be outdone, the boards of ordained ministry in the progressive Baltimore-Washington, New York, and Pacific-Northwest Annual Conferences recently announced they would no longer follow the denomination’s Book of Discipline when interviewing candidates for ordination. All three boards said they would no longer bar openly gay candidates from seeking clergy credentials in their annual conferences.
Clearly, progressives have decided that even if they fail again at this General Conference to change the church’s position, they will continue to regularly and provocatively defy the will of the church’s highest legislative body. Their actions will divide the church, particularly if our bishops fail to hold them accountable. Even worse, they will undermine the good work of colleagues and the health and vitality of thousands of local UM Churches.
The West Ohio Annual Conference has been racked by dissension over the same-sex marriage debate. Some pastors and local churches are threatening to leave the conference if other pastors are simply allowed to defy the church’s teachings on what many believe are core issues.
As the General Conference provocations escalate, more and more congregations will be forced to question their future with United Methodism.
Prayer of Hope
By Richard Allen
O, my God, in all my dangers, temporal and spiritual, I will hope in thee who art Almighty power, and therefore able to relieve me; who are infinite goodness, and therefore ready and willing to assist me.
O, precious blood of my dear Redeemer! O, gaping wounds of my crucified Saviour! Who can contemplate the sufferings of God incarnate, and not raise his hope, and not put his trust in Him? What, though my body be crumbled into dust, and that dust blown over the face of the earth, yet I undoubtedly know my Redeemer lives, and shall raise me up at the last day; whether I am comforted or left desolate; whether I enjoy peace or am afflicted with temptations; whether I am healthful or sickly, succored or abandoned by the good things of this life, I will always hope in thee, O, my chiefest, infinite good.
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; although the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields yield no meat; although the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
Richard Allen (1760-1830) was a founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. From Conversations With God: Two Centuries of Prayers By African Americans (HarperCollins).