Do Two Wrongs Make a Right? Part 3

n-CRUMPLED-DOLLAR-BILL-large570As Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church’s decision to delay paying apportionments for 2015 continues to generate lively discussion, allow me to offer a few observations about some of the other arguments against withholding apportionments. Once again, I am not advocating the withholding of apportionments, and I have always encouraged the churches I served in pastoral ministry to fully pay apportionments, as they were able. Nevertheless, I find some of the arguments against withholding worth comment.

My first post dealt with the reason Mt. Bethel is withholding and engaged the idea that “this is not how United Methodist polity works.” My second post  commented on the idea that withholding apportionments is not loving. Let me deal with two more arguments and round this series out with a conclusion.

“Withholding apportionments will hurt good ministries.” When apportionments are withheld in bulk, it penalizes ministries that are worthy of support.

I have noted in my previous post why churches sometimes have to withhold bulk amounts because their annual conference mixes together multiple categories of apportionments, making it impossible for a local church to pick and choose which items they will support.

Some churches that have withheld apportionments in the past give at least some of that money directly to annual conference and general church ministries that might otherwise be hurt by their non-payment of apportionments.

Nevertheless, it is true that some good ministries will get hurt by (especially widespread) withholding of apportionments. At that point, it is important to understand that the withholding is not so much a financial or ministry decision, as it is a statement of conscience. It is a local church attempting to voice its concerns in the only way that is being heard and responded to. In Part I of this series I mentioned that other attempts to engage with the Council of Bishops, such as the “Integrity and Unity” statement, met with virtually no response. When a local church feels that it is not being heard, it may believe it has to do something drastic to gain the ear and response of those in the denominational structure.

Harm to good ministries can be minimized by 1. annual conference leaders being proactive in listening to and responding to the concerns of laity in local churches, 2. local churches channeling their giving directly to those ministries in lieu of apportionments, and 3. recognizing that withholding is not a long-term strategy, but normally lasts only a short time until someone responds to the concerns that are being raised. The failure to respond or a coercive attempt to force compliance with paying apportionments will, in the current climate, be counterproductive and harden opposition. It could force committed pastors and laity — and even whole congregations — to leave The United Methodist Church.

One blogger suggested that if a church cannot in good conscience pay apportionments, they should leave the denomination and surrender their keys to the building. I find that to be a short-sighted way of addressing a congregation’s concerns. However, if over a long period a congregation finds itself unable to conscientiously support the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church, I believe separation from the denomination is a realistic option. That actually happens with some regularity across the country, usually by small congregations that are able to leave with their buildings through a negotiated agreement with the annual conference or by congregations that do not have a building.

The preferred outcome, however, would be to address the congregation’s concerns first, in an attempt to see if the congregation can continue to be a vital part of United Methodism.

 “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Just because some parts of the church are doing wrong (by disobeying the Discipline on same-sex marriage and other matters), the answer is not for other parts of the church to also do wrong.

This argument does have some weight. However, one must ask if there is a moral equivalence between violating the commands of Scripture and 2,000 years of Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality versus a short-term violation of one of the requirements of our Discipline.

It is actually progressives who have set the precedent for doing “wrong” to attempt to correct another “wrong.” They believe the church has done wrong by denying marriage to same-sex persons and denying ordination to self-avowed practicing homosexuals. So they have responded by doing the wrong of violating the Discipline’s prohibition of both. They believe that by doing the wrong of violating the Discipline, they can correct the greater wrong (in their minds) of the church’s position on marriage and sexuality. Is that not what civil disobedience is, in the great tradition of protest and civil rights?

Some evangelicals have taken a page from that playbook and believe that by doing the wrong of violating the Discipline in withholding apportionments (usually only for a short time), they can correct the greater wrong of parts of the church violating Scripture and other parts of the Discipline in performing same-sex marriages without consequence. For people on both “sides,” this is a step of last resort.

In all of my posts, I have noted that the criticisms of withholding apportionments are equally pertinent to those who are violating the Discipline by performing same-sex marriages and ordaining and appointing self-avowed practicing homosexuals as clergy. What is fair about requiring different people in the church to play by a different set of rules? If progressives are able to violate the Discipline with impunity, then why not evangelicals? Many of the critics adopt an “end justifies the means” approach to deciding which violations are acceptable. Violations that support changing the church’s position on marriage and sexuality are allowed, but violations that oppose such a change are not. Progressives should not be surprised when evangelicals adopt progressive strategies that appear to be working.

That leads me to the conclusion I want to emphasize: The United Methodist Church has reached an impasse in which, for many, the current status quo is unacceptable.

Progressives believe that it is unacceptable that they are not able to perform same-sex weddings and ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals as clergy.  So they have decided to take matters into their own hands and violate the church’s teaching by doing both. They are in the process of trying to create a new reality in which the Discipline no longer governs the conscientious actions of progressives, and that they are allowed to do what they believe is right, no matter what the Discipline says.

Evangelicals and traditionalists believe that it is unacceptable that some of the church’s clergy and bishops are able to violate the specific teachings of Scripture and the democratically-passed provisions of our Discipline. Were the Discipline to be changed to allow for same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals, many evangelicals and traditionalists would find themselves needing to withdraw from the denomination. Even if that doesn’t happen, however, the murky new reality that allows what evangelicals and traditionalists believe to be sinful practices to be endorsed by church leaders is causing them to rethink whether they can continue to support and participate in The United Methodist Church.

The withholding of apportionments is a last-ditch attempt by some to restore accountability and unity in the denomination based on Scripture and the majority opinion of the church. If that accountability and unity are not restored soon, many evangelicals and traditionalists will find it necessary to withdraw from United Methodism.

Neither “side” is willing to live with the current status quo. Evangelicals were willing to live with the disagreement over marriage and sexuality, as long as progressives respected and abided by the decisions of General Conference. Now that that is no longer the case, they cannot live with the disobedience.  Progressives could not live with the disagreement over marriage and sexuality, where they had to abide by the Discipline. That is what prompted them to begin their movement of disobedience. They will not be willing to give up doing same-sex marriages and are even beginning to ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

So the church is at an impasse. Neither “side” can in good conscience give up their position. Rather than continue the resulting stand-off and harmful conflict, would it not be better to negotiate a way for the factions to separate? If such a separation is to take place, it should be done in an orderly, fair, and negotiated way. I believe that some sort of denomination-wide separation is at least a realistic possibility, either through amicable separation or through some form of a jurisdictional solution. But if such a denomination-wide way forward is not enacted, it may happen anyway as congregations and clergy depart from a denomination they can no longer in good conscience support.

Comments

  1. Dear Tom,

    You point out that self-avowed practicing homosexuals are even beginning to be ordained. Am I reading this correctly? In other words, candidates are announcing or disclosing their homosexual behavior to Boards of Ordination and are still being advanced to ordination? Can you please elaborate on this development and give some specifics? (I am still gripping the arm of my chair after reading this) What trickery is being used by Boards of Ordination in order to skirt the Book of Discipline on this? Is this not a chargeable offense? It seems to me that this takes this conflict to a whole new level — a level above that of clergy performing same-sex union ceremonies.

    I have stated in other places that separation, in my opinion, is the honorable solution, the only solution. I agree with your conclusion here. In fact, it is sinful to allow this battle to continue. As many others have pointed out, this drains the church and greatly distracts it from its mission. General Conference 2016 MUST end this war one way or the other. Delegates to this conference literally have the future of the UMC in their hands. May God send the Holy Spirit to this General Conference to help resolve this schism.

    • A view from the pew: An openly practicing lesbian is currently in the ordination process of what was formerly known as the Southwest Texas Conference. The Bishop would not allow the DS at the time to disqualify her based on her sexual orientation. The United Methodist Men lodged a protest with the Judicial Council and they allowed the candidate in question to stay in the process based on a “legal technicality”.

  2. Gary Bebop says:

    No one should naively think that the tide of change will recede by waving an indictment over it, no matter how well written. Tom sets forth the indictment better than anyone I know: he’s clear, he’s not bellicose, and he retains a compassionate spirit throughout. Tom Lambrecht wants the church “to work” according to the principles set forth in the Book of Discipline. He hopes bishops and all equivocating Methodists are reading this indictment. But I don’t think Tim believes there will be a repentance, a great remorse and a Great Awakening in Methodism before the spring of 2016. He’s preparing us for a painful but necessary separation.

  3. Mike Tupper says:

    Tom,
    I agree with your conclusion that it would be in God’s best interest for our church to move toward an amicable separation. I believe the Jurisdictional Plan by Chris Ritter is a valid and viable option for our denomination. What do the evangelical and progressive leadership need to do in 2015 to see it become a reality at GC 16? How can we help?

    • Thank you, Mike. If progressive leaders were to endorse the Jurisdictional Plan publicly and work for its perfection and passage, it would have a chance at passing General Conference. The plan will not have a chance unless a broad-based effort across theological lines supports it.

  4. Reading at jurisdictionalsolution.org. is, indeed, a mind boggling read. Perhaps it could be viewed as “unity at any cost”. First, this thing is so cumbersome that it would be virtually impossible to communicate and digest across the church, thus driving many more people away before an actual decision at the local level could be made. Second, two jurisdictions, one based on the Bible, Wesleyan theology, and the existing Book of Discipline and another based on some new age prophetic religion — with both claiming the Methodist Church name — could never, ever be explained or adaquately communicated to anyone, especially perspective members, even after the existing member thought he/she had it figured out. And third, this would NOT stop the progressive push to have their agenda accepted across both jurisdictions. They could just do their thing with official approval in one jurisdiction while continuing their drive to have their agenda accepted in the other jurisdiction.

  5. Another view from the pew in south Texas: The jurisdictional plan gives me the creeps. Because of the presence of Austin, this conference is most decidedly split on the homosexuality issue and there has yet to be any amicable discussion at the conference level; decisions tend to be in favor of homosexuality, but it is not by any great margin.. As far as the local UMC is concerned, I have reason to question if there can be a rational discussion. Several years ago an ELCA church had a real donnybrook over the issue; the minority pro contingent was forced out to form their own ELCA church and the remaining bulk of the church joined a more conservative Lutheran denomination. A couple of years ago the new ELCA church approached the local UMC about a joint Easter sunrise service–the discussion as to whether or not to collaborate with them was extremely heated. The new Lutheran Church is still trying to gain traction in the community. Another ELCA Lutheran Church that escaped a melt down refused to have anything to do with them. Just as another indicator, the local PFLAG chapter has openly acknowledged that this community is not ready for what they propose; they purposely keep their meeting time and location a secret. My prediction is there will be some communities where something like the jurisdictional plan will be absolutely catastrophic.

  6. Gary Bebop says:

    The diagnosis is grim. Tom knows that. He’s not an arch pessimist; he’s a clever strategist. Behind the curtain is a bank of brains (similar minds thinking at blazing speeds). We all know the diagnosis. The tales are similar across the connection. Repeating them does little except to vex and exasperate. There must be a CATALYST for separation. By definition, that is an ACT.

  7. If those who are breaking the covenant by performing and encouraging the performance of homosexual union ceremonies are really that concerned about good ministries being hurt by the withholding of apportionments, then they should quit breaking the covenant. Because that is what really hurts “good ministries”, since there are probably a lot of members withholding apportionments due to their frustration with this disobedience; and more churches are likely to follow suit if disobedience continues.

    Are covenant-breakers really concerned about apportionments not being given for good ministries, or are they just concerned about promoting their own agendas, and having the funds for their own ministries?

    Another question is just what is a “good ministry”? Those who promote homosexual unions and ordaining homosexuals are probably speaking a different language when talking about what a good ministry is, because they have a language all their own. For them, a good ministry may be “Reconciling Congregations” or Planned Parenthood.

    Speaking of language, could we quit calling those promoting the homosexual agenda as well as abortion on demand and other unbiblical agendas “progressives”? They are not progressive, what they are doing is not progressive. Let’s call them what they are: Biblical revisionists who revise the Bible to suit their agenda.

    If you want to know how I came to the point of refusing to call them “progressives” and came to the more honest term “Biblical revisionists”, I just posted yesterday about that on my blog at https://compassionofthechrist.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/its-time-to-call-progressives-what-they-are/

    “Two wrongs don’t make a right”.

    Is it wrong not to pay apportionments required by the Discipline when some of those apportionments are being used to promote and do things that are contrary to our Discipline? That is debatable.

    What is not debatable is that apportionments are required by the Discipline but not by the Bible. Homosexuality is sin according to the Discipline and the Bible. That is not debatable.

    While I am not promoting withholding apportionments, I won’t condemn those who do so.

    And for me, where there is a conflict, the Bible trumps the Discipline every time.

    As to the 2 jurisdiction plans, I agree with TD and Orter T. It will only give Biblical revisionists more of a footing and more momentum for their agenda. It will not stop them it will speed them up. If another jurisdiction would stop them, they would just start or go to another denomination. Another jurisdiction will result in further chaos and will do further damage any hopes of genuine Christian unity.

    Orthodox United Methodists need to stand their ground with their preaching, teaching, loving witness and actions, and votes. And we had better do it now.

    If we have to separate, we should allow churches and jurisdictions that don’t want to follow the Discipline and the Bible to take their buildings and funds and depart in peace. But we should not be forced to leave. We are not the ones defying the Bible and the Discipline.

    It is time for us to stand together and truth in love.

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