A Conflict of Worldviews

We continue to see an escalating conflict in The United Methodist Church over the issue of homosexuality. However, as many have noted, our church’s teaching on homosexuality is just the presenting issue. The divisions in our church go much deeper, affecting many of the core issues of our doctrine (deity of Christ, atonement, resurrection of Christ, authority of Scripture, etc.).

I have had an interesting window into those deeper issues lately, as a number of Wisconsin clergy have been exchanging opinions on our annual conference clergy email list. I would like to quote a number of the comments there, not to indict individuals, but to illustrate the deeper divisions that exist.

“’I identify as Christian and reserve the right to define that as it applies to me,’ that is how I speak of myself these days, if needed.”

In other words, there is no objective definition or description about what it means to be a Christian. Anyone can define that any way they please, and anyone can call themselves a Christian. In the same vein, anyone can call themselves a United Methodist and define that however they like. We have no objective shared identity.

“It seems to me that Anselm’s theory of atonement theology has made God a blood thirsty, punitive, child abuser who decided to kill his first son to forgive his other children’s sins and then sends people who don’t buy this flawed doctrine to hell.

“I agree with Albert Einstein when he said, ‘I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation.’” (emphasis original)

These remarks hearken back to the “Re-Imagining” controversy that rocked the church in the early 1990’s. One of the doctrines explicitly rejected there was the doctrine of atonement. “Re-Imagining” theology is alive and well today in United Methodism.

“I also agree with Thomas Jefferson when he said, ‘St. Paul was the first corruptor of Jesus’s religion.’ Perhaps it is because St. Paul made the religion OF Jesus religion ABOUT Jesus.”

“Philip Gulley said, ‘I argue against the deification of Jesus because of my admiration of him. I believe his promotion to divine status contradicts the Jewish faith of Jesus and ultimately encourages behavior inconsistent with the ethic of Jesus.’”

In other words, Christianity isn’t about Jesus. I think the early church would be shocked to know that. And the “deification” of Jesus contradicted his own self-understanding. Never mind what the Gospels report Jesus as saying about himself, as well as his miracles. (Oh, wait! Those didn’t really happen.)

“Thomas Jefferson said, ‘The clergy converted the simple teachings of Jesus into an engine for enslaving mankind and adulterated by artificial constructions into a contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves…these clergy, in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ.’”

I don’t know when Thomas Jefferson became our doctrinal authority. After all, he is the one who cut out of his Bible all the verses relating to miracles or the divinity of Jesus Christ. I guess he knew better than the biblical writers who Jesus was/is and what true Christianity entails. What floors me is the attitude of the clergyperson who would quote Jefferson as attributing to the clergy (including himself?) the motivation of enslaving others and gathering wealth and power unto themselves. How could anyone with that view of the church possibly remain in the church, much less serve as an ordained pastor?

Perhaps the situation is best summed up by this comment:

“We know what the other side believes and why. We still disagree. That is not due to a lack of logic by one side or the other. It is due to the fact that we operate out of different assumptions of how the world works, and ought to work. We have different worldviews. This means different definitions of God, Church, justice, sexuality, Biblical authority, grace, moral foundations, etc. We logically reach different conclusions (positions) because we start out in different places (assumptions). “

It is no wonder that we have such deep and irreconcilable differences in The United Methodist Church. We are operating from different worldviews, using the same words but with completely different definitions. If we were to wave a magic wand and resolve the dispute over the church’s teaching on human sexuality, we would soon find that other doctrinal issues would come to the fore. Right now, those other differences are camouflaged by all the “noise” of the argument of sexuality.

These comments make one wonder where the Board of Ordained Ministry was when these people were accepted into ministry. On the other hand, how could candidates take the vows of ordination, while disagreeing so deeply with the church’s doctrine? And if a clergyperson’s beliefs have “evolved” into something different than what our United Methodist doctrinal standards teach, where is their integrity to acknowledge that fact and withdraw from our church? Unfortunately, many boards of ordained ministry are controlled by persons of more “progressive” (and sometimes even non-Methodist or non-Christian) theology. They allow others who believe this into the church because they themselves believe this way.

Those who think we should give up fighting over the biblical teaching on sexuality by “agreeing to disagree” are fooling themselves. Such a “resolution” would not bring peace in the church.

What do you think?

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this information, Tom.

    I heard this comment at a UM meeting I attended earlier this week: “a new paganism is invading the church.”

    The invasion has evidently hit Wisconsin full force.

  2. Pudentiana says:

    I am heartsick after reading these quotes. The simplicity of the Gospel has not been enough for such perverted thinkers. Man raising himself above the Word of God will lead to tyranny of every kind. We have seen it before in history. The thing which has become apparent to me, as a layperson, is that there is a cult within the UMC and most other mainline denominations. It is a cult of fraternity. I hear it at annual conference and at meetings around the church where “progressives” look down on the poor unenlightened “conservatives”. WE, the enlightened ones who see the trajectory of history before us, must do what it takes to bring the church to path so that the true purpose of the church will be fulfilled: i.e. To “Transform the World”, but in whose image? I imagine the heartlessness of the French Revolutionaries united for the “greater good” or whatever may have had the same tone.

  3. This is disappointing. There aren’t only two worldviews at play in United Methodism. There are many different ones. I came into United Methodism having grown up a moderate Southern Baptist so I’ve inherited an aversion to fundamentalism on the one hand and liberalism on the other. I consider myself an evangelical because I believe in sharing the good news with everyone I meet and I believe that the salvation offered through Jesus’ cross and resurrection is not just one among many paths but the one means of gaining eternal communion with God. I can’t stand the lukewarm mainline-ish theology which seems to teach us about grace without talking about the deliverance from sin that is our freedom. I’m also wary of people who need to hear the words “Satan” and “hell” a sufficient quota of times in a sermon for it to be considered “Biblical.”

    I’m frustrated that the word “evangelical” has come to mean “anti-gay” in our denomination. I hope and assume that Good News has other interests as well. I never hear about them. I’d like to get together with the other evangelicals at Annual Conference, but I’m nervous that they would be very suspicious of me if the purpose of their gatherings is to strategize about having a strong slate of anti-gay GC delegates in 2016. I take the Bible very seriously and consider it all to be God-breathed and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. I have come to a different conclusion than you about homosexuality based on my own careful study of scripture. http://morganguyton.us/2013/08/20/what-is-the-burden-of-proof-in-the-methodist-homosexuality-debate/.

    In the Virginia conference, I don’t know anyone who would espouse the beliefs that you shared in the quotes above. Your piece makes me wonder if you can imagine anyone who cares about Christian orthodoxy having a different view than you on the gay issue. I think gay people are being thrown under the bus because of the need for a short-hand litmus test to separate the lukewarm mainline-ish Methodists from the real evangelicals who live in the spirit of Wesley. From my vantage point, it looks like people are just engaged in posturing by leveraging their anti-gay stance as a proof of their faithfulness to the gospel and willingness to stand against the world’s values and political correctness instead of engaging in authentic conversations about gender and sexuality.

  4. George Plasterer says:

    I would simply add that there seems to be a close connection between the worldview you are describing, which I think defines itself as Progressive Christianity,” seems to have a close connection to “Progressive Politics.” Anecdotally, at least, I have found that to be true in Indiana. I have also noticed that while ten years ago, clergy would whisper such notions at gatherings and lunches, they are now quite forthright, on blogs and postings. Much of this started among UM writers and theologians, some bishops, and local clergy are now participating. I am reminded that Karl Barth wrote of the progressive Christianity of his day progressing on past Christ to something that they have created. He also stressed that this brand of Christianity eventually ends up worshipping its own image. When it comes to worldviews, I am wondering if that has a relationship to Aristotle saying that one can debate means, but not ends. I think his point was that a difference over the “end” in mind is so basic that one does not have enough common ground to carry on a meaningful conversation.

  5. Such a “resolution” would not bring peace in the church. And, neither will anything else.

  6. Raymond Schulte says:

    This issue of homosexuality tore my church family in half. I still fail to see how any one group of people can have such impact on my church family on Gods church.This issue cannot be heaven sent! Enough said!

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