The bishop’s misdirection
By Walter Fenton
In a brief, but bitter sermon at General Conference’s morning worship service, Bishop Sally Dyck of the Chicago Episcopal Area said The United Methodist Church has “a category of humanity we call incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Bishop Dyck surely knows the church says no such thing. For almost 45 years the denomination has carefully and graciously stated that it believes “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
When the delegates at the 1972 General Conference introduced the phrase into the Book of Discipline they did it without malice and chose their words very carefully. They wanted to make clear it was the practice of homosexuality they found incompatible, not people who identified as such. For a bishop to willfully misread the statement at a General Conference worship service demonstrates how bitter and polarizing the debate has become.
She went on to say, “I don’t believe LGBTQ people are any more sinful than I am. I know not all of you think the same way.” Of course, the bishop did not specifically call out anyone in the church who believes “LGBTQ people are any more sinful than” they are because she knows there’s no serious body of United Methodists who would ever peddle such rubbish.
“I’m not here to argue with you,” she claimed, which was true. Under the cloak of extolling the precious virtue of mercy, she inappropriately used her bully pulpit to score some grandstanding applauses when she knew no one would have the opportunity for a thoughtful rebuttal. We understand almost every preacher is tempted to go off on a rant from time-to-time, but the good ones know that’s not what the pulpit is for.
For evangelicals who have been in dialogue with Bishop Dyck, her sermon bordered on demagoguery as she attempted to portray the UM Church as a denomination fixated on categorizing LGBTQ people as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Apparently, Bishop Dyck no longer believes in dialog with those with whom she disagrees. She is resorting instead to “prophetic” salvos, polarizing language, and false characterizations. Whatever happened to the “rules” of holy conferencing related to misrepresenting another’s opinion?
“Our church is structured on racism. … Racism is in the very air we breathe as we do our work together,” she intoned.
And then she cried out, “Why is racism not declared incompatible with Christian teaching? Why isn’t racism incompatible with Christian teaching!”
Her flamboyant rhetoric made for good theatre, but she never attempted to substantiate her claims. Either she was just taking potshots, or she needs to read more deeply into our Discipline if she honestly thinks we do not find “racism incompatible with Christian teaching.”
In her defense, we don’t actually say racism is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” we properly get rather direct on the subject, “We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, … we recognize racism as sin.”
Bishop Dyck went on to strain credulity when she wondered why the UM Church does not state that “murder … [is] incompatible with Christian teaching.” Seriously? Does the bishop honestly believe United Methodists are so fixated on the practice of homosexuality that it’s the only thing they believe is “incompatible with Christian teaching?”
This is not only a jaundiced view of United Methodists, but it is also an intentional misreading of our Book of Discipline and the history of how the phrase was introduced. Thankfully, and much more helpfully, the Rev. Chris Ritter, an elder in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, recently traced the history of the phrase Bishop Dyck willfully misconstrued for the sake of a bad argument. Ritter’s piece is far more interesting and edifying than the bishop’s tirade.
Ironically, the bishop’s theme was on mercy, and eventually she did get around to closing with, “I want to be part of a church that is willing to go learn mercy.” Who doesn’t? Unfortunately, twisting the language of the Discipline to impugn the motives and beliefs of United Methodists is an odd way to show others mercy.
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and analyst for Good News.
My Brother’s Keeper
By F. Willis Johnson
As brothers, Cain and Abel are representative of humanity. As humans, we too are linked together in a variety of ways. And yet as a community we are irresponsible, inattentive and insensitive toward our very selves — the brothers and sisters in our human community. We continue to mimic Cain’s morally reprehensible interrogative, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The rhetorical but relevant question posited by God, “Where is your brother Abel?” remains unanswered. Abel’s blood still cries out, along with the blood of too many young men, women, boys and girls of diverse races in near and faraway places. They are cries of retribution, cries of retaliation and cries of reprisal demanding a response. That is why…
When faced with disgrace, God dispenses grace. God’s response to Cain’s disgraceful act and remonstration of Abel’s blood from the ground is a powerful witness. It reveals how Christians can exercise grace while grappling with the complexities of unresolved and unjust issues.
God acknowledges a wrong has been committed, yet responds righteously. Under no pretense does anyone deserve to lose life. Each of us holds inalienable and civil rights, but they do not privilege us to infringe upon the rights of others. We cannot legislate love or adjudicate right relationship. Justice often is interpreted as what benefits a small group of ‘just us,’ but our interpretations are only interpretations. Neither the world nor systems have final say. What is politically correct, socially conscious, even legally warranted may be right, but not be righteous — not aligned with God’s will. Ultimately, God alone executes judgment. God is the final authority — and may grant judgment or allowance — in all matters.
God affirms the sacredness and pain of persons. God asserts Cain’s significance with an identifying mark. The mark was not a scarlet letter. It was a sign of God’s divine affection and Cain’s vulnerability. Truth be told, God loves us in spite of ourselves. Confirmation of that love is the willingness to meet each of us in our condition with unconditional love. Affirmation should not be viewed as complacency on God’s part. In fact, God’s affirmation is an act of assertive compassion, particularly for the disinherited. There is no one manner in which to think or behave. People who are hurting need to be affirmed in their hurt; people who are angry need to be affirmed in their anger. This way of listening and hearing one another is called empathy, a core value of human relationship and community.
God advances the cause. Cain, representative of the worst in each of us, is given another chance. We are extended opportunities by God to advance the cause. Our words and actions should not turn us against one another. Instead they should draw us closer together. Our words and actions should demonstrate true community, as we search for and expect to find the good in one another, as we lift each other up. This is not only a shared reality, but also a collective responsibility. It is a human imperative that we not act selfishly, but strive towards furthering our collective interest. As Martin Luther King Jr. posited, “We are inextricably connected to each other… caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of resting.”
We must recognize that our lives matter. Our faith assures that peace while it is beyond our understanding is not beyond our grasp. As disciples of Christ we are called to express our hope by means of grace.
Willis Johnson is the senior minister of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri. A version of this article first appeared at MinistryMatters.com.
The Power of the Holy Spirit
By Samuel Chadwick
The church still has a theology of the Holy Spirit but it has no living consciousness of His presence and power. No doctrine of the Christian faith has been so neglected. The blunders and disasters of the church are largely, if not entirely, accounted for by neglect of the Spirit’s ministry and mission. The church is helpless without the power and presence of the Spirit…. Confusion and impotence are inevitable when the wisdom and resources of the world are substituted for the presence and power of the Spirit.
The church that is man-managed instead of God-governed is doomed to failure. A ministry that is college-trained but not Spirit-filled works no miracles. The church that multiplies committees and neglects prayer may be fussy, noisy, and enterprising, but it labors in vain and spends its strength for nothing. It is possible to excel in mechanics and fail in dynamic. There is a superabundance of machinery; what is lacking is power. To run an organization needs no God. Man can supply the energy, enterprise and enthusiasm for things human. The real work of a church depends upon the power of the Spirit. Certainly the energy of the flesh can run bazaars, organize amusements, and raise millions of dollars; but it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes a temple of the Living God. Things will get no better until we get back to the realized presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
–Samuel Chadwick (1860-1932) was the principal of Cliff College, a British Methodist school for training young evangelists. He was also a president of the Methodist conference and author of The Way of Pentecost and Pioneers of Revival.