Repent, Pray, and Stand for the UMC

No matter your position of influence in the United Methodist Church, your hope in Christ is needed now.

Repenting of the Core Issue

by | May 12, 2018 | UMC Renewal | 0 comments

As with all battles and schisms, the vast numbers of individuals holding completely opposite views for a long period of time is hidden from day-to-day view until large enough, poignant events demonstrate the underlying division. The immediate constitutional crisis of the church is the appointment of an openly gay individual, Karen Oliveto, as a bishop in July 2016.

I remember hearing the news the day after it happened. I figured she probably had a few months at most before the discipline of the UMC at large would come to take that title of authority off of her. Of course, I was familiar then of the general struggle of the UMC on this issue and how efforts to alter the church were always voted down at every General Conference. So of course, though “the powers that be” hold many different viewpoints personally, inevitably this big middle finger thrust at the General Conference by the Western Jurisdiction would be disciplined swiftly.

For example, if I as a Methodist went out and burned a UMC church down (assume for the purpose of illustration that there would be no criminal prosecution from the state for this action), would I not be punished for the clear violation of church doctrine, much less appointed bishop? So you can see my surprise in finding that Ms. Oliveto is still serving as a bishop… followed by an immediate disappointment that, deep down, I am not surprised. There has been a foreboding sense of spiritual decay in the UMC for a generation or more.

So the Council of Bishops did not annul Ms. Oliveto’s appointment. They did not do the job they were appointed to do. Instead, they punted and required the Western Jurisdiction to elect a new bishop. The delegates there did not do the job they were appointed to do. After a long chain of events, ultimately all of us are responsible for this wrenching halt in the work of God’s Kingdom through the UMC.

I am responsible for this mess, and I am required to fight at my expense to see God graciously pick up the pieces and make something beautiful, whole, and useful again. I am responsible to fight with my God for His people.

The followers of Jesus Christ living their faith in membership in the UMC have too long failed to lead others in all of our posts of leadership (we are all leaders of something, whether of districts, congregations, organizations, families, or causes). We have failed to lead ourselves. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is inherently a leadership issue. God, by His mighty power working within us, molds us to learn both how to submit to Him, how to submit to Godly authority, when and how to submit to ungodly authority figures, before being used by Him to exercise prudent, self-sacrificial authority over others in His love. We have failed to lead even ourselves for far too long, in too great of numbers, until the visible church as a whole cannot work in unity on the most fundamental issues. The real work of the church is absent because the real life of Jesus has been too long absent in us individually and corporately.

The issue facing the UMC at this moment is not a theology of sexuality, but it is a repentance issue. Not many are calling for repentance because we’re not living holy lives ourselves.

Additionally, traditionalists tend to be culturally focused on orthodoxy over orthopraxy. Who among the traditionalists is calling for traditionalists to repent for wrong teaching? No one. But if no repentance is needed, then where is the problem? Everyone agrees there is a problem. “It is their misunderstanding.” “It is their tenacity.” “It is their long march of [name your “ism”] through our seminaries.” Hogwash. Did God ever tell Israel their problems were exclusively due to their enemies? No, He named the specific sin in their camp and lovingly invited them to get back in line and rejoin the terms of the covenant so He could bless their socks off as He promised… But there were grave consequences when they refused. Very real people really died, unnecessarily.

We must repent now for a failure to stand, lead, and fight in prayer and corresponding Spirit-led action.[1] We must repent for taking actions to protect our interests and let collapse God’s interests in preventing the imminent demise of many people. We must repent for leaving our first love, the One who gave His life for us.

[1] Many Christians are not comfortable with a theology of spiritual warfare or conflict in general. Their moral clarity, outrage, and anger are never employed except toward war itself. There are many arguments to be made, but at the heart of a noxious reaction to conflict is an abhorrence of calling some people “good” and some “bad.” When this visceral reaction to the Holy Spirit’s call to fight arises, it is a clear indicator of a fundamental part of the person that the Cross has not touched. The Gospel revelation has not yet touched this individual regarding his or her utter worthlessness in sin but profound, infinite worth to God in Christ. We must re-present the Gospel to many in our pews, which is beyond the scope of this letter.