Archive for July, 2011

After three years and 236 posts — including 30 podcasts and more than 60 pieces of original reporting — MethodistThinker.com is going on hiatus for an indefinite period.

The ThinkerTwitter and Facebook feeds will continue, albeit on a reduced schedule.

Thank you for reading MethodistThinker.com.

Update: I invite you to listen to a new weekly radio program that I am co-hosting — The World & Everything in It. The program, produced by WORLD News Group, is heard on more than 150 broadcast outlets in the U.S.

TW&E is also available as a podcast. Details here.

Joseph Slife

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The following commentary is by Riley B. Case, associate executive director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Riley B. Case

Dr. Case served for many years as a pastor and district superintendent in the UMC’s North Indiana Conference (now the Indiana Conference).

He is the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon Press) and has served as a delegate to five UM General Conferences.

This opinion pieced was originally published in a slightly longer form in the Confessing Movement’s e-publication, “Happenings Around the Church.”

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

United Methodists are in the news again — not because of what UMs are doing in flood-ravaged areas, or for the numbers of mission teams serving in various places, or for spectacular evangelistic efforts, but for internal conflicts over issues related to marriage and homosexuality.

Major articles have appeared in TIME magazine, the Boston Globe, and USA Today. This is because of the Amy DeLong church trial in the Wisconsin Annual Conference, and because hundreds of United Methodist clergy have pledged to defy church law and perform homosexual unions.

Not surprisingly, most articles in the secular press have given wrong impressions.

A vocal minority

The secular media makes it sound as though there is strong support for changing the church’s historic stand that supports celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage. According to several reports, there is “growing pressure” for the United Methodist Church to join other mainline churches in ordaining sexually active homosexuals; clergy are willing to defy church law; a major battle is looming at the 2012 General Conference, etc.

The truth is quite different. Despite the publicity, despite the equivocating on the part of the bishops, despite manipulated trials, despite statements from retired bishops and seminary faculty and boards and agencies, The United Methodist Church is not about to change its biblical stance. Overwhelming numbers of church members would oppose it. We need to assure our troubled church members that this is so.

Nearly 40 years of fighting

In speaking of General Conference 2012, the secular media suggest that the General Conference (the only body in the UMC that can change the Book of Discipline) will “settle” the issue of homosexuality for United Methodists. This is the same mantra touted in 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008.

Let’s face reality: whatever happens on this issue at next year’s General Conference, there will not be peace in the denomination. There will be talk about civility, but civility will not take place. There will be talk about a compromise that will make everyone happy, but no conceivable compromise will make everyone happy. There will be talk about unity around “core values,” but we seem not to agree what those core values might be.

UM bishops stand in support of homosexual protesters
at the 2000 General Conference (UMNS photo)

Does anyone see a hopeful future for United Methodism over this issue?

It needs to be pointed out — and written boldly — that it is not evangelicals who are creating controversy, disunity, and lack of civility in the church. It is not evangelicals who are talking about demonstrations, undermining the Discipline, pledging themselves to ecclesiastical disobedience, and going to extraordinary lengths to obstruct justice. It is not evangelicals who are breaking covenant and making a mockery of church law.

Nor is it evangelicals at the General Conference who break chalices and cover the altar with black and disrupt the conference with demonstrations and rants from bishops.

What are evangelicals seeking? Simply this: Since the United Methodist Church has officially approved and (supposedly) operates with written doctrines, social principles, and covenant relationships, we want those in the church to honor and submit to these doctrines and principles and relationships.

A challenge to the connection

Some secular news accounts have given a wrong impression when they speak of those pledging to perform same-sex unions as primarily defying “church authorities” — as if it is the “authorities” (whoever they are) who are the block to loosening standards in regard to sexuality.

From the UM
Book of Discipline

¶161F Human Sexuality — We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children.

All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.

We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self.

The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

¶304.3 Regarding Clergy — While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world.

Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

The defiance is more serious that simply “defying authorities.” What is being defied and undermined is the United Methodist connection itself, including covenant relationships, ordination vows, and our commitment to one another as United Methodists.

The progressive strategy, at least on the part of some, is to wage civil war. This war is not against some outside imposed authority being foisted upon them, but against the very church to which these persons vowed faithfulness.

In other words, some in our connection desire to overturn the understandings, the promises, the ordination vows, and the Discipline that have made us who we are as United Methodists and replace them with something different — all in the name of some higher good. The higher good is variously stated: conscience, justice, inclusivity — all of which are defined not by Scripture, tradition, and reason, or by our vows, doctrine, and heritage, but by progressive preferences.

At the trial of Jimmy Creech some years ago, the defendant didn’t offer a defense, or even a plea of innocent or guilty. Rather, he urged the jury to make a prophetic judgment — namely that it is not the practice of homosexuality that is incompatible with Christian teaching (as Methodist doctrine states), but the prohibition against the practice of homosexuality that is incompatible with Christian teaching. In other words, bring the whole system down by judicial decree.

Or by any means. Obfuscate. Overload the system to make it inoperative (if 900 UM clergy perform same-sex unions, the system will blow all circuits and simply cease to function). Challenge all language so that words such as “practicing,” “self-avowed,” “heresy,” “status,” “celibacy,” “faithfulness” must be defined in such a legalistic way that they are inoperative.

Our covenant relationships were never meant to be business contracts that need 10 pages of legal language to make them operative. Our covenant together is based on relationships and relationship language is based on trust. At the present time, trust is in short supply.

So there is a problem — a serious problem. Numbers of United Methodists, both clergy and lay, feel like aliens in their own denomination. How can we exist in a denomination when some seek to undermine the core values that make us United Methodists and when the covenant relationships we speak of seem to mean nothing?

Where are the bishops?

In our system of church government, we have an executive branch (the bishops). We need to hear from that executive branch — and it needs to be something more than “Let’s stay at the table” or “We feel your pain” or “Let’s wait until the next General Conference.”

Even bishops who do not support the teachings of the Book of Discipline in regard to human sexuality (which itself raises questions about how sincere they were when they took their vows*) must realize that if the present strategy of ecclesiastical disobedience and intentional obfuscation continues, the whole system could come crashing down. To continue down the present road without intervention cannot be good for United Methodism.

The bishops seem quite capable of strong action when they want to act. They were effective in blocking the election of judicial council members in 2008 who voted in favor of Judicial Council Decision 1032. There have been numbers of instances where bishops (and cabinets and conferences) have taken care of moral problems and loyalty problems without having to hold trials and without public fanfare.

In 1844 the Methodist Episcopal Church — one of our predecessor denominations — was being rent apart by attitudes toward slavery. The bishops at the time could not work through their own conflicting attitudes about slavery, or, perhaps more accurately, what the church should be doing about a stated position of the Discipline which was being undermined and defied by a part of the church.

In what must be considered as one of the greatest historical “cop-outs” in the history of the church, the bishops encouraged the General Conference to “table” any action for four more years.

But the church had been tabling the issue far too long. In 1845, the denomination divided.

Let’s pray that history will not repeat itself.

    *Each newly elected United Methodist bishop is asked, “Will you guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church against all that is contrary to God’s Word?”
Related posts
Outcome of DeLong trial likely to exacerbate disunity of UMC
Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Pro-homosexuality foundation pours millions into Catholic and mainline Protestant dissident groups
Breaking the covenant: Why aren’t ‘Reconciling’ churches being held to account?
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related information
UM clergy vow to wed homosexual couples | Sam Hodges, UM Reporter (July 15, 2011)
Lesbian elder’s penalty takes different path | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (June 24, 2011)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (April 30, 2008)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

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The final podcast of our spring season features a conversation with Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church (Bristol House, 2010).

To listen (7 min.), click the arrow on the audio player below — or download an mp3 file (6.7 MB).

For previous MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the “podcasts” tab at the top of this page. To subscribe, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.

Mark Tooley, a native of Arlington, Va., is a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. After college, Tooley went to work as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.

In 1994, he joined Institute on Religion and Democracy and led the organization’s United Methodist committee (UMAction). IRD, founded in 1981 by United Methodists Ed Robb and David Jessup, describes itself as “an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform their churches’ social witness, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad.” Tooley was named president of IRD in 2009.

A prolific writer, Tooley’s work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, Touchstone, and The Washington Times.

His second book, Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century (Bristol House), is scheduled for release later this year.

Related posts
Mark Tooley profiled in WORLD magazine
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops
Podcast: Rob Renfroe on ‘The Deeper Issues of Methodist Renewal’
Podcast: Charles Keysor – ‘How then should UM evangelicals fight?’

Related articles and information
Same-Sex Marriage for United Methodists? | Mark Tooley, The American Spectator (June 27, 2011)
Mark Tooley discusses the Wisconsin Conference church trial of Amy DeLong | Issues Etc., Lutheran Public Radio (June 24, 2011)
Mere-O Interview: Mark Tooley | Mere Orthodoxy (March 14, 2011)
United Methodist ‘Call to Action’ finds 15% of UM churches highly ‘vital’ | Mark Tooley, UMAction—IRD (July 17, 2010)
Wesleyan surge: A review of Taking Back the United Methodist Church | William Murchison, Touchstone (May/June, 2010)
From CIA to IRD: Advocate Mark Tooley knows that ‘God often has surprises for us’ | WORLD (Oct. 10, 2009)
A conversation with Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy | The King’s College (New York City) Distinguished Visitor Series (Sept. 9, 2009)
Review: Taking Back The United Methodist Church (2008 ed.) | Ray Nothstine, Acton Institute Power Blog (April 10, 2008)
United Methodism in crisis: Scriptural renewal through the Good News Movement | Chapter 4 of Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life by Steven M. Tipton (University of Chicago Press, 2008 — via Google Books)
Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements Are Changing the Church (ordering info) | Thomas C. Oden, Baker Books (2006)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
The Junaluska Affirmation: Scriptural Christianity for United Methodists (PDF) | Forum for Scriptural Christianity (Good News) (July 20, 1975)

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This is the latest in a monthly series that presents excerpts from the writings of John Wesley, co-founder (with his brother Charles) of the Methodist movement.

The following is condensed from “The Marks of the New Birth,” Sermon 18 among Mr. Wesley’s standard sermons. For easier reading, some of the wording in this condensation has been slightly updated, based on the adaptation found in Renew My Heart (Barbour Books, 2011).

A link to the full text of the original sermon is included in the links below.

Sin shall not have dominion over you. (Romans 6:14)

When we have the true, living faith by which we are born of God from above, a fruit which cannot be separated from it is power over outward sin of every kind, over every evil word and work. Wherever the blood of Christ is by faith applied to the heart, it “cleanse[s] your conscience from dead works” (Heb. 9:14).

His blood also gives power over inward sin; for it purifies the heart from every unholy desire and temper.

“How,” asked St. Paul, “shall we who [by faith] are dead to sin, live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:2). For “[o]ur old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6).

“Likewise, reckon yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body,” Paul urges, “but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead…. For sin shall not have dominion over you.” (Rom. 6:11-14).

Paul then says, “God be thanked, that though you were [i.e., in time past] the servants of sin,” yet now “being free from sin, you have become the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18).

St. John asserts this same invaluable privilege of the sons of God, particularly with regard to power over outward sin. After he had been crying out, as one astonished at the depth of the riches of the goodness of God, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!” (1 John 3:1), he soon adds, “Whoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for [God’s] seed remains in him: And he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9).

Some will say, “True: Whoever is born of God does not commit sin habitually.” Habitually! Where is that in the text? I read it not. It is not written in the whole Book.

Adding “habitually” quite swallows up the text. The precious promise is utterly lost and the word of God is made of none effect.

Shall we not St. John interpret his own words? Examine the whole tenor of his discourse. In John 3:5, he had said, “Ye know that [Jesus Christ] was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.” What is the inference he draws from this? “Whosoever abides in him sins not. Whoever sins has not seen him, neither known him” (1 John 3:6).

To his enforcement of this important doctrine, he adds a highly necessary caution: “Little children, let no one deceive you” (1 John 3:7) — for many will endeavor so to do, to persuade you that you may be unrighteous, that you may commit sin, and yet be children of God! “He who practices righteousness is righteous, even as [Jesus] is righteous. He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.”

It is then that the apostle says: “Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for [God’s] seed remains in him: And he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this,” adds the apostle, “the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest.” By this plain mark — the committing or not committing sin — are they distinguished from each other.

Adapted in part from Renew My Heart,
published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

Related posts
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘You must be born again’
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
A word from Mr. Wesley: The sure cornerstone of our faith
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The way to the kingdom’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘Salvation by faith’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The first doctrine’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The new birth’
Podcast: Donald English — Aldersgate Day address, 1988
Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’
Podcast: Billy Abraham on ‘Connecting Doctrine and Evangelism’

Related information
The Marks of the New Birth (full text) | The Rev. John Wesley (from The Sermons of John Wesley, 1872 Edition — Thomas Jackson, editor)

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