Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Range of Dissent

As I've proceeded through the ministry candidacy process, I've been told of various candidates in the Florida Conference who were rejected from the ordained ministry because of doctrinal disputes. Some examples include those who believe that women should not be ordained and those who rejected infant baptism. These candidates were told that they might be called into the ordained ministry, but not the United Methodist Church, where they would be expected to uphold certain doctrines and beliefs.

This seems fair. But I wonder why it is that apparently, in some conferences, it is acceptable to say that homosexual conduct is not sinful and that said people should be accessible for ordination, in complete contrast to the plain teachings of United Methodism in The Book of Discipline?

A second question that I have is less, well, slanted: what range of dissent should be accepted within the body of United Methodists?


David said...

Infant baptism is formally retained in the Articles of Religion -- I'm not sure why someone would want to be a United Methodist if s/he had strong objections to infant baptism.

To answer your main question, what range of dissent should we allow? I think it should be eavenhanded in all directions. Will we ordain someone who is uncomfortable with the Discipline's position on women's ordination? If so, we should be willing to ordain someone with similar discomfort about the Discipline's position on homosexuality.

If we worry about how someone might act toward female colleagues or superiors, and wonder how effective such a person might be in a denomination that affirms women's ordination, then we should equally question the effectiveness of someone who might be uncomfortable with the Discipline's position on homosexuality -- how might they treat colleagues and superiors who believe in living according to the Disciplinary covenant we have made? Anyone who is so uncomfortable with one position of the church, so that it becomes central to their ministry to effect a change in it, is probably too far from the main body of United Methodism to be effective.

John said...

A very thoughtful answer, David. Thank you!

Tim Sisk said...

When I was a student at Candler, I had a classmate who had a wicked sense of humor. I enjoyed having her in my class. I was oblivious for a while that she was a lesbian.

Then it came up one day that she was a candidate for ordination (in one of the Texas conferences). In astonishment I said something like "But your a lesbian! How...why...would you do that?" Her response: "I'm going to reform the church from the 'inside' ". It was never clear to me whether she was going to open with the BOM about her sexuality or not (although I heard later she was either rejected or deferred by her annual conference).

Her response always troubled me. Whatever the issue is homosexuality, ordination of women, infant baptism, free will, pre-destination, whatever, when you present yourself for ordination you should be in line with the church you are seeking ordination from's beliefs. Why do you need or want the blessing of a church that you really don't believe is right? (I also pose this question to those who want to get married in church but don't/aren't active in church.)

David's respone strikes me as a good one.

Greg Hazelrig said...

While I beleive that all should be welcome in our churches, I hold a much more stronger view on unified thinking among church leaders (pastors, district superintendents, bishops). I believe that there are other denominations that may have similiar theologies of those who don't want to ordain women or baptize babies or whatever. So if someone believes a certain way, I think they should seek that denomination that believes the same.

As far as your comment about homosexuality. If my memory serves me, the Discipline says something like it is "incompatable with Christian teaching". I think it's something like that and I'm at my house with the Discipline at the office (sorry). Where ordination of women and infant baptism are UM practices, homosexuality seems to be frowned upon according to the how I read the Discipline.

So my point is that I think if someone wanted to argue, they could say that the candidate should be deferred if he/she wanted to ordain homosexuals, but not if he/she disagreed about whether or not it is a sin. One (the ordination) goes against our practice and one (the belief in general) is what we think.

I don't know if I've made sense to anyone else but me this morning. If not, please disregard.

Keith Taylor said...


I am a 9th generation methodist. But I personally have never understood infant baptism. Don't get me wrong, I am not against it. I don't have a problem with those who do, but to me it does nothing for the infant. If an unbaptized infant dies, is it saved? Of course. If an infant is baptized and is then raised a complete infadel and dies, is he or she saved, of course not. The process makes the family and the congregation feel good and reminds them of their responsibility to raise the child in a Christian environment and instill that child with Christian Faith. Okay I agree with that, but I still don't see what that does for the infant. My methodist parents did not baptize me and I didn't go through the formal confirmation process. However, I was raised in the UMC my whole life, went to church and Sunday School each Sunday. As a 22 year old, I felt the Spirit move me to finally and formally join the UMC and profess my faith in Christ. I am glad that I was baptized as an adult and not as an infant with a confirmation. I remember my baptism. But hey, that doesn't mean that I don't agree with the other 99 44/100% of the stuff in the UMC Articles of Religion and just because I wouldn't baptize my own infants (if I had any) doesn't mean I should not want to be a United Methodist.

Richard H said...

David says, "I'm not sure why someone would want to be a United Methodist if s/he had strong objections to infant baptism."

Tim remembers from long ago, "I said something like 'But your a lesbian! How... why... would you do that?' Her response: 'I'm going to reform the church from the 'inside' '."

Perhaps I'm just being irenic, but I think we see our root problem regarding these issues in these comments. It's easy to dismiss our opponents (or if we're trying to be more "spiritual" we'll call them "those who think differently") as bigoted, ignorant, out to destroy the church, tools of the devil or right/left wing special interests, liberals, fundies, etc. Some may be, but that's not what I'm seeing.

Instead, the people I've met over the years grew up in a denomination that was afraid to have a unified and distrinctive doctrinal identity. When we grow up in a denomination where doctrinal pluralism is the de facto standard, why ought we wonder about what's happening now?

Doctrine has consequences. It's not just a list of beliefs we have in our heads. It shapes our worldview, our actions, and our judgments regarding good and evil. With no clearly articulated and shared doctrinal vision for the past few generations in Methodism ought we be surprised when we find uncritical acceptance of the world's views on sexuality, abortion, economics and war?

It used to be that in the midst of this doctrinal confusion we could rely on authority - the Bishops and DSs and Boards and Agencies would keep us in line. Authority doesn't seem to be working as well as it used to.

bob said...

I think dissent is fine as long as it doesn't change the nature of how we define God. We define God by what the scripture tell us about Him. When the issue is not contradictory to scripture fine debate all you want. If someone didn't agree with the ressurection we would certainly tell them to go elsewhere. Where with infant Baptism We have example of people dedicating children to God in the Bible and examples of adults being baptized. so reasoned debate is not outside the realm of orthodoxy.

Reverun said...

I think we need to remember that the church's position on homosexuality it primarily contained within the social principles which are not church law. Rather they are statements on social issues put forth by the denomination. I think we have a right as Methodists to disagree with some of these statements as they are not church law.

I would also invite you all to think about the issue of pursuing ordination as a homosexual. Imagine for a moment that you were a homosexual person who felt called to be ordained in The United Methodist Church. Your love of the Christ and your love of The UMC lead you to seminary and to pursue ordination. Would you not do everything in your power to assure that, should the denomation change it's stance on the issue, you would be in a position to be ordained. I don't think lying about your sexual orientation is good way of solving the issue, but pursuing ordination is a valid and honest attempt at fulfilling a call (Whether you're gay or straight). I apluad those persons who so love their denomination they would put themselves through all the work, all the school, and all the heartache of the ordination process, knowing that they might never be ordained.

I wish more ministers felt that passionately about their call.

Steve Heyduck said...

Reverun posted: "Imagine for a moment that you were a homosexual person who felt called to be ordained in The United Methodist Church."

The particularities of homosexuality aside, I do not understand this statement. If the United Methodist Church has clear (and increasingly clear each quadrennia) statements on the incompatibility of homosexual practice and Christian practice, how is it that a person who is homosexual would "feel called to ministry" within our denomination?

Honestly, that makes as much sense to me as my claiming to be called to ministry within a pentecostal/charismatic tradition that expects its clergy to speak in tongues. I don't (speak in tongues, but I feel called anyway?

Perhaps part of the problem is the looseness with which we use words like "feel" and "called."

Stephen said...

How about Article XIV - Of Purgatory?
Can someone such as myself has dissent with the language of "The Romish doctine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshipping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God."

No Icons? Can I dissent? Or would I be deemed not worthy of my call because I feel like Icons can be a wonderful addition to prayer and meditation?

David said...

John and Tim Sisk:
Thanks for the compliments.

Keith Taylor:
I wasn't baptized until I was a teenager. When I was born, my parents were Baptists, so that wasn't in the cards. I had to come to terms with infant baptism later. Yours seems to be a moderate position -- you don't reject the validity of infant baptism in your church. If, by God's grace, I was your pastor I'd probably encourage you (assuming you were active in the church) to have your children baptized, but I wouldn't condemn you for failing to do so.

Richard H:
I love my Baptist brothers and sisters, and I affirm their calls, but not in the UMC. A prohibition on infant baptism is a major part of what makes Baptists Baptist -- I don't think that's bigoted, it's just recognizing that with some issues the Body is more effective when we agree to serve where we are not constantly fighting. I think you're right that the root issue -- while the Discipline continues to affirm that the United Methodist Church has doctrinal standards, we no longer speak a common theological language.

revjohn said...

Perhaps I was unclear. Growing up as a United Methodist, and believing in the doctrine and theology of the denomination, I felt that I was called to be a United Methodist Pastor.
I can't imagine being a part of another denomination and if I were a homosexual person, I don't think that would change, even knowing that the church would not agree with my sexual orientation. I would still feel called to serve in The United Methodist Church.
I guess it comes down to whether or not we can question whether someone is called into ministry. I have a hard time believing that God only calls heterosexuals into ordained ministry in the same way I don't think God only calls men. While I know these two categories are not easily matched, gender and sexual orientation are the closest things I can compare (and both have historical issues of denying ordination).

Lorna said...

it's funny in a way
we talk about calling to be a minister in the UMC
but is the calling to minister
and the denomination a secondary point

I've seen a HUGE variety within the UMC

eg in Tallin, Estonia (part of the N European Estonian conference)two languages - worship in the same church - Estonia am, Russian pm

Estonian practice infant baptism
Russian adult baptism


unity but diversity.
very interesting :)

I'm also intrigued that so much discussion goes on about homosexuality, and so little about the poor ... sigh.

Tim Sisk said...

David articulates better than me again, so I just want to say "hear him" on his last comment.

Ordination involves two "callings". The first is the calling of the minister. The second "calling" is the church's call to recognize that individual's calling. We reject people through the ordination process for lots of reasons. It doesn't mean that they weren't called to ministry. It just means that we reject their calling for United Methodist ministry. Somewhere in my office is a book about the "The Yoke of the Ordained" or something like that by a retired bishop who writes very strongly about ordination being a "two-call" process. (Anyone know what book I'm talking about? It was required in my Methodist Polity class.)

Just because someone is "called" doesn't mean we are bound to accept it. The UMC's rejection of candidates for ordination is a rejection of that person's call, just a rejection of their call with in the ministry of the ordained in the UMC.