Tuesday, November 14, 2006

UMC General Conference Resolution -- Holding Clergy Accountable for Doctrinal Standards

For the UMC polity class here at Asbury, we were assigned to write Resolutions for the next General Conference. My partner and I reflected on this question posed to candidates for the ordained ministry by the presiding bishop during the liturgy of ordination:

In covenant with other elders, will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and accepting the authority of those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?

In reference to this question and the Beth Stroud affair last year, Chris Morgan wrote this masterpiece of blogging:

And now to Beth Stroud. I do not doubt that Rev. Stroud is a person of faith or that she conducts her ministry with compassion and professionalism. I do not doubt that her congregation loves her deeply. But she is a member of a covenant community, having pledged loyalty to the Church’s doctrine and discipline. And despite the legal maneuvering and squabbling over language, the will of the General Conference as expressed in the Church’s Discipline is quite clear: “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” This was not news to Rev. Stroud, neither at the time or her ordination nor on the day of her coming out. Beth Stroud knew.

Clearly, one of two scenarios brought us to this point: (1) Beth Stroud was in a committed lesbian relationship at the time of her ordination and chose to be ordained under the radar; or (2) Beth Stroud became an Elder and only later entered into the relationship. If the first is the case, Rev. Stroud was disingenuous. If the second is the case, then she chose to defy the discipline she had pledged uphold. Either way, her public acknowledgment eventually reached the level of chargeable offense.


The case here is quite simple: Beth Stroud knew the expectations of the covenant community of elders in The United Methodist Church, and she intentionally disregarded one of them. If the covenant means anything, she must be held accountable. Those who disagree with these expectations should take the matter up with General Conference. No one is well-served by those who enter quietly, then say, “Surprise!”

It is odd that this very important question -- the willingness to submit to the UMC system -- is asked only at the final stage of candidacy. Jason Woolever recently informed us (in an unverified account) of a probationary member of the Oklahoma Conference recommended by the BOOM there to be accepted into full membership even though she denied the divinity of Christ. Perhaps she was unaware that United Methodist clergy are expected to uphold the order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the UMC until the presiding bishop asks this question completely out of the blue. The United Methodist connection should not assume that candidates for the ordained ministry are aware of this requirement.

Therefore (after 7 pages of theological reasoning), our resolution was that candidates for the ordained ministry would be asked this same question by their District Committees on the Ordained Ministry prior to becoming a certified candidate -- and that an affirmative response is desirable.

CORRECTION: The story that Jason links to says that the woman was seeking probationary membership, not full. Thanks, Wayne!


Anonymous said...

Your resolution would not make it to GC because it would be voted down in all the Annual Conferences. The only standard that I see the UMC holding clergy or anyone else accountable to is the doctrine of inclusiveness, diversity, acceptance of different cultures, lifestyles and systems of morality. That has become the new gospel to many United Methodists.

Anonymous said...

To put a different spin on this, look at the first two: order and liturgy. Do you think that all United Methodist Ministers uphold the order and liturgy of the church exactly the same?

Jason Woolever said...

good post john. I think we do have hope if we keep pushing for the application of the vows we've already taken, which we don't really need to be changed at all, only adhered to.

TN Rambler said...

John, you state in the next to the last paragraph that the person that Jason was referrng to was before BOM for reccomendation to be accepted in the full connection. However, in Jason's post, the candidate was seeking probationary membership.

I do not understand why the question is not asked of all who seek candidacy certification at the DCOM level.

Anonymous said...

Our Discipline and Book of Worship, while certainly favoring liturgical styles in the traditional vein, nonetheless do allow for variety and local and regional diversity regarding worship, so even a Baby Boomer contemporary service, which I personally regard as "theology lite", can be faithful to the vow.

Chris is essentially correct in his analysis of Beth Stroud. The issue was never, as some wanted to believe, whether or not homosexual behavior was acceptable; the issue was whether or not Beth Stroud was in violation of the Discipline (clearly, she was).

My guess is that most bishops would rule the proposal out of order before it even came up for a vote on the Conference floor.

John said...

Stephen, you have a good point. At first glance, I would say that whatever liturgy we use is consistent with UMC liturgy so as long as its theology is consistent with UMC theology. Does the Discipline say that only the Book of Worship can be used for all liturgy?

Keith wrote:

My guess is that most bishops would rule the proposal out of order before it even came up for a vote on the Conference floor.

Are you saying that it is out of order or that it would simply be ruled out of order?

Andy B. said...

2 cents from me:
Paragraph 104 of the Discipline lets us test, renew, and apply our doctrines for every new generation. How do we do this faithfully without creating the kind of hub-bub that arose in the Beth Stroud case? With Paragraph 104 in mind, it may just be that Stroud was actually being faithful to her covenant realtionship by trying to test/renew/apply the doctrines of our denomination.

Lorna said...

Does the Discipline say that only the Book of Worship can be used for all liturgy?

I hope not.